Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Age of Innocence

I woke up about a month ago and realized something shocking: I hadn't read any literary fiction in more than a month.  

I drove myself to the bookstore immediately to rectify this horror, and ended up selecting The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, because I love modernist literature and wanted to get myself back on track with something I knew I'd love.

This novel has got everything: a scathing indictment of the heteropatriarchal order that Wharton cleverly puts in the mouth of Newland Archer, a member of said order; an exotic Italian countess; star crossed lovers and tragic self sacrifice.

Instead of ending the book with a marriage, Wharton lets Newland Archer's nuptials with the conventional May Welland fall in the middle, because there is so much more story to tell.

From a writer's perspective, the book's ending is a perfect example of a "ten years later" ending, in which the writer flashes forward by a number of years in order to provide satisfying narrative closure. And Wharton's ending really makes the book.

The final scene moved me so much that I started crying when trying to explain the meaning of the scene to my husband, and I couldn't quite tell why I was crying.  The ending wasn't sad, but somehow Wharton managed to endow those five pages with a lifetime of emotion, and that is the stuff of great writing.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Get your muse on

Are you a Calliope fan? Get down with Melpomene? Or does Urania do it for you? Not sure what I’m talking about? All the more reason to find your muse at Grub Street’s eighth annual The Muse & The Marketplace April 25-26 in Boston. Expect a weekend jammed with networking opportunities with literary agents and editors, workshops, lectures for veteran and newbie writers, and—for an additional fee—the chance to park your keister and manuscript down with an agent at Manuscript Mart for a twenty-minute critique. For a bit extra, you can also have lunch with Grub National Book Prize Winners. Don’t forget breakfast and lunch are included with registration! (One can't learn and schmooze on an empty stomach, right?) This year’s keynote speaker is Ann Patchett, among a slew of participating authors (30!).

Strapped for cash and not sure you can make it both days? A friend who went last year recommends going Sunday for the keynote speaker and said that one day of workshops should do the trick. Keep in mind that the “casual” lunch with the GNBP Winners is on Saturday. For more info visit museandthemarketplace.com.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Digital Delights (?)

Good news folks - Little White Lies (arguably the most lust-inducing film magazine currently in circulation) has unleashed their sexy new digital edition. Granted, nothing can beat curling up somewhere comfy and browsing through its art-filled pages at leisure, but for those who are too poor to fork out for the pages themselves (or a hefty overseas postage cost), the next best thing can be lapped up here. There's also some nifty link action that hooks you up with selected clips and trailers. You won't be able to wallpaper your living room with the digital pages, but perhaps that's for the best... and er, good for the environment, innit.

Friday, March 27, 2009

poems for public radio

WMUK, Kalamazoo's NPR affiliate, put out an unusual request recently:

"Local public radio station wants to feature poems about radio experiences of any kind and/or fundraising to be read by area poets during the final day of pledge drive, April 4, in the afternoon. Station streams on internet so you can hear your poem. If you have anything, please mail to [mme642-at-yahoo.com] WMUK (Kalamazoo, Michigan) is the station. Humor good. Sentiment good. No cussin'."

via newpages

How's that for originality and support of literature?

Now if I can just get my NPR-lovin friends together to help me compose an ode to Ira Glass.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wild Things

The film remake of the beloved children's book Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, released a trailer last week. It's directed by Spike Jonze and includes an outstanding indie cast: Catherine Keener, Max Records, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, James Gandolfini. The movie looks awesome, and the costumes true to the original book's illustrations. I'm so happy that the "monsters" are not digitally created—their costume-like quality mimics the book's fierce drawings and our own tangibly-raw imaginations. I can't wait!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hump Day

Need some inspiration to get through your Wednesday? I thought so. Now get back to work!

PS: Want more? Click on image for full view.

