Sunday
Oct142012

Bill Gates, in his own words

We recently asked Lisa Rogak, the editor of the new Agate B2 release Impatient Optimist: Bill Gates In His Own Words, a few questions about Gates and what went into creating this new book, which is made up of quotations drawn from Gates's public statements and interviews over the past 30-odd years.

What were some of the themes of Bill Gates’s life that came through when you were researching and compiling this book?

The first thing I noticed as I researched Gates's early years was his ability to focus and never waver once he set his mind—and will—to accomplishing something. Another theme I realized was that despite appearances to the contrary, this is a guy who does indeed work well with others. Plus, he has been able to forge alliances with some pretty uncommon bedfellows through the years, from Warren Buffett and Bono to Bill Clinton.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Gates during your research?

I was surprised to see how much he has mellowed over the years. And also that he has a keen, dry sense of humor. But probably most of all, that his philanthropic efforts are incredibly diverse—they run the gamut from technology to social causes—and that he's been able to make a significant difference for many individuals and charities since launching his foundation, particularly since leaving Microsoft and concentrating his efforts on his philanthropy full-time.

Do you have any insights as to why people are so fascinated with tech CEOs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs?

Because they see that in a world filled with extremely successful businesspeople and CEOs, tech entrepreneurs like Gates and Jobs have ventured so far beyond everyone else. Their efforts have exerted a powerful and very close influence on the daily lives of millions of people throughout the world. And they have a spillover effect, as we have clearly seen how the products introduced by newer tech entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg and the founders of Twitter have actually helped to topple dictatorships and effect real change in some heretofore sketchy political regimes around the world.  

What do you think will be Gates’s most lasting contribution?

I think Gates's most lasting contribution is twofold. For one, his technological brilliance and foresight, and his ability to blast out to the front of the pack when he declared that it was his goal to have a computer in every home and on every desktop. Second, his charity, which even his fans would never have picked up on in the early days when he was growing Microsoft. His philanthropy will likely affect the world for centuries to come. 

What should readers take away from Impatient Optimist?

Several things. First, from a business standpoint, perusing the quotes in Impatient Optimist will reveal instances where Gates faced a number of seemingly insurmountable dilemmas and was able to overcome them with the tools at hand. This should inspire readers to deal with the problems and challenges in their own business lives. Second, they'll be able to learn more about Bill Gates as a person and what makes him tick in his private life—something that is rarely explored.

Tuesday
Oct092012

The future of cookbooks?

So, cookbooks are dying. But they are most likely going to survive the deaths of every other sort of book, this author tells us. But die they will! And the sun will eventually burn out, too. Let's enjoy them while they last, especially during this remarkable period when print cookbooks and digital cookbooks seem to be coexisting just fine.

Friday
Sep282012

The realities of 2012 ebook technology

If this sort of thing can happen to the world's most high-profile writer, with her very high-profile new book, it can happen to any author, any book, any publisher. In fact, I can tell you it is happening to a great many ebooks bought and sold at this point in time. For good or ill, this is the general state--i.e., not particularly dependable--of this technology at this moment in time. It's getting better, but I think everyone involved should be realistic about where things stand at this moment, and mindful that publishers and retailers are trying to improve things.

"Yesterday the eBook file for The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling was released to all U.S. eBook retailers. There were issues with that file, including the adjustability of font color and size and adjustability of margins. As soon as Hachette was made aware of these issues, a replacement file was uploaded to all eBook retailers. Hachette has requested that each retailer contact their customers directly about reloading their eBook.

J.K. Rowling's new ebook had a few problems

Saturday
Sep152012

Lawrence Norfolk on writing about food

Longtime Friend of Agate Lawrence Norfolk has just published another characteristically brilliant novel, called John Saturnall's Feast, his first in twelve years. Norfolk has traveled a somewhat fitful journey to global literary stardom, one that's set him a little apart from his cohort of mid-career British novelists. He's probably better known on the Continent than he is in his native England, and he's steeply underappreciated here in the U.S.; this should be remedied, as his work is at least as accomplished as that of American contemporaries like Chabon, Egan, Eugenides, et. al. He's coming to America later this month for a brief tour. The new novel is terrific, like all of Lawrence's books--just ask Agate's associate publisher, Diana Slickman, as the Chicago Reader did this week.The title character in John Saturnall's Feast is a gifted 17th-century chef, and Lawrence recently wrote a brief investigation of the challenges involved in writing about food, cooking, and (especially) eating, which is defiinitely instructive stuff for us cookbook publishers.

