Category Archives: Future of Books

Mark Twain & Crowdfunding

Mark Twain in Niko­la Tesla’s Lab­o­ra­to­ry, 1894

I’ve just writ­ten a guest post for The Head & The Hand Press, con­sid­er­ing how Mark Twain’s inno­va­tions in pub­lish­ing could be seen as a pre­cur­sor to the grow­ing trend of crowd­fund­ing for books. Twain/Clemens thought out­side the box not only in his writ­ing, but in the busi­ness of books. You can read the post here.

Twain’s pas­sion for inno­va­tion and inven­tion led him to admire the work of Niko­la Tes­la. Here’s a pic­ture of him in Tesla’s New York lab­o­ra­to­ry, hold­ing what looks like one of Tesla’s wire­less light bulbs. You can just make out Tes­la on the left.

And speak­ing of crowd­fund­ing, the pre­order cam­paign for The Head & The Hand’s Aster­oid Belt Almanac is in its final week. Order a book, sup­port a great inde­pen­dent press, and get a beau­ti­ful anthol­o­gy of new writ­ing and art, all at once!


The Asteroid Belt Almanac

ImageWhat if Poor Richard’s Almanac were reimag­ined for today? The Aster­oid Belt Almanac, com­ing soon from The Head and the Hand Press in Philadel­phia, is all about using this homey lit­er­ary form to help us imag­ine the futures we’re mov­ing toward. The old Farmer’s Almanac offered sto­ries and inter­pre­ta­tions of the stars to help farm­ers with their plant­i­ng. The Aster­oid Belt Almanac is a place to con­sid­er the strange inter­sec­tions of cre­ativ­i­ty, sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy that we’re expe­ri­enc­ing now.

It will include my essay, Grav­i­ty and the Cloud, an expan­sion on my blog post Grav­i­ty and the Noos­phere (both inspired by see­ing the movie Grav­i­ty), as well as the script for a graph­ic nov­el about trav­el to Mars, thoughts on music in the dig­i­tal age, star charts, and much more. The pub­lish­ers hope that it will “help to mea­sure the kind of atmos­pher­ic pres­sure felt between dar­ing hypothe­ses, between small steps and giant leaps.”

Pre­order the Aster­oid Belt Almanac! For $15, or more if you would like extra rewards, you’ll get a beau­ti­ful book, craft-print­ed on recy­cled paper. I love how with this project, The Head and the Hand Press is link­ing its com­mit­ment to fine arti­sanal print­ing with a new way of fund­ing, via Pub­slush, a site ded­i­cat­ed to crowd­fund­ing for books.


Out of Print — What’s happening to books?

ImageWe’re liv­ing through a slow-motion earth­quake in the world of books. The mas­sive shift from print­ed books to e-books and oth­er dig­i­tal for­mats may be as momen­tous as the arrival of the print­ing press five hun­dred years ago. This is one of those big changes that, even though it’s affect­ing our lives pro­found­ly, is hard to talk about—maybe in part because it’s so new. As Lev Gross­man said in a 2011 arti­cle, “if any­thing we may be low­balling the weird­ness of it all.”

A new doc­u­men­tary by Vivi­enne Roumani, Out of Print, aims to get us talk­ing about this phe­nom­e­non. How many of us still read print­ed books, or any long-form books at all? What is the effect of the e-book rev­o­lu­tion, and the broad­er, inter­net-induced change in our read­ing habits: on pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies, on writ­ers, on libraries? What about chil­dren and teenagers com­ing to read­ing now—how will it affect how they learn, even how they think?

The film, nar­rat­ed by Meryl Streep, is on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit, and will be shown this Sat­ur­day, July 20, in New Hope as part of the New Hope Film Fes­ti­val. Roumani gets a kind of vir­tu­al con­ver­sa­tion start­ed through inter­views with an impres­sive array of experts. In one cor­ner, there’s a sur­pris­ing­ly elo­quent Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon—the big goril­la of both e-book and print book sales—who speaks with pas­sion about the book as an ele­gant object, and about how read­ing a nov­el can trans­port you to an alter­nate world. In the oth­er cor­ner, there’s Scott Tur­ow, who as pres­i­dent of the Authors Guild acts as a kind of pit bull for writ­ers, argu­ing for their right to earn mon­ey from their work against ini­tia­tives like Google’s con­tro­ver­sial plan to dig­i­tize thou­sands of books.

And then there’s the late, great Ray Brad­bury, speak­ing about his dis­cov­ery of read­ing at his local library in Waukegan. In the base­ment of that library, he banged out the first draft of Fahren­heit 451, the book that pre­scient­ly imag­ined a future where most peo­ple live with immer­sive enter­tain­ment screens, and where books are in dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ing in a dif­fer­ent way. Is our new world as strange as that, or stranger? This ele­gant and thought­ful film opens a door on that ques­tion too.

Out of Print will be shown Sat­ur­day, July 20, 7 p.m. at the New Hope Arts Cen­ter, 2 Stock­ton Ave. @ Bridge Street, New Hope, PA 18938, as part of the New Hope Film Fes­ti­val