Reading Rodeo--Cowgirls and Couplets Dirty Water Reading Series SUNDAY 3/29

The time has come again for the Dirty Water Reading Series to invade Grub Street headquarters! Join the fun this Sunday as Black Ocean, Quick Fiction, Redivider, and, of course, Fringe, present readings from Zachary Schomburg, Emily Kendal Frey, Blake Butler, and Fringe's own (de)Classified editor, Dara Cerv.

There will be high-falutin' fun, like the perennially popular literary MadLibs between each reading, a raffle, Texas-style suds, down home grub, and country tunes. There may even be some square dancing, you never know.*

The Details:
Sunday, March 29th at 7 PM
Grub Street, 160 Boylston St., Boston MA
Suggested Donation: $1

Hope to see you there!

*There will be no square dancing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Teh Internetz: Ada Lovelace Day

Hello, Fringe-philes. Today I bring you a bit of blogging with heart and soul, for today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to commemorate the achievements of ladies in the field of computing, engineering, innovation, and general awesomeness.

Ladies holla!

I love making ladies holla, so I jumped on the Ada Lovelace Lovefest ship at the first toot of its smokestack horn. But then I realized, holy crap, I don't know any awesome lady computing superstars! Except for myself. And I think this day is supposed to be used to recognize ladies who have invented useful things, not lame YTMND pages.

So I dove headfirst into some Wikipedia research. Yeah, that's right. I didn't go to my local library or scour an old folks' home looking for aging female inventors hungry to share their life stories.

And it doesn't matter that I did this half-assed. Because I learned something. You know Hedy Lamarr? Silver screen starlet during Hollywood's Golden Age? Running gag in many Mel Brooks movies?

Well she was also a scientist, y'all. And she patented frequency-hopping spread spectrum instruments. Do you even know what that is? I SURE DIDN'T.

But without this innovation in the use of radio frequencies, originally intended to help us win the war against the godless Nazis, we wouldn't have the sweet wireless technology we all enjoy today.

So thank you, Hedy Lamarr. You were both extremely attractive and a brainy boffin. It's like one of those sitcoms where a smart gal is all geeky and wearing glasses, but you know that eventually she'll take off her glasses and maybe take her hair out of her library-lady bun and she will turn out to be totally hot.

It's kind of like that. BUT REAL.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, guys.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chamber Four--A Review by David Duhr

The Fringe blog will be running an interview with Fringe EIC Lizzie Stark and the founders of Chamber Four, a new blog "for readers of books and ebooks," in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Fringe Assistant Fiction Editor David Duhr fills us in on the backstory:

Halfway between Harvard and MIT, a new website devoted to readers is developing an underground following that grows by the day. Chamber Four—created by Nico Vreeland, Sean Clark, and Eric Markowsky—provides daily news and analysis about the world of publishing, literature, and e-reading technology, always advocating for book readers stymied by an industry that often puts them second (or third, or fourth). These guys aren’t afraid to let their opinions loose, and their content is presented in a manner that is both informative and entertaining.

The C4 team scours the Internet to bring users only the most interesting and relevant reader-related news, while also sharing their own hopes and concerns about the future of e-readers, paper books, and the publishing industry as a whole. Book reviews are posted at a near-daily pace, with easy-to-follow ratings designed to help readers find good books quickly. The e-reader comparison will help those interested in e-reading technology but unsure of where to start.

Comments are welcome, readers are invited to send in their own book reviews (I’ve done it … just click Submit), and the trio has plans to launch a literary journal, and maybe even an online press, sometime in the near future.

For now, though, Chamber Four is content to be just what it is—a champion of book readers and an online haven for those of us increasingly frustrated with the underhandedness and incompetence of the publishing industry. As the creators write in their “About” page, “We like authors, we respect publishers, we enjoy booksellers; but we think of readers first and foremost.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


What to do with all those rejection slips? I know—bathroom wallpaper, bird nest offering, papier-mâché craftastic something-or-other, ugh. Or, you could send ANY 10 of those hoarded rejections (I know you're saving them for some sadistic reason because I am too) to Marginalia with $1 and receive an (almost free!) issue of Marginalia Magazine for your perusal. It's like positive publishing karma. Thanks to Brevity for the tip.