Monday
Sep102012

Q.&A. with Natasha Korecki

Natasha Korecki, creator of the famed "Blago Blog" and longtime reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, has just published Only in Chicago: How the Rod Blagojevich Scandal Engulfed Illinois; Embroiled Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and Jesse Jackson Jr.; and Enthralled the Nation with our stand-alone ebook imprint, Agate Digital. An excerpt from the book appeared earlier today on the Sun-Times website, and we invited Natasha to share her thoughts about the book.

Natasha Korecki

First things first: What was he thinking?

As the feds closed in, Blagojevich was struggling to raise money, and his inability to do so was costing him his political power. He arguably began crossing the line as he grew more frustrated and desperate.

Could this be considered just a case of “Chicago politics as usual” wherein Blagojevich was unlucky enough to be caught? What makes this case different from other Illinois corruption scandals?

Blagojevich came up as part of the “Chicago Machine,” in that his father-in-law, powerful Chicago Alderman Dick Mell, helped launch his political career. But as the ex-governor alienated more and more people—including Mell—it was as if the Machine chewed him up and spat him out. What made it different was that the blatant conduct caught on the recordings took place after two of his closest fundraisers had been criminally charged.

In a story full of shocking, seemingly inexplicable twists, what stood out to you as the most bizarre?

Seeing Rod Blagojevich enter the federal courtroom wearing a jogging suit as an in-custody arrestee is an image I won’t soon forget.

What was it like to have a front-row seat to this story, day in and day out?

It was incredibly dramatic, particularly during the first trial. The testimony was explosive, but then the tapes were even more entertaining. On top of that, the lawyering in the case was sharp and humorous. I relished my front-row seat.

Is Blagojevich as out of touch with reality as he seems? Is it possible to find any sympathy for him?

He continued to have incredible faith in himself even when it appeared obvious that he was headed for defeat. He believed he could win over a jury just like he won over tens of thousands of voters. People are complex and, as in most cases, there’s more than one side to him. It’s a sad situation for his two daughters.

How do you think the other players in this saga fit in, most notably Blagojevich’s wife, Patti?

It was an incredibly tragic tale for some, particularly Christopher Kelly. Others were politically harmed, including Roland Burris, who chose to accept Blagojevich’s appointment to the Senate seat even after the governor was criminally charged. As for Patti, she was caught on numerous embarrassing phone recordings and was accused of being a ghost payroller for Tony Rezko. Ultimately though, the charges involving Patti were not proven in court.

Were you surprised at the national reaction to and interest in “The Blago Blog”? Why do you think people are so fascinated by his story?

I was surprised that it stretched so far beyond Illinois. I think the tapes were the biggest reason people were so captivated by the trials. There was no shortage of incredible conversation caught on tape and there always was the prospect of another major politico being caught on a recording. 

Among the other players singed in this scandal, who's been most negatively affected?

Without question, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. The scandal has dogged him for the last four years and ended up exposing not only a questionable relationship with a fundraiser but also the fact that he was having an affair.  As far as his recent health struggles go, I think that as with most things that have transpired in this case, there’s likely more to the story.

Saturday
Sep082012

Mike Sula on squirrel

I am a little late to the party regarding this terrific article by the Chicago Reader's Mike Sula about eating squirrel. It's just too good, though, not to take note of it. Agate is based in an older suburb/college town full of large trees and vulnerable garbage receptacles, and squirrels are omnipresent. We have more than our fair share of pigeons, too, and the open green spaces--parks, golf courses, and the like--have significant semipermanent goose populations. I can't help but look at these abundant creatures and wonder, as Sula does, why and how we lost our sense of them as food sources.

As Sula points out, it's not like these animals weren't very common fare right up until the mid-20th century or so. The argument for eating squirrel, and pigeon and goose, is not like the argument for eating insects or worms. So what happened over the past 60–70 years or so that led Americans away from this sort of "small game," as the Evanston writer John Blades referred to squirrels in his novel of the same name from about 20 years back? Sula has some interesting thoughts about that, among other things. Recommended.

