Another reason to sit at your computer

Here comes a great idea from Simon & Schuster as reported by Alexandra Alter in the New York Times on January 11: “…a new website offering online courses from popular health, finance and self-help authors.”

The idea is that since book sales have dropped at S & S, why not squeeze more out of authors who have boffo fan bases and deeply important messages to convey? Like Dr. David B. Agus, who wrote The End of Illness and Tosha Silver, who offers spiritual advice in her book Outrageous Openness. Authors will set their own prices for the online courses, and if it all works out, S & S will release a dozen or more additional courses this year.

And eventually, Ms. Alter tells us, “the online courses, which are planned as stand-alone products rather than supplements to books, could include videos by entertainers and experts who have not yet published books.”

In other words, unless I misunderstand this completely, S & S is simply going into the online course business. Or heading in that direction, anyway. It’s easy to imagine an expert in, say, hair styling doing a video about hair styling. Or a gardener demonstrating something gardenish.

But what kind of course is an entertainer going to offer? Lessons in how to strut? How to be a diva? Tell a joke? Come to think of it, why would an entertainer offer a course through the Simon & Schuster website at all? Entertainers have their own websites. So do plenty of authors, but the authors probably need the S & S promotion a whole lot more than the entertainers do.

A couple of years ago the Times published a piece called “The Year of the MOOC,” a comprehensive look at Massive Open Online Courses. The writer of the article, Laura Pappano, said:

Traditional online courses charge tuition, carry credit and limit enrollment to a few dozen to ensure interaction with instructors. The MOOC, on the other hand, is usually free, credit-less and, well, massive.

Because anyone with an Internet connection can enroll, faculty can’t possibly respond to students individually. So the course design — how material is presented and the interactivity — counts for a lot. As do fellow students. Classmates may lean on one another in study groups organized in their towns, in online forums or, the prickly part, for grading work.

The evolving form knits together education, entertainment (think gaming) and social networking. Unlike its antecedent, open courseware — usually written materials or videotapes of lectures that make you feel as if you’re spying on a class from the back of the room — the MOOC is a full course made with you in mind.

It looks as if S & S is going to take the MOOC model, tinker with it a bit, glamorize it with celebs, and put it out there for consumers who aren’t interested in course credit, but want to have a little fun online and feel like part of a great big group of groupies.

So even more people will be glued to their computers for more hours per day taking courses on stuff they didn’t need in the first place, getting even less exercise, talking to each other even less (except online). And paying for it. Sounds like a plan.


FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Books & Greetings, Northvale, NJ

Magic Tree Bookstore, Oak Park, IL

Once Upon a Storybook, Tustin, CA


Thanks for…

Needless to say, one is thankful for friends and family, shelter and good food, health and solvency, ideas to think about and projects to work on. But this is a blog about writing and reading, so a very particular list emerges. Here are a few of the gifts I’ve appreciated this year.

libraries & librarians

My own beloved New York Society Library heads this category, along with every librarian, events producer, acquisitions person, cataloguer, circulation desker, conservator, systems specialist, development honcho, bookkeeper, and maintenance person at the NYSL. And anyone at the NYSL whom I might inadvertently have left out.

independent bookstores

Heroes, all. Champions of life, literature, joy, and freedom. GO, INDIES! (Note all the links to indies at the bottom of my posts; see IndieBound for much more info on independent bookstores.)IMG_0579

the authors guild

Of which I have been a member since 1988, and—I regret to say—am still paying the same amount of annual dues because you pay according to what you earn from your writing. However, I’m always delighted to write the (small) check because the Authors Guild has done so much good work and continues to do so.

the authors who took a stand against the gorilla

This year nothing surprised me more than the birth of Authors United, the movement started by Douglas Preston and joined by so many writers of note and less note, to speak out during the Amazon/Hachette battle.

my laptops

A special thank-you for my writing tools: My laptops (one MacBookPro and one MacAir) are my intimates. Image 1It may sound a little crazy, but I feel a very powerful bond with each of them—as if we’re in this thing together. Anthropomorphizing pieces of hardware isn’t always wise, because they break down in nonhuman ways that can only be cured by an expert (for whom I’m thankful too: Laurie Duncan of MacSamurai). On the other hand, when I’m nose to nose with either laptop, I usually feel as if I’m having conversation with another person. It’s a good feeling.