For your Sad Bastard discount send (10) rejections and $1 to:
Sad Bastard
P.O. Box 258
Pitkin, CO 81241

Art in Zimbabwe

On a resent visit to Zimbabwe, I prepared myself to be met by a nation hungry, sick and struggling. Although the devastating effects of long-term government corruption have certainly tainted life in this once prosperous nation, I saw a new-found beauty emerging in the creativity of individuals. Beyond the very surface cliché African crafts depicting thatched huts, happy colourful villages and chickens, I saw an intriguing new movement of artistic expression. Pain-filled, emotive and deeply moving interpretations of struggle and anger, a rising up and a reclaiming of identity reflected both the current state and the vast potential found in the surrounding community. I saw poets, painters, singers and dancers proclaiming ownership over their nation, dealing with the painful realities of their struggle and expressing a desire for a prosperous future. Here in this body of art, I found the heart of nation, broken, bleeding out and desperately seeking restoration. It was here I found the most honest depiction of Zimbabwe and the heart of its people.

The National Art Gallery of Bulawayo has become home to a monthly open mic night, where residents can come to share in artistic expression, one of the few opportunities they have to voice their feelings and speak openly and honestly. The sheer number of participants is indicative of the desperate need people have for an outlet in which to express themselves. The first night was a huge success, Organisers anticipated about 40 people, but the building was full to capacity with about 200 attendees. “We believe is it art, not government, that holds the key to change in this nation”, one artist clarifies.

And so the question arises, is art simply a reflection of the state of a society, or is art the transformational tool that actually drives a society to change? In Zimbabwe, it seems, it has the very exciting potential for both.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Target Women: Barbie

After checking out Nellie's excellent Barbie video post, I chanced across this gem and couldn't resist sharing.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Barbie!

It's never too late for birthday wishes, and 50's a milestone year. In case you missed Kristen Wiig's Barbie impersonation on SNL this past Saturday:

podcast, anyone?

I am alone at work almost all the time. I prefer it, but it does get lonely.

When KQED is repeating the morning news and I've had my fill of the dance station playing the latest Rihanna, Britney and Lady Gaga, I turn my iPod to literary (or would it be literature?) podcasts, because nothing is more soothing than being read to. Especially if I'm listening to This American Life. Ira Glass, you make me cry, you make me laugh, you make me feel a little less alone.

TAL, aside, I've discovered that I enjoy The New Yorker fiction podcast far more than I ever did any piece of fiction in The New Yorker (save three particular short stories, feel free to leave a guess in the comments). This podcast has esteemed authors choosing a selection from the fiction archives to be read aloud and discussed with fiction editor Deborah Treisman. While the podcast introduces me to new authors, it's also a great meditation on taste, the aesthetics and mechanics of the short story (the New Yorker short story, of course, being a particular kind of short story).

Another favorite--and one no longer found on Boston's WBUR, I believe--is PRI's Selected Shorts, another short story read-along. Selected Shorts tends to feature works by well-known authors--a hilarious reading of TC Boyle "Sorry Fugu," or a darkly entertaining rendition of David Schickler's "The Smoker."

While these three podcasts have kept me pretty busy until now, I've realized I need to expand my collection. That, or pony up for the Kindle 2 which will read to me itself.

So I've subscribed to The Moth and Writers Block.

Other podcast listeners out there, share your favorites!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Midnight Bus Poetry

Over at Slog they're keeping the spirit of poetry alive by publishing bus-related poems written by their faithful readers in a new column called, Midnight Bus Poetry. Check out posts by Paul Constant for poems—which may not be highbrow but certainly are highly amusing!—about the bus riding experience. And if you're inspired, why not submit your own? Poems need to be 50 words or less and should be emailed to poetryonbuses@thestranger.com. Winners appear here and on the Slog Blog. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

One thing paper can do that laptops and phones can't

I may have been risking my life in a nerdy version of the stereotypical blond using a hairdryer in the bath tub when I gingerly balanced my laptop over the edge of my bubble bath this afternoon, but I try not to make a regular habit of it. Usually I relax there with a magazine or book, but today I just wanted to keep up with my Live Journal friends page and soak at the same time. Clearly technology has a way to go before we can safely lay claim to being a paperless society.