Wednesday
Sep052012

Guest Post - How Divorce Court Saved My Marriage

Judge Lynn Toler is the author of the newly released Making Marriage Work (Agate Bolden 2012) and My Mother's Rules (Agate Bolden 2007). She's also the featured judge on Divorce Court, the longest running court program on television. A longer version of this essay previously appeared on Huffington Post Weddings.

Judge Lynn Toler

As the judge on Divorce Court, I am familiar with the thematic mistakes made in marriages. Yes, I know the show is often a little silly, but when my husband and I were staring into the marital abyss, I learned a valuable lesson from Divorce Court that helped me out at home.

I learned this particular lesson from couples who couldn’t figure out how they had gotten to Divorce Court in the first place. They had marriages that went awry in such small increments they didn’t know what had happened. But before me they were forced to compress years' worth of trouble into a short presentation. Each telling me a different story the other was usually surprised to hear, they often found that they were coming apart not because one or both were wrong, but because of unexamined needs. Seeing that scenario play out before me over and over again helped me figure out what was going wrong in my own home.

Lynn and Big E on their wedding day

By year 19, my husband, Big E, and I were off the road and deep in the weeds. Having become a father at 19, my husband married his first wife and had four children by the time he was 26. As a result he never got to do as he pleased because he did so much for others. When he looked at me he saw new and unencumbered. He saw me as the first installment in a lot of choices he was owed. 

I, on the other hand, was raised in a house that rocked and rolled on the rhythm of whatever was wrong with Dad, who was brilliant, principled, and also bipolar. Stuff was jumping off at my house all of the time and you never knew when or why. When I looked at Big E, I saw stable, safe, and secure.

Once we married, however, every time E didn’t get his way it was another drop in a bucket of sacrifices. By being willing to give me the children I sought—which, when you think about it, is huge—he took everything else off the table. Any desire I had that didn’t match his got me a little static. Though E was just ordinary, everyday annoyed about things, I didn’t see it that way. Even the mildest objection he raised prompted that voice in the back of my head to say, “Shut it down; it could go bad.” So instead of engaging in any meaningful exchange, I capitulated, repeatedly.

If you keep selling surrender like that, eventually the other person buys. Over time I taught my husband that by merely furrowing his brow he could get me to back off my position. And once you start that nonsense, the person whose pardon you are continuously begging begins to believe that you are, in fact, a perpetual problem. 

Of course, the hardest thing in the world for anyone to see is oneself. I didn’t know all this was what we were doing until I stepped back from where we were and looked at it as if I were on the bench. That’s when I saw all of the small stupid that landed us where we were. Once I got past the anger I started to address my own fears and learned how to communicate effectively. He followed suit because he saw that I had changed in a way that was in his best interests. We then decided to fight the problem instead of fighting one another.

Lynn and Big EOf course, this does not guarantee we’ll get to happily ever after. Marriage is quite the journey and things change all of the time. But our marriage is better now because it is a mindful one. We keep an eye on our competing needs. We no longer act on that right-now feeling without considering long-term consequence.  We have made a conscious decision to be consciously married. We also have our fingers crossed.

Tuesday
Jul242012

Wings of desire--a love story

I consider myself to be, in large part, a son of Buffalo. It’s true I was not born there, but my parents were, and lived there until after their marriage, and throughout my boyhood we made frequent trips to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I moved there in the summer of 1979, right before my senior year of high school, lean and hungry and open to new experiences. I’d sampled wings (as they are known in Buffalo—also, occasionally as “chicken wings” or maybe “hot wings,” but never as “Buffalo wings”) before but they’d never really compelled me until I moved there. Buffalo was surprisingly rich in distinct little foodways unique to Western New York, and at the time wings were just one of a number of regional specialties I devoted myself to exploring. I lived in a small town at the outermost edge of Buffalo’s eastern suburbs, one which at the time had an abbreviated rim of suburban development beside an expanse of farmland that rolled almost uninterrupted north and east to Lake Ontario and Rochester. Near the outer edge of this development, hard by the main town park, was Teso’s Pizza Café, a still-new establishment that had swiftly become a favorite of the town’s high school students. A favorite, that is, until we turned 18, which at that time was New York’s legal drinking age. Until then, Teso’s was it.

