January 6th, 2010


Post-internet print-and-paper

I'm doing a little roundup of print-and-paper today, because it's something I'm fond of, in a retro-sentimental sort of way. I'm particularly interested in print's Unique Sales Proposition in the digital age; what it has to offer post-internet, or alongside-but-distinct-from-internet... if anything? When I "make myself scarce" by ending this blog on February 10th 2010, for instance, will I "graduate" from free to paid, purchasable, print-only writing?

That's what Momo Nonaka (right, above) seems to have done. Momo is an old friend, and from the 90s to the mid-noughties her blog Tigerlily made her one of Japan's best-known culture-bloggers. Now Momo is concentrating on print, and specifically zines. Tigerlily has become a paper magazine store called Lilmag. Momo is using the internet to distribute -- and blog about distributing -- her mags, but the products themselves are made of pure post-internet paper.

My alongside-internet, print-only novel The Book of Jokes gets an interesting review in the January edition of American literary review The Believer. Although The Believer is primarily a print publication, you can read Justin Taylor's review online. The reviews editor has tried an interesting "read-without-prejudice" experiment, sending Taylor my book without its cover or title pages, its spine blacked-out with a sharpie, and a ban on all googling. The result is a review I'm tempted to call "disorienteered", but also a satisfyingly context-free take on a wedge of paper, which is what a book finally is. This review doesn't rewrite the press release, but simply lets the unfolding text lead the reviewer through revulsion, amusement, disorientation, and trains of personal association. It's something I tried myself recently when I wrote a Playground column describing step-by-step my real-time discovery of a band called Hecuba. Taylor links my Book of Jokes to Lynne Tillman, a writer I met a couple of times in London in the 80s, via mutual friends, and who's apparently also written a book based on jokes (1999's No Lease on Life).

Turning to newspapers, the Israeli daily Haaretz mentions me today. Swiss "pop literature" writer Christian Kracht, in an interview with the paper, quotes the whole lyric to my song Germania, which, as I recall, was an attempt to channel a Germanic sensibility I'd found in art by Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys, and imagery from the poems of Paul Celan and Rainer Maria Rilke. Kracht is one of my most important print mentors -- he published my debut short story 7 Lies About Holger Hiller in literary review Der Freund in 2004, and he's the executive editor of the German edition of The Book of Jokes, which will appear this autumn on the Blumenbar / Buenos Aires imprint. More paper!

There's less paper in the world thanks to the official closure last month of ID magazine, the American design magazine to which I contributed regularly. I even managed to get a young Norwegian graphic design collective called Yokoland onto the cover. ID was great to write for, because they paid a dollar a word. This time last year I managed to live for about three months on their fees for three or four easy-to-write articles. The magazine's closure seems to reflect the axiom that anything the internet can do better than print, it will do better than print. Designers are well-served now by design blogs, which they expect to read free online.

Japanese magazines are still my favourite form of print (and since I can't read them, that must mean that print has some sort of talismanic-fetishistic quality for me). In the photo above (Tsutaya's "recommended titles" shelf) you can see the camera jyoshi mags called Phat and Snap. A camera jyoshi is a young woman who's obsessed with cameras and photography. She's about 22, possibly an art student. She usually has an elegant retro model of camera (she prefers film to digital) which may or may not be covered with stickers (as Ume Kayo's is). The only thing she likes more than photography is sitting in old cafes eating the tasty lunch set and leafing through old magazines, or traveling in other Asian countries. Hisae -- essentially a camera jyoshi herself (her photos grace the current edition of Apartamento magazine) -- flipped enviously through Phat and Snap and told me that there weren't all these titles for camera jyoshis when she was in her early 20s. Magazines must be doing something right if they're diversifying titles about obscure dead-tech hobbies.

I showed Maggie from street fashion / interview blog Broad&Market a Japanese mag called Tokyo Graffiti, and we both went into raptures over its current edition. "This is the perfect magazine for me," said Maggie, leafing through pages showing people stopped on the street to talk about what they're wearing, or holding up Gillian-Wearingesque signs stating their worries about the world, or sitting in their bedrooms describing their decoration preferences. Tokyo Graffiti -- which features almost no advertising, though it may be doing some subtle product placement, for all I know -- is the ultimate vox pop magazine, and so far no blog can provide enough research, content, context and detail to endanger it. But after flipping through the whole of Tokyo Graffiti in the act of intellectual shoplifting called tachiyomi ("standing and reading"), Maggie and I -- blogger pirates both -- replaced the mag on the recommended shelf unbought, took a snap of the cover, and resolved to blog about it. Paper is doomed.