Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Book Business 2

It's supposed to snow later, so I better go to the store this morning and get some necessaries -- coffee, soup fixins, breadsticks, eggs, oranges, toilet paper, candles, yogurt, seltzer, some kind of mixed nuts, a bar of dark chocolate, tomato paste, chopped chuck, mushrooms, and whatever pasta they got on special. The snow won't stick at first cause it's too warm. But tonight the deep freeze will move in and no one'll be able to get down Breakneck Road.

I went into town yesterday and stumbled on the grand opening of the new Armani store at Fifty-sixth and Fifth. Fashion Week in the city, lots of tall skinny girls millin about, cameras poppin, cops on horses moseyin on up to the barricades, it looked like Christmas on the Avenue, when out-of-town gawkers turn Rock Center into a babbling pool of human longing. But the rest of the city was dead. The Dow dropped another 300 points and maintenance men were securing upper floor windows in bank buildings all over town. Some greasy Young Turk wearin a bluetooth headset was screamin hysterically at the MOMA facade on Fifty-third while inside St. Thomas's the boys were singin the Nunc dimittis at Evensong. Over on Broadway a gap-toothed urchin was hawkin tickets to The 39 Steps.

People are tryin to hang on, the lights are lit, the tables are set, the cabs are still pullin up to the curb outside the Sheraton disgorging scared and lonely conventioneers. You see 'em beeline it to the bar. Effing city gets in your clothes and in your nostrils, like the smell of cigarette smoke in your hair, and even if you no longer work here, you still get that little tingle around your anus when you get off the bus and enter the stream.

The Roller and I hadn't seen each other in years but it dint matter. We picked up the conversation like it was yesterday, the Laphroaig workin in us like a little portable heater. Neither of us is doin exactly what we expected to be doin at this stage of the game. But it isn't a big surprise. Quist used to tell me, just believe in 'the evidence of your senses' and 'adapt accordingly.' The Roller finally closed down his New York crib, packed up the remains, and ran the lot down to his spread in Virginia. Maybe now the goats'll get to chew on some of those books of his, a fine end for 'em. The books, that is.

The Roller thinks that the Kindle is how most people will read in the future. He says it'll keep improving until pretty soon it'll almost be as good as reading a paper book. I ast him, "But if we got paper books now, why should we hold out for something that's gonna approximate paper some ways down the road?"

"Progress," he said, "You can't stop it, poot. Makes no difference if it's progress forward or progress backward. You gotta keep up with the times. Most people aren't like you. They don't keep books around after they read 'em. They just go onto the next book."

Last week Kaz was in town whose business card reads, "Kindle Evangelist." I like the nod to religion cause that's really how we relate to new technology. If it works without wires we genuflect. You turn it on and there's The Times, or the latest Stephen King, or somesuch, and even though the screen is an ugly gray simulacrum of a paper page, the magic makes it holy. The magic and the novelty. And the cheapness, once you pay for the thing itself.

The cheapness upsets some folks in the book business but I don't know why. Most books hawked these days are disposable anyways. You see 'em on the remainder tables for $6.98, scuffed and wan, their garish covers about as enticing as moldy bread and you ast yourself, why would anyone pay full price for these things in the first place?

At least The Roller wasn't tryin to sell me on the notion that the Kindle was gonna be good for business. Nobody gonna make money on it except Amazon and Sprint. For the publishers, it's like a truth serum -- makes it clear there's no clean way out of the mess they're in. All those good people been tuggin at the one-armed bandit, what're they gonna do? Where are they gonna go?

Quist told me to watch out for smart people with good intentions. "They're the ones who do the most damage, poot. They believe." He also stopped givin people Christmas presents. "After a little while, they go in the closet and stay there. Nothin's as old as a month-old novelty."

I gave The Roller a big hug on Forty-fourth Street and headed back to the Port Authority. It wasn't too late but the city was shufflin on its feet like a beat-up fighter. I saw a few tourists left standing and laughing in Times Square -- at least someone seemed happy to be there. 

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