            At this remove I can’t hope to remember how many dozens of wings I ate that year. I never got to the Anchor Bar, the birthplace of the hot wing, which was deep in Buffalo proper; my family, which had dispersed out of North Buffalo to a variety of suburban towns ringing the city, favored the wings at a place called Duff’s, which now claims that “everyone in the world knows the Anchor Bar, but everyone in Buffalo knows Duff’s.” I ordered wings pretty much everywhere I went out to eat, and it was hard to find bad ones, but Teso’s became the place I ate them most often. I went there with my family, I went there with my friends, but best of all, I went there with my new girlfriend. She was a junior, a very serious girl with green eyes and a great laugh and tastes far more cultivated than mine in almost every respect. She merely condescended to wings. I would order a dozen and they would come (as they always came) to the table with a quantity of celery sticks and a small cup of chunky blue cheese dressing. She might have a wing or two, but it amused her to watch me cover the lower half of my face in orange hot sauce while she crunched through the celery, with an occasional dip into the blue cheese. Perhaps this was the reason I’ve largely eschewed eating wings with blue cheese or other embellishments over the intervening years—I looked at it as hers, not to be poached on our sullied by a dip from one of my wings.

            At the time, I thought this was a nearly perfect arrangement—I got the wings, she got the celery, and we each had what we preferred. I was, it turns out, wrong—it was not actually a nearly perfect arrangement, as much as I wished it were so. But at the time, I couldn’t get enough—they were hot, sharp, overwhelming, even. Addictive. I had no self control, and I had no desire for self control. Many nights at Teso’s, a mere dozen would not be enough.

            Flash forward six years, most of which I spent in St. Louis, a pleasant town with a few nice places to eat but for the most part a culinary backwater. Through most of the early 80s, wings remained what they’d always been, a local phenomenon confined to Western New York, but things were starting to change. The country was becoming more prosperous and people were starting to eat out more, and regional specialties began to appear on the menus of both fast-proliferating chain restaurants and those local places willing to broaden their bill of fare. This became vividly apparent when I left sleepy St. Louis, with its sole sushi bar and one lonely Thai restaurant, and came to Chicago in January of 1986. Another woman was involved—in this case, a slim architect eager to find work in one of the world’s great centers of architecture. I joined her in her large bi-level studio at State and Ontario, in a historically significant building. We each found work in our chosen fields, and we dove into our life together the way eager, ambitious, and mostly broke young people always have. There was a premium on finding good cheap places to eat, and these were plentiful in River North. We ate lots of great Thai (no shortage of that in Chicago—there were four Thai places in a two-block radius around our apartment) and lots of deep dish. We spent a great deal of time together, which is not hard to do in a one-room apartment, however large that room. A fantastic neighborhood Mexican place opened up a few blocks away, right across the street from her office on Clark Street, and we went there several times for chips and margaritas—until it got written up in the New York Times, and suddenly Frontera Grill became much tougher to get into after work.

            Around the corner, though, on Hubbard, was a bar and grill marked by a big sign featuring a big pair of disembodied lips being wetly licked by a big tongue. This fit right in on that stretch of Hubbard, which leaned heavily toward peep shows and strip clubs. It was called Hot Licks, and it was the first place I found in Chicago that served hot wings like the ones I remembered from Buffalo. My girlfriend didn’t particularly like hot wings, but she was OK with celery and blue cheese, and she liked a good burger, which Hot Licks also did well. We spent many evenings there after work, eating and drinking beer with our new friends, and I rekindled my passion for wings. Theirs were the hottest I ever remember eating—I would reel into the men’s room, dizzy, sweating, my lips and tongue on fire, and splash cold water on my face. And go back to the table for more.

            Hot Licks is long gone now. Its sister joint, Frankie Z’s, used to serve the same wings for a while out of its space around the corner on Clark, but then it too succumbed to the relentless upscaling of River North. The architect and I parted ways, and I learned (I hope) more about relationships in general and the challenges posed to young couples by living in one-room apartments in particular.