A few years ago in a graduate seminar on reading culture we had a great discussion about books/notebooks versus digital books/laptops (although there's some slippage now since some laptops are called notebooks--clever, marketing teams). I loved and still love the idea of saving trees by doing more things electronically and eliminating the paper trail, and if people do actually find it not annoying to read a novel on a computer or phone screen, then by all means save those trees! But there are some places that I just either can't or really shouldn't use electronics for my reading.

Another great example is reading while exercising. I like to read novels and magazines on the stationary bike, and during my dissertation I would read articles and edit my criticism on the treadmill and elliptical trainer. But I don't think I will be reading from my phone there any time soon. I guess all my arguments for why not stem from a possible glare on the screen and small font problem to the difficult of changing the pages, although the latter problem also occurs with paper which I manage just fine. The beach is another place that although I can technically use a laptop there, I will be fighting the glare problem, and getting sand or water inside my technology will cost a lot more money than one accidentally waterlogged journal.

Reading in bed is fine either way, and I do both, but I've also then kicked the laptop off the bed and then panicked. I never panic when I kick a book in my sleep. And falling asleep with the computer in my arms lacks some of the romance of cradling a novel. But I'm not a total Luddite. I love the idea of having cell phone access and wireless on airplanes, and I just wish they'd figure out a way to waterproof our gadgets so we could bathe with them, too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Teh Internetz: Teh Twitter


Twitter, Twitter, Twitter.

What can I tell you about Twitter that hasn't already been said by online news sources, annoyingly persistent traditional media, the drinkers of Haterade, and those in the book marketing biz?

What can I say that is more poignant or true than what Twitterer extrodinarie and all-around role model to the geek Stephen Fry says about Twitter and all social media being a threat to the media as we know it?

What uses of Twitter could I point out that you couldn't easily Google on your own?

Yes, I know. It's the Next Big Thing that all the hipsters are doing, so it sucks. And it seems stupid and useless to most of you, and 140 characters (not words, characters) can't possibly help a human being communicate a successfully nuanced thought. And of course you're angry about what this all means for the future of language.

So I'm going to ignore all that. Because you can argue about all that on Facebook, which, if you recall, lots of people resisted with vigor and stubbornness when it first arrived. But I won't mention that either!

I'm going to tell you a story about the power of Twitter.

It's a cautionary tale, an urban legend that I think holds in its grip a microcosm of the human condition.

For nearly two months, I impersonated an obscure British celebrity on Twitter. Well, impersonate is a strong word. "Fucked around as" is better. You can read the tawdry details here, at a blog I'm writing with some friends who want to chronicle the awesome things we can accomplish. I listed this as an accomplishment because I reached 1,000 followers on Twitter all by just tweeting stupid jokes. I thought that was impressive at the time.

But when I deleted the account two days ago, this was the final tally.

I deleted the account because, at a very simple level, dicking around online with other car enthusiasts and trading stupid jokes wasn't much fun anymore. The fun had been overshadowed by the sinking feeling that no one on Twitter understood that I was a fake, that this was all for laughs. For every @Reply I received saying "Good one, mate" I got ten asking me when my TV show would be back on the air. I tried to explain to those people that I wasn't real, but there were too many of them, and 140 characters is not a lot of space to say "Look at a bio, you twit" without sounding mean.

I eventually had to ignore all those questions or else I'd lose my mind. Then there were people who would bluster around like the worst detective in the world, trying to unmask me, even though the confession was right there if they cared to find it. One man tweeted me to say, "I went to high school with someone who knows the real Clarkson, and if you can tell me this obscure fact about him, I'll know you're not fake."