the writing retreat that starts tomorrow

Endless gratitude to my beloved friends architect Michael Rubin and landscape architect David Kamp for lending their Shelter Island home to a writer who badly needs a little time to herself, to think and write and calm down. The next blog post will be written on the island, from a blue-painted table with a long view of yard and meadow.

and the girl group, which has ended…for now

Yes, after four amazing years, the Girl Group is over. It’s been a wonderful ride, a rich and rewarding experience, but it’s time for the (current) writers to try life without the group. Well, without this group, anyway. Maybe they’ll surprise me and start a different group, though it’s my hope that each writer will work on her own for a while. This photo shows our (now former) lair: the corner table at the Pembroke Room in the Lowell Hotel, where the GG has been meeting from the get-go. It looks very ladylike, but the GGs are not. Many’s the time an un-tea-room-like word has rung out, turning the heads of actual ladies eating petits fours and cucumber sandwiches.

more time for writing, as of now

I worked double-hard for the past twelve months, banked some dough, and it appears that maybe I’m going to have a writing sabbatical, barring disaster. All plans these days are bracketed by “maybe” and “barring disaster.” But I’m hopeful for the new year, and I trust you are too, for your new year and new projects.

Whether you’re spending this national day of observance with family, friends, or—as I have chosen—alone, The Book Under Her Bed wishes you a happy day.


FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Hooray for Books!, Alexandria, VA

Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, VT

A Room of One’s Own, Madison, WI




The tap-dancing typesetter of ETAOIN SHRDLU



0003778800-01-3_20141110Carl Schlesinger died on November 9, 2014. His family described him in his obituary in New Jersey’s Record/Herald as…”a vibrant man who loved the printed word, the New York Times, tap dance, music, writing rhymes, union and printing history, and entertaining audiences.”  

You’ve probably never heard of Carl, but to a considerable number of typophiles and type historians he personified both the love of old printing methods and the intelligent acceptance of the transition to new ones. “Carl was a fascinating link to a different time and technology. And somewhat unusual in that he adapted to computer typesetting,” says Joel Mason, former president of the American Printing History Association.

This was poignantly demonstrated at the New York Times, where Carl worked for a total of thirty-five years: On Saturday night, July 1, 1978,  the NYT published the last newspaper printed via Linotype, a hot-metal typesetting process; the very next day Linotype was definitively over when the newspaper switched to computer-generated cold type.

lino9260 The night was documented in the award-winning twenty-nine-minute film called “Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu“— meaning farewell to a string of letters that represented the arrangement of keys on the old Linotype machines.

That singular night marked the end of nearly a hundred years of a particular convention in newspaper printing. In a way, Sunday, July 2, 1978 ushered in the digital age. The documentary became a classic, and Carl Schlesinger was the central character in the film.

Other Linotypists understood that their jobs were either disappearing or changing radically; Carl saw the demise of Linotype in a larger context of social change. There’s a nice line in his New York Times obit: “A loud century of men hammering out the news on big metal machines was giving way to the digital whisper of the future.”

Social change was a fact of life to Carl Schlesinger. He wasn’t a man who sat back and complacently punched a keyboard: He took time-outs from the Times for heading a printing program in Kenya and fund-raising for the Flying Doctors Service of East Africa; he turned his lifelong love of tap-dancing into the co-founding of the New York Committee to Celebrate National Tap Dance Day and he co-chaired the Tap Extravaganzas in New York for twenty years.

Carl was a union man and worked hard for the Typographical Union. He wrote two books on printing, one of them about Otto Mergenthaler, inventor of the Linotype. He was a storyteller, polymath, educator. He heard and loved percussion in the crash of Linotype, the click-click of computer keyboards, and the tap-tap-tap of dancing feet.

Laura Minor’s eulogy to her father was quoted in  “He once told me that he was never bored a minute in his life.”



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Many thanks to Joel Mason for saving Carl’s card and for sharing it with The Book Under Her Bed.



FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Minneapolis, MN

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, New York, NY

The Bookworm, Edwards, CO