            I moved to the north side. I met a few more women, none of whom I recollect having an opinion on wings. Before long I got a new job in Evanston, working out of the Fountain Square Building at Davis and Sherman. Wings were starting to crop up on still more menus, but in Evanston I found something new. Something special. A place opened just south and west of the Northwestern campus that proudly claimed the chicken wing as its specialty of the house. I mean, of course, Buffalo Joe’s, which now boasts a quarter-century heritage of feeding college and high school students from its storefront on Clarke Street west of Sherman (and later its outposts on Green Bay Road and Howard Street).

            As the years unfolded, Buffalo Joe’s went from a phenomenon to an institution. It set an admirable standard, adhering to a traditional, unadorned Buffalo-style wing that found a large, enduring, and very partisan following. At the same time, across the country, as the 80s turned into the 90s, and then the twentieth century into the twenty-first, the lowly wing—essentially, tavern food from a small and not particularly distinguished Rust Belt city—began to ascend to unprecedented heights of popularity. It became (as it remains) a staple of the appetizer lists at most casual or bar and grill-type restaurants. As the chain restaurants flourished, they extended the wing’s reach even further. Beyond that, a few chains began to establish themselves that, like Buffalo Joe’s, built their identity around the wing. One called itself BW3 and followed the time-tested Domino’s business model of opening up outlets near college campuses. As it grew, it changed its name, becoming known as Buffalo Wild Wings. By the time the 2000s came along, the wing had become ubiquitous--as had the much-mocked sobriquet “Buffalo wing.”

            While working in Evanston, I met another woman, a schoolteacher who worked at Evanston Township High School and who had grown up very nearby. As it turns out, she doesn’t much care for chicken wings, though she has nothing against celery and can kind of take or leave the blue cheese. We had a rocky courtship, but I’d accumulated enough experience by now to realize that what we had was worth enduring a pretty considerable quantity of rockiness. Reader, I married her, and since then have devoted myself to exploring everything necessary to make a relationship happy and successful. I left that Evanston-based job, and with it my easy access to Buffalo Joe’s, but after starting a family, we moved to Evanston in 1998, and a few years after that I started Agate here as well. Since then, I have had occasion to eat plenty of chicken wings—my daughter likes them, and my son loves them. Fortunately for us, Evanston has become something of a wing oasis. Buffalo Joe’s is going strong. A few years ago, southwest Evanston was graced with the opening of a Wingstop franchise on Main just east of McCormick. Buffalo Wild Wings opened a massive outpost just north of the Century 16 theater on Maple. And most recently, Wings over Evanston opened at Emerson and Ridge. That’s four wing places in a town of under 80,000. What riches are ours to celebrate! And that doesn’t even include all the great wings served at non-wing-dedicated places.

            As we prepare for the 2012 Evanston Wing-off, it seemed appropriate to reflect on what brought me to this moment, and this opportunity. When I sit at the judging table, tasked with my fellows to determine the best wing in Evanston, I will bring almost 30 years of devotion to the effort. I can’t wait. After all these years, the heat—and the responding passion—is unabated. Love is served by the dozen.

Friday
Jul202012

Agate announces judges for Evanston Wing-Off 2012

Agate Publishing is proud to announce the esteemed judges for the Evanston Wing-Off 2012. After a long and careful search, we have an expert panel whose background, credentials, and genuine love of Buffalo chicken wings make them uniquely qualified to help us crown the best wing establishment in Evanston. We are honored to welcome the following experts on Tuesday, July 24th:

 

  • Janet Rausa Fuller – Former Chicago Sun-Times food editor and 2012 James Beard Award nominee
  • Parneshia Jones – Poetry editor at Northwestern University Press, publisher of the 2011 National Book Award winner for poetry, Nikki Finney
  • Martha Bayne – Former Chicago Reader food editor, founder of Soup & Bread night at the Hideout, and author of Soup & Bread Cookbook
  • Andrew Brochu – Executive chef at Graham Elliot, former executive chef of Pops for Champagne and Kith & Kin, and former Alinea cook

 

These four aficionados will join the judging table alongside Agate’s own cookbook editors, producers, and several other wing cognoscenti on staff.

The Evanston Wing-Off 2012 will be a blind taste test where all entrants (Wingstop, Wings Over Evanston, Buffalo Joe’s, and Buffalo Wild Wings) will be anonymous to the judges, who will rank the Buffalo chicken wings in the following areas: Best Sauce, Best Meat, Best Texture/Mouthfeel, and Best Overall.