I replied, "Look, mate, maybe you should read my bio. Here's a link to it, even."


Whoa there, Sherlock. Pace yourself.

Look, I know people are, on the whole, idiots, but that idiocy seems to be multiplied on Twitter, when they're restricted to such a small space to express themselves. In the inverse fashion, brilliant people have their brilliance magnified by exactly the same format. It just goes to show.

At any rate, I came to understand that the people who didn't get it, who weren't bothered to check out simple litmus tests of fact, weren't ignorant of the internet or naive about online exchanges. I couldn't be mad at them for not following directions or taking me at my word. Now I think that they simply didn't want to know the truth, because it was more fulfilling to them to believe that I was really a man that they loved.

But I wasn't. So I ended it. I hadn't set out to deceive or trick; I had wanted to entertain, but now I see there is nothing about the Twitter platform that makes it an ideal vehicle for terribly bad comedy. Twitter should be, I now theorize, about connecting to and sharing things with people who care about the same things. It should be about being real, I guess. In whatever way that makes sense to you.

Use Twitter, or don't use Twitter. The world won't end either way, I'm sure. If you do use it, use it in a way that is representative of you and your work. Connect with people you would want to speak to if you were at the same cocktail party. Try to be nice if you're a nice person; if you're a douche, run free, my friend.

If you don't use Twitter, then that's okay too. But I would tell you not to be afraid of exploring it. There's nothing to be scared of. It's nothing as confusing as the first time you linked to something on a blog, or as difficult as the first time you played Oregon Trail.

Worst comes to worst, you can always delete yourself.

Tiny self-aggrandizing endnote:
You can follow TJ (the real TJ) on Twitter @tjdietderich.

More Nitpicky Thoughts on American Mediocrity

Of late, I have been reading Nietzsche, who, except for perhaps one random mention, barely acknowledges anything American. My favorite of his philosophical determinations from Beyond Good and Evil: "The Herd." From which we may derive "the herd mentality."

Now try out this article from The Chronicle Review concerning the American institutionalizing of mediocrity--especially education.

Then I was sent this article from The Weekly Standard, a laugh-a-minute take on Facebook. Is everything in our life inherently interesting? Must we all be on display?

Both articles point to the mind-numbing truth of our contemporary existence. Is a blog going to help? A posting on my "wall"?

What would Nietzsche say?

The Horror

I'm not a massive TV fan, yet I've seen enough to have noticed that the UK we're used to being treated to a barrage of offensive advertising (apparently only women have digestive problems, all of which can be treated easily - and discreetly - by buying some tablets... rather than the glaringly obvious ploy of eating proper food. Except it's not really discreet because these ads lead one to assume that any woman you see on the street is silently suffering from either constipation, diarrhoea, or that good old fashioned 'bloated feeling'). We are also graced with some cheery awareness ads:

At present, there's a man who forgot to THINK! and is consequently being haunted by a ghoul-kid in the latest instalment of the consistently chilling 'kill your speed' series. Fair enough, he's earned it. Slick as these ads are, mostly you're left thinking 'ah, clever' and brush it off; they have yet to seep into my unconscious and into my dreams.

But guess what did? A dated-looking and decidedly non-slick Stroke (act FAST!) ad. It makes you squirm not only because it's nasty, but also because the NHS budget is clearly not as impressive as that of the DfT (or so they at least have to let us believe). Anyway, last night I had a truly heart-pounding nightmare where not only did my local cinema relocate itself, leaving me skulk along dark streets to find it, but once there my friend proceeded to emit strange sounds - I look to see what's going on only to be confronted with a whole new version of the Scary Face, as featured in aforementioned ad. Needless to say, the words 'must save as much as a person as I can' were spinning frantically through my mind, but alas, as in all dreams, not even a whimper could escape my lips. No one called 999, and I didn't even get a chance to fetch a glass of water (I know they don't mention it in the ad, but for some odd reason it seemed like a good idea in the dream). I then awoke, traumatised and scarred with a fear that everyone I have ever known is going to have a stroke every day and night for the rest of my life.

