Archives for October 2018
The ‘Rustic Apple Tart’ (Can Barnes and Noble Survive?)
But It's Not Just the Tart That's RusticThe Rustic Tart is easy to lampoon, but my fondness for it is sincere at one level. They’re part of my afternoons at Barnes and Noble, which is my treasured home away from home. I’ve spent some sweet Saturday afternoons there. But here’s the problem: BN is clearly imperiled. It’s threatened by Amazon, which now sells one out of every two books in America. And it’s threatened by its own business stumbles; it’s losing money amid sales declines in an otherwise strong economy. In short, Barnes and Noble itself seems “rustic,” as if it’s a relic of an earlier era. I hope I’m wrong about that. It’d be heartbreaking if BN’s 600 stores nationwide were to close. Big chunks of the US would have no bookstore. And sure, I like indie book shops – and they’re growing, which is fantastic news. Independent book shops are usually intimate, literary affairs, with clerks who love books. Indie booksellers look at BN and see a soulless warehouse of books – with some justification. BN is like the Rustic Apple Tart of bookstores: big, with an empty, mass-produced feel. But for me, my local Barnes and Noble is a place to be. It’s my second living room. It’s large enough so I can hang out there. Peruse all the new titles, browse the magazines, sit and read, work on my laptop. I typically come home with a new book. Indie shops are typically small, even cramped, and aren’t hospitable to hanging out like the capacious BN. Nor do they have all the new books and magazines; BN’s freshly stocked shelves/tables provides the big picture. So here’s hoping that BN survives. If I were its CEO, I’d make it a hub for book events, boost the readings, turn it into community hotspot – use that big space to host people (that is, shoppers). In the mean time, I’ll support BN by continuing to buy those delicious, homemade Rustic Apple Tarts. On an optimistic note, the book industry continues to survive. There’s no sales juggernaut, but this chart suggests there’s room for numerous retailers. (Not to mention authors…) Current and forecast global book publishing revenue. Source: Statistica.
Who is James Maguire?
Oh C’mon, Some Empathy for James MaguireWe know these James Maguire types must endure an inner emptiness. As F. Scott Fitzgerald noted, “in the dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning.” Undoubtedly these runty bloggers feel exactly this. But if we can muster a smidgen of sympatico, let’s grant him this: the name James Maguire is horribly common. (Like the man himself, in fact). Consequently, scoring Google page 1 for such a common name isn’t easy. If, for instance, your name is Rondo Humperdicious and you own RondoHumperdicious.com, you’ll hold top Google ranking with hardly an effort. But ‘James Maguire’? The name is as ethnically generic as John Smith or Pedro Hernandez. Or Duc Nguyen or Herman Schmidt or Samir Patel. I mean, you take the classically Irish Maguire and – what else? – pair it with first names of saints: John, Paul, Luke. Those wildly original Maguire families pick “Ryan.” (There wasn’t a saint Ryan, so they’ll likely roast in hell, but okay.) Google the term ‘James Maguire’: 30.4 million results. Now, Google 'Rondo Humperdicious': Your search - Rondo Humperdicious - did not match any documents. So, c’mon, can we cut this petty self-promotion some slack? At least a bemused shrug, like, well, if that’s what his little life is focused on, whatever.
Still, We Mustn’t Encourage James MaguireEven as we conjure empathy for the plight of some random James Maguire, it’s not right to encourage him. We should not, say, spend too much time reading his self-serving post. Google counts “time on page” as a factor in search ranking. So if you tarry on a self-serving page it rewards this miserable exercise. Plus: don't visit the James Maguire books on Amazon page. That serves no purpose. Even more important: We hope – we plead – that you don’t tweet this post on Twitter, post it on Facebook, spotlight it on LinkedIn or announce it on Google+ (Remember Google+? Wow, that was a mess.) Social media links would only reward these dubious doings. Let’s not sully the pristine environment of the Internet with such drivel. Please, let’s keep the Internet pure! Thank you. And, if you'd like more information about James Maguire – but why? – you can aways go here.
The Meaning of Autumn
The Red Tide in Florida: What Have We Done?
I felt the deepest dismay on my recent trip to Sanibel Island, in South Florida on the Gulf Coast. We stayed near the water and I was so looking forward to walking down to the beach. That first morning, it was great to see the water and hear the surf.
Yet the beaches were deserted. Odd, I thought. Is it because the beaches here are so stark? Not a leaf of shade, a flatness to the terrain. In late August the brick wall of humidity is fierce. I grew up in St. Louis so I know humidity, but the humidity in South Florida is…dystopian.
Then the smell hit me. The harsh foul odor of death – literally. I knew what caused it, but I found myself wanting to deny it. I looked across the beach and didn’t see it, and thought, No, what I’ve heard is an exaggeration. I’m relieved the reports were overblown.
Even as the stench assaulted us, I still thought I wouldn’t see actual proof. I guess I just didn’t want it to be true.
Then I walked down to the water’s edge. There it was. A long, wide row of dead fish. Marine life of every kind, eels, fish big and small, strange-looking creatures I didn’t recognize. One silvery fish had a strangely open mouth like death had shocked it. The decaying creatures lay in gross tangled piles on top of one another, as if some plague had swept the Gulf.
It’s called the Red Tide. Scientists aren’t sure exactly what’s going on, but it appears that algae in the water produces neurotoxins. This happens every year, with some years having longer Red Tides. It’s exacerbated by unnaturally warm weather (global warming) and fertilizer runoff with high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen.
In the late morning I saw teams of workers in small vehicles going down the beach, wearing masks like in a sci-fi movie. They slowly gathered the devastated creatures into huge buckets.
Once I saw how bad it was I could hardly believe it. The row of dead fish swept up and down the entire length of beach as far as I could see.
Naturally, tourism has collapsed. Who wants to go to the Gulf coast of Florida when the beaches are toxic? I later read that lifeguards in populated areas are wearing face masks. (Humans are swimming in this?)
We hear so much about environmental degradation and global warming, we know it’s all around us. Still, it can seem distant. As we rush about our daily lives we don’t always smell it, see it, feel it.
But standing over that vast swath of devastation and smelling the putrid funk…this was degradation on a mass scale. Something has finally broken. A once balanced system has been so overwhelmed that it’s collapsing.
The fish cannot live in the sea. Looking at that small open-mouthed dead fish that stared out in mute horror, I wondered: God, what have we done?
Echoing that moment, as I flew back to California and the plane approached the Bay Area, I saw the haze from the now annual forest fires. A noxious gray screen seemed to cover everything. I’ve smelled it in the air in the last few years, sometimes very noticeably. This will only get worse, experts say, due to climate change.
Again, I have to ask, What have we done?