“The most important thing with something like this, other than it be run competently,” says Ashlee Humphreys, a Northwestern assistant professor whose research focuses on consumer behavior, “is that consumers perceive it as a fair and legitimate contest.” Agate employees are frequently subjected to Competency Aptitude Testing (CAT), which can involve tests ranging from basic reading comprehension to quickly locating the best cat photos on the Internet, as well as a test of making the perfect artisanal cup of drip-brew, fresh-ground coffee. When asked to comment on the legitimacy of Agate’s blind taste test methodologies, Humphreys said, “Rest assured you have my full endorsement.”

While this year’s Wing-Off will be a closed event, Agate invites the public at large to participate in Wing-Off 2012-related discussion on Facebook and Twitter (hashtag #WingOff2012). Agate is also assuring the complete legitimacy of this contest by making a solemn oath by the Lost Eye of Odin to uphold the rigorous academic and scientific standards of the blind taste test (this is traditionally the most binding promise an Agate employee—or any publishing professional—can make).

Please help us in spread the word about the Evanston 2012 Wing-Off by participating in the online discussion and telling us your thoughts on the art of Buffalo chicken wings.

Thursday
Jul122012

Agate Publishing to host Evanston Wing-Off

On Tuesday, July 24th, we are hosting a blind taste test with one goal: to determine the best purveyor of Buffalo chicken wings in the City of Evanston. Our cast of judges, including local chefs, media personalities, Buffalo natives, and impassioned wing devotees, will sample Buffalo chicken wings from the four Evanston restaurants that specialize in this delicacy: Wings Over Evanston, Buffalo Joe’s, Wingstop, and Buffalo Wild Wings. The judges will determine Evanston’s best overall wing as well as winners in several important subcategories.

Winners will receive this buffalo statue, currently residing in a local park in Evanston...Wyoming.  

For a town of less than 80,000 people, Evanston benefits from a remarkable plenitude of tremendous wing options. This is our chance to recognize and thank these worthwhile establishments, not to mention provide a noble service to the community by offering our definitive judgment on Evanston’s leading wing establishments.

"Judge not, that ye be not judged." -- The biblical equivelant of a yield sign.

Though the Evanston Wing-Off 2012 will not be open to the public (in order to limit potential bias or corruptive elements), Evanstonians and wing enthusiasts are encouraged to participate via Facebook and Twitter (#WingOff2012). We will look to you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the best way to assess wing quality, your preferred methods for wing cleanup, and your opinions on wing-complementary beers from local area breweries, among other pressing questions that keep us up at night.

"Who wants to lick a messy baby?" -- Homer Simpson 

We have long had a private concern in forging a consensus on Evanston’s best Buffalo chicken wing—in fact, we first sponsored a much smaller-scale wing-off in 2008.  Informal internal debate and taste-testing has led us to conclude that we owe it to the greater Evanston community to go public with this concern in an official, objective, and statistically sound blind taste test.

The discovery of the Higgs boson, or "God particle," was actually an incredibly important precursor for conducting our scientific study of wing quality.  

In addition to Evanston's rich history as a fine-dining and cultural epicenter, our fair city just north of Chicago birthed many organizations that sponsor open and intelligent debate, such as the  Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Illinois Republican Party, established by city father (and personal friend of Abraham Lincoln) John Evans. Evanston is also home to the Rotary International Headquarters, a Masonic Temple, and this one time Tina Fey worked at our local YMCA. We hope to contribute to these esteemed traditions—albeit without the aforementioned organizations’ proclivity for prohibition and politics—by sponsoring a civic event designed to rouse pointed, productive exchanges as well as practical results.

A meeting of the Women's Christian Temperance Union that, scientists surmise, may have been about Buffalo chicken wings.
Pictured from left to right: Abraham Lincoln, John Evans, and Frances Willard, all of whom may or may not have enjoyed a meal of Buffalo chicken wings together in Evanston, Illinois.

Thursday
Jun142012

What editors do...or don't do

This seemed like a nice complement to yesterday's post on critics. There are a lot of ways to edit well, and almost as many ways to edit poorly; editing is as little understood as any other task in the various fields of creative work. Here's a little glimpse beneath the covers.