If nothing else, it's an interesting example of a not-so-well-put-together ad being more effective (by which I mean horrifying) than its more classically well made cousins. Maybe that's why it works?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Blogger Spotlight

The Fringe editors aren't the only ones getting all the buzz: our bloggers are doing pretty well for themselves too!

has had three poems published in the Winter 2008/9 issue of Conversation Poetry Quarterly, and one poem in both the Women. Period (2008) anthology from Spinster's Ink Press and the Empowering Women Through Literacy (2009) book from the Women Expanding Literacy Education Action Resource Network.

Sean's poems appear or are forthcoming in Exquisite Corpse, Elimae, Diode, In Posse Review, Willow Springs, Taiga, Weave, Willows Wept Review, Oranges & Sardines, RealPoetik, New York Quarterly, Copper Nickel, Juked, Eratio, Ditch, Pineapple War, Redactions, and Quarter After Eight. His book reviews wil be featured in Rain Taxi. He is currently working on two books: a 500-trail hiking guide for Oregon, and a nonfiction manuscript, Smoking Waters. His blog site is theimaginedfield.blogspot.com.

Cat had two Soapbox columns in Boston's Weekly Dig in 2008: Liberla Schmarts and Broken appendages cause bonding . She has also taken over as Head Copy Editor for Fringe!

Julie also found success in the Weekly Dig, with her Soapbox column in December. She also recently had an article published in Sirens Magazine about the ways in which overly-educated women are coping after a job loss.

Please, no photographs.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fringe Editors Get Posted

The Fringe editors have been busy, not just selecting, editing and polishing the new issue, but also getting published ourselves:
Next step: world domination.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Green Your Library

Eco-Libris and the Fringe Environment Issue go together like recycling and paper.  

Ever feel guilty about all the dead-trees lying around your house?  You can assuage your conscience at Eco-Libris, by planting a tree for every book you read at the bargain-basement price of $5 for 5 trees.  Eco-Libris has also been active in pushing publishers toward environmentally sustainable practices.

I had the opportunity to put a few questions to the CEO of Eco-Libris, Raz Godelnik about environmental writing, the Kindle, and how Eco-Libris actually works:

What prompted the founding of Eco-Libris? And why address your environmental concerns toward books and not, say, dishwashers?

For me it all started when I learned more about the environmental impacts of paper while doing some research for articles I wrote for an Israeli newspaper. I realized that it might take a while to get to the point where eco-friendly alternatives will replace virgin paper. Then, I talked with some friends about the idea of giving people the opportunity to balance out their paper consumption by planting trees and received good feedback about the idea.

The decision to focus on books was made after learning that only less than 10% of the paper used for printing books is made of recycled paper and because most books don’t have yet an online eco-friendly alternative, like magazines and newspapers. 

So, if you want a book, you usually find yourself purchasing the paper-made version. You also can’t tell people to stop reading books, because books are such a wonderful thing and an important part of our culture and education, so it seemed to me only natural to offer book lovers a new alternative to make their reading greener - planting trees for the books they read. I also love books - my mother is a librarian and I grew up in a house full of books - so it made me very happy to get myself occupied with a venture that is focused on books!

Btw - I read that using dishwashers can be in some cases more eco-friendly than hand washing.

Are there a few publishing companies that are doing an exceptional job of being environmentally conscious?

There are some big publishers that are ahead of the rest with greener practices, such as Random House, which set up a goal of increasing the use of recycled paper it uses to at least 30% by 2010 (from under 3% at in 2006), or Scholastic, the world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books, which announced last year on a new green policy will increase its publication paper purchase of FSC-certified paper to 30% and its use of recycled paper to 25%, of which 75% will be post-consumer waste.