Wednesday
Jun132012

What critics do

The estimable Ruth Franklin, whose work appears most frequently in The New Republic, just won the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. This was taken note of at the famed litblog The Literary Saloon, which offers up this choice quote from Franklin's acceptance speech:

It's the task of the critic to champion books that deserve to be championed, and to take a stand against those that have the power to harm. And anyone who doesn't believe that books have the power to harm is not taking them seriously enough.

Friday
Jun082012

Agate at Printers Row Lit Fest

Agate's had a booth at the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest for the last nine years. It's always a fun event, bringing together publishers, booksellers, and book lovers from around Chicago. This year, we're proud to bring several of our authors for panels and signings. Also, be sure to visit our tent just north of the intersection of Polk and Dearborn for lots of discounted Agate titles.

Saturday, June 9th

11:15 am – Anna Blessing, author of LOCALLY GROWN, will be discussing farmers markets and sustainable eating at the Good Eating stage, with Janine MacLachlan, chef Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass Cafe, and Monica Eng.

1:00 pm – Agate president Doug Seibold talks about the new Agate Digital ebook partnership with the Chicago Tribune's Geoff Brown at the Trib Nation stage.

2:30 pm – Anupy Singla signs copies of her best-selling THE INDIAN SLOW COOKER and her new cookbook VEGAN INDIAN COOKING at Agate's tent T, north of Polk and Dearborn.

Sunday, June 10th


1:00 pm – Monica Pedersen, author of MONICA PEDERSEN MAKE IT BEAUTIFUL, discusses design and entertaining the Chicago way, with Chicago Home and Garden editor Jan Parr, author of CHICAGO SPACES: INSPIRING INTERIORS, at the Good Eating stage.

3:15 pm – Anupy Singla demonstrates Indian cooking from her new cookbook VEGAN INDIAN COOKING at the Center stage.

Sunday
May202012

Leonard Pitts and Freeman on NPR, part two

As promised, here is the interview Audie Cornish of "All Things Considered" did with Leonard Pitts, Jr., to discuss Freeman. It's a wonderful piece, but it only gives you a sliver of a sense of what's so important about this terrific new book. Yes, it's a heart-rending love story. But read the book to discover everything else it has to offer about the people shaped by that time and that place.

Thursday
May102012

Leonard Pitts and Freeman on NPR, part one

This nice article on the NPR site accompanies the interview Audie Cornish did with Leonard Pitts, Jr. this afternoon on "All Things Considered." We'll have a link to the audio posted tomorrow--in the meantime, the article also includes this terrific excerpt from the book, which is just out.

Tuesday
May082012

Agate Bolden Gets a Facebook Page

We're pleased to announce the launch of a Facebook page exclusively devoted to our Bolden imprint. Agate Bolden publishes intelligent, accessible, and thought-provoking fiction, nonfiction, and memoirs by African-American writers. The Bolden Facebook page will feature interviews with your favorite authors, updates on forthcoming books, giveaways, and links to insightful articles from around the web touching on the issues facing African Americans today. Like us to stay connected to the Agate Bolden world.

Agate Bolden is the home of National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward's debut novel Where The Line Bleeds; Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s novels Before I Forget and the forthcoming Freeman, memoir Becoming Dad, and collected columns Forward From This Moment; and daytime television star Judge Lynn Toler's My Mother's Rules and the forthcoming Making Marriage Work.

Friday
May042012

The academic treatise on book jackets we've all been waiting for

"For the first time, the dust jacket has been given its due status: in the rich density of his footnotes, the splendour of his eight indexes, Tanselle is nothing less than magisterial."

I kind of hate book jackets, as superfluous, distracting, and disproportionately overvalued in the book marketing effort. I see them, grudgingly, as a necessary evil, even though I recognize the brilliance of so many jacket designers. But that's how I feel. Maybe you like book jackets. This post's for you.

Wednesday
Apr252012

Elif Batuman on Mike Daisey, fiction, and nonfiction

I think Elif Batuman is a wonderful writer. Here at The Rumpus she defends Mike Daisey--a position to which I am not sympathetic--but does so in a sensitive, even-handed way that acknowledges where and how Daisey sinned, but suggests that perhaps we (and Ira Glass) should treat his trespasses more leniently. Along the way she develops some very interesting thoughts on the relative authority and value of fiction and nonfiction in our culture today, and how these have evolved in distressing ways. Highly recommended, as is everything else I've read by Elif Batuman.