Photo of Raz Godelnik, CEO of Eco-Libris

I would like to mention especially two publishers:

One is another one of the big publishers - Simon & Schuster. On the general level, it will also increase of the use of recycled fiber from its 10% in 2007 to a 25% by 2012 for books printed and bound in the U.S. Also, their Children's Publishing Imprint created last fall a new green series of books for children - "Little Green Books". This is the first eco-friendly line of children’s novelty and storybooks, aimed at parents and children looking to learn more about the environment. 

Each book in this series is devoted to educating children about the benefits of being green, and all the Little Green Books are made out of recycled materials. This is a great educational effort of S&S that is aimed at both kids and their parents and we're actually very proud to collaborate with them in their educational efforts - we co-sponsored an educational contest with them celebrating the new series and you can also find our tips how to save in paper on the Little Green website (PDF).

The second publisher I would like to mention is a smaller one that sets up a unique example of how a green publisher is capable of shining even in days of trouble economy. I'm referring to Chelsea Green Publishing, which is one of my favorite publishers, not only because of their great green books, but also because they walk the talk and exercise many green practices, including "printing 95 percent of our books on recycled paper with a minimum 30 percent post-consumer waste and aiming for 100 percent whenever possible." 

Are small publishers and publishers of literary journals behind the curve on using recycled material, or ahead of it?

It depends. Some like Chelsea Green Publishing and Island Press are at the front. Others are lagging behind. Being small has its own advantages (more flexibility, it's easier to make changes) and disadvantages (more difficult to negotiate better prices because of smaller volumes) for a publisher, and I believe it has a lot to do with the people who lead the publishing and their values. All in all, today when the premium for using recycled paper is much smaller (in some cases there's no premium at all), it's easier for small publishers to do this move and shift into using recycled paper.

Why did you decide to make Eco-Libris a for-profit venture?

We did a lot of thinking before we decided to start operating as a for-profit. We chose the for-profit model because we got to the conclusion that this model is the most effective one to accomplish our goals.

I think that nowadays it’s more understandable that there is no contradiction between doing good and doing well, or as one of our partners once said "profits and the environment are not at odds—only greed and the environment conflict each other." Microfinance is a great example of how you can combine a business approach with social goals and do it very successfully. We aim to follow this model and, as a green business, to be committed to both making reading more sustainable and to the triple bottom line: environmental, social and financial.

What place do you think the environment has or should have inside literature? Any favorite nature writers?

Environment is becoming a more significant issue in our life and our culture, and I think this shift is also translated into literature as well as to other cultural forms such as films and music. Still, this process takes some time so you don't see yet a flow of books on green themes, but there's definitely a growing number of them. Some of my favorite green writers are Bill McKibben ("Deep Economy"), Michael Pollan ("In Defense of Food", "The Omnivore's Dilemma") and Kelly McMasters ("Welcome to Shirley").

 Slate's Green Lantern column has suggested that carbon offsets may not be worth it, depending on how efficiently an organization spends money on recapturing carbon. So, in light of your plant-trees-to-offset-books program: Does planting a tree for every book you read really negate the carbon footprint of buying a book? 

I believe much depends on the quality of the operation, whether you plant trees or invest in projects that generate alternative energy for example. If you do things right (like planting the right trees in the right place and manage the planting area later on properly) you can definitely receive the added value you're seeking in terms of carbon reduction.

We don't calculate the carbon offsets as we don't offer carbon offsets - our offer is very simple: to plant one tree for every book you read, sell, write or publish. The difference is not only in wording , but in the approach. 

Our approach is a much more holistic approach - we don't see trees only as carbon sinks, but as a precious natural resource that should treat with much more respect, as they provide many important benefits to the soil, water resources, living species and local communities. It's similar to the approach of UNEP's (United Nations Environmental Programme), which sees the overall benefits and significance of planting trees, on both environmental and social levels. That’s the concept behind the Billion Tree Campaign initiated by Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai (the campaign, by the way, also featured us on their website).

Why did you choose communities in Central America and Africa as places to plant trees -- why not plant trees in the US? How does planting tree help the communities you've chosen?

Eco-Libris partnered with three highly respected US and UK registered non-profit organizations (AIR, SHI and RIPPLE Africa) that work in collaboration with local communities in developing countries to plant these trees. These trees are planted in high ecological and sustainable standards in Latin America (Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Belize, Honduras) and Africa (Malawi), where deforestation is a crucial problem.

We chose to focus on these regions because we wanted to plant the trees where they have the most value. Planting trees in these places not only helps to fight climate change and conserve soil and water, but also benefits many local people, for whom these trees offer many benefits, such as improvement of crops (some trees are interplanted with crops to conserve the soil and organically fertilize the crops), protection of important water resources, assistance in decreasing the chances for natural disasters such as floods, and additional food and income (from fruit trees for example). 

So it's a very good feeling to know that these trees not only help the environment, but also provide these local communities with an opportunity for a better future and we're very proud in that. You can visit our planting partners' website to read more on their work with these communities (links to their websites are available at our partners' page).

Do you think that electronic publishing is going to overtake the dead-tree publishing world through devices like the Kindle? Or is the feel of paper against one's hand so magical that it will endure?

Firstly, I'd like to say that we don't know yet if e-books are better to the environment than paper books. Electronic books indeed don’t need paper and therefore no trees are cut down for their production. They don’t need transportation or physical storage and therefore no extra costs and extra footprint are required to bring the e-book from the publisher to the reader. Yet, there are other factors to be considered, such as their production, materials used, energy required for the reader’s use, and how recyclable they are. We follow articles and research done on this issue on our website.

So what’s the verdict? We still don't know yet as we’re lacking a full life-cycle assessment of reading e-books using Kindle (or Kindle 2 now) or other similar electronic book readers. Until we have that, we can’t really tell if and to what extent e-books are more environmentally-friendly in comparison to paper made books.

In respect with the question if e-books will rule the book business, I agree with Margo Baldwin of Chelsea Green Publishing that we'll continue to see significant growth in sales of e-books but their market share will remain relatively slow for the near future. I believe we'll need to see a cultural shift that will take a couple of decades before e-books will take the place of paper made books as the main platform of reading.

Spinning plates vs. eating ashes: the joy and the anguish

Ah, the rollercoaster world of The Writer; perilous, torturous, and (hopefully) gifted with the occasional smattering of giddy, sentence-spinning glee.

Being a hideously lazy waste of space, I'm not, nor ever will be, a 'writer'. At best, I'm 'someone who sometimes writes things that I don't have to'. Every now and then I'll wonder how I managed to spend all of Saturday's glorious daylight hours in front of my computer, churning out what only amounts to a couple of pages worth of shite, but most of the time I'm engaged in far less noble endeavours, like, I dunno, reading the paper, or the back of a cereal packet (good god, that’s a lotta sugar).

Today I stumbled across yet another fascinating Guardian piece (they should probably start paying me for all this unsolicited promo): 'Writing for a living: a joy or a chore?' and thought it might be nice to share it with you all, just in case anyone else out there might feel vaguely heartened that it's okay not be overwhelmed with frantic ecstasy with every word they type.

Here's someone else saying what I was trying to say, only with a lot more eloquence and authority:

"I get great pleasure from writing, but not always, or even usually. Writing a novel is largely an exercise in psychological discipline – trying to balance your project on your chin while negotiating a minefield of depression and freak-out. Beginning is daunting; being in the middle makes you feel like Sisyphus; ending sometimes comes with the disappointment that this finite collection of words is all that remains of your infinitely rich idea. Along the way, there are the pitfalls of self-disgust, boredom, disorientation and a lingering sense of inadequacy, occasionally alternating with episodes of hysterical self-congratulation as you fleetingly believe you've nailed that particular sentence and are surely destined to join the ranks of the immortals, only to be confronted the next morning with an appalling farrago of clichés that no sane human could read without vomiting. But when you're in the zone, spinning words like plates, there's a deep sense of satisfaction and, yes, enjoyment…" (Hari Kunzru)