I bet if Tolstoy was writing now in America, there would be a lot of pressure on him to do War and Peace as a nonfiction book – like, tracing the domestic and personal life of his wife’s grandmother through journals and letters, interwoven with his own philosophical musings about the Napoleonic wars. But Tolstoy didn’t think he was detracting from the truth-telling power of his book by writing it as a novel.

Monday
Apr162012

Invisible Man at 60

Some due homage from David Denby at the New Yorker for one of the greatest of American novels.

Friday
Apr132012

Amazon and Apple, booksellers and publishers

I've put off sharing my thoughts here about the U.S. Department of Justice's action against Apple and the conglomerate publishers charged with colluding to raise ebook prices. I'll admit that my first thoughts weren't very temperate--certainly not as temperate as Scott Turow's very lucid and informed thoughts. Turow, as both an attorney and head of the Authors Guild, makes what I think are the most germane points about this situation, which have to do with what I see as the DoJ barking up the wrong tree here. I fear I do not understand how the DoJ, and the other bodies around the world that have pursued legal action against Apple and these publishers, could fail to see Amazon, in terms of its business practices, as the bigger threat to competition, consumers, and the marketplace in general than the organizations pursued in this action. I have written about this before here (and leaned on Turow in similar fashion).

Companies like Agate are relatively vulnerable and powerless in these kinds of large-scale disputes. We depend on our business relationship with Amazon, and other massive companies like Apple and Barnes and Noble and Google, to reach the buyers of our books. I'm under no illusions about the munificent nature of these big companies--or about most companies of any sort, for that matter. To me, what matters is the health of the larger system, not the health of particular companies besides my own. A little company like mine can't survive if it doesn't become somewhat effective navigating among the big dreadnoughts that control its industry. The larger concern is what happens when one organization gets too big and too powerful, and in its growth and spread begins to affect the health of the entire industry. Isn't that precisely the situation that institutions like the Department of Justice exist to address?

As I see it, there are some especially troubling aspects to this whole ebook pricing situation, specifically in business terms. One is Amazon's eagerness to apply its traditional wholesale terms to ebook sales, and then price those ebooks to consumers at rates that appear, in many cases, to be well below the wholesale prices they're paying publishers for those ebooks. Would the government look at this as "predatory pricing?" Perhaps not quite yet, according to the Federal Trade Commission. A second troubling aspect is Amazon's movement into publishing--not only through its more-traditional trade imprint led by Larry Kirshbaum, but also through its Kindle Direct "self-publishing" program. In this respect, Amazon is using its market power not only to compete with other retailers, but also to compete with the publishers for whom Amazon is ostensibly a customer. Again, this kind of business practice might not seem too monopolistic to the DoJ and FTC quite yet. But depending on how Amazon continues to evolve, might it start looking that way before too much longer? Last, there's the fact that in supposedly colluding with Apple to establish the agency pricing model, those large publishers showed themselves willing to accept less money from retailers per ebook sold, in order to preserve some measure of control over how their product was priced to consumers. Why? To me (as a publisher, of course), it seems clear: because they realize that losing control over the pricing of their products will have a disastrous effect on their businesses. This is not an illegitimate concern.

What's happening to big book publishers right now is starting to look a little like what happened to the newspaper industry over the past ten years, and to the record industry over the past fifteen years. It's not pretty. It's not even necessarily bad for small publishers like Agate. But is it good for our culture at large? More specifically, is it good for the individual Americans who read books, or who write them, i.e., most Americans? And are those not the people whose interests the DoJ is meant to protect?

It will be interesting to see what happens to the ebook marketplace next. In particular, I'm very curious whether big publishers will see it as more in their interest to risk alienating some readers by holding off on the ebook releases of their most popular titles, just as they delay their lower-cost paperback releases. It's certainly within their power, and their rights, to do so. Also, how aggressive will Amazon wish to appear in pricing ebooks? The company certainly hasn't been shy in painting publishers as the bad guys when it comes to disputes over ebook prices. It's this that I think bears the most watching--not so much how Amazon battles its rival retailers, but how it treats the companies that supply the products it sells.