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June 22nd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Honourary Canadian; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Urban Life & New York City

Happy in Toronto at NXNE

For the fourth consecutive year I’ve traveled to Toronto for the North by Northeast festival (NXNE); to see my client ExpertFile.com; and hold some publishing meetings. I am having a great week and have been posting frequently on Twitter and Facebook about the great events I’ve attended, and on the sister blog to this one, HonouraryCanadian.com, where I wrote about comedian and podcaster Marc Maron’s rousing keynote remarks.

Late last night I lucked in to an impromptu show at the great venue the Cameron House w/one of my musical heroes, Matt Mays. He had been invited by frontman Sam Cash to sit in with his band the Romatic Dogs. Matt began by leading the band, and the audience, in Neil Young’s “Helpless.” Matt and I spoke afterward, exchanging heartfelt appreciations. I conveyed my condolences for the sudden loss last year of his bandmate Jay Smith. He thanked me for remembering his old friend. I told him about Honourary Canadian and gave him my card for which he thanked me and said it would be going in “a special place.” Here’s a shot of Sam and Matt from last night:

I’ll also be posting more here about NXNE after I return to NYC next week.

 

 

 

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June 15th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner Book Productions; Publishing & Bookselling

One More BEA in the Books—2014 Edition

I’ve noticed we live now in an age of reunions, with various landmarks in our lives regularly memorialized. There are invitations to school reunions, throw-back Thursdays in our social networks (aka #tbt), and much (re)greeting and (re-)meeting at occasions related to our professions. Most recent among these for me was Book Expo America (BEA), held in NYC May 28-31 at the Javits Center.

I’ve been attending the annual book convention most years since 1978, when I got started in the book business with Undercover Books, the bookstore chain I ran with my siblings and our parents until 1985, when I came to NY and began working in publishing. Over the past ten years BEA has almost always been held in NY, though in earlier decades the book industry held its trade show in Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Dallas, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. For a long time the event was called ABA, until the American Booksellers Association, the trade group of indie booksellers that ran it, sold the show to Reed Exhibitions, a corporation that runs such conventions. The regular meetings with many of the same people over many years accounts in part for the warmth and chumminess that makes the book business such a special field to work in.

A hunger for human connections, for friends new and old, in business and in our lives, has long been part of human nature, and I believe it’s increasing. Our society is in the third decade of the Internet, with more and more virtuality in our lives all the time, so true human contact is welcomed, especially with the economic stresses so many live with, leading us to crave actually seeing old friends and establish new relationships, giving us a chance to speak of our latest enterprises and tell our personal stories, while listening to those of our friends and counterparts. I think this appetite for the actual is also responsible for the growth I’ve noticed in the field of educational conferences—public events that have thematic programming, and often quite interesting public speakers, who may speak on their own, often with projected slides, or as part of panels with multiple speakers in conversation.

I think this also helps explain why a company for which I consult, ExpertFile.com has made a good business for itself the past few years. I began working with them after I met CEO Peter Evans at Digital Book World in 2011, when they were known as SpeakerFile. One of the areas in which they’d established themselves was to help meeting planners connect with the right speakers for each event, sort of like an eHarmony for the conference industry. In their name change ExpertFile identifies the gaining of expertise as a great need of modern professionals. They still work in the conference area, but now concentrate on helping organizations amplify and promote their in-house talent through online expert centers created with ExpertFile’s unique software, enabling members of the media, businesspeople, and conference organizers to discover these uniquely talented people. During BEA, I was tweeting tech stories from the floor that I found compelling, like this one.

I note that during the recession, while so many industries floundered or sunk, conferences (like Aspen Institute, TED, TEDx, and Digital Book World flourished). Though O’Reilly and F&W Media shuttered Tools of Change after 2013, they still run a bunch of other conferences. By contrast, it must be said that the convention business—with events like BEA, where attendees still stroll aisles of booths set up by exhibitors—is relatively weak. BEA is trying to affiliate itself with more programmed events, but at its core it’s still been a trade show with floor exhibits mounted mostly by, in our case, publishers. Significantly, in 2013, and again this year, BEA has on its last day opened the show to the reading and bookbuying public—fans of authors—an inevitable evolution that I endorse. This latter part of BEA is now called BookCon, and Shelf Awareness reports that next year Reed will extend the the convention by a day, into Sunday with a second day of BookCon. This move, mixing an industry show with a consumer show, echoes ComicCon, a very successful show in Reed’s line-up. This year BookCon seemed to go very well, with more than 10,000 members of the reading public buying tickets and attending, as you’ll see from some photos below.

I’m going to reserve my book and publisher commentary for the captions accompanying the pictures below, most of them taken by Kyle Gallup, my wife, a painter, and Managing Editor of Philip Turner Book Productions.

Before that, I’ll say I’ve already read and enjoyed one book I got at Book Expo, Harvey Araton’s newspaper novel, Cold Type, which I made my #FridayReads this past weekend. I also want to add an observation that despite the continuing struggles of book publishing, it was actually quite an upbeat convention. Business has stabilized since the depths of the recession, and people are tired of feeling lousy, and talking as if the earth’s going to swallow us all. And, business has definitely gotten better in some areas. Also, many bookpeople I know were heartened this year by the fact that Amazon is taking it on the chin in many quarters of the press and in public opinion for their quarrel with Hachette over wholesale discount policies that the Seattle company is reportedly trying to dictate to the publisher. I don’t know when or how the standoff will end, but it makes many bookpeople, including me, feel good, or a bit better, to see the shine on Amazon’s reputation get tarnished a bit. With that, I’ll say I enjoyed I seeing many old friends, and making new ones at this year’s BEA. If you there were, dear reader, and we somehow didn’t bump in to each other, I hope you had a good convention, and I hope to see you next year. Here are many of the pictures Kyle and I took:

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June 14th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

#FridayReads, Harvey Araton’s Newspaper Novel, COLD TYPE

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#FridayReads, Harvey Araton’s newspaper novel, COLD TYPE, being published July 2014.

Memorable and likable characters dominate this realistic and very enjoyable novel by longtime New York Times sports reporter Araton, who also spent years at the NY Daily News. The progtagonist is Jamie Kramer, son of Morris, a longtime printer and union member at a NY paper called the Sun, which has recently been acquired by a marauding Anglo-Irish press baron, Leland Brady. Jamie works at the paper, too, though his one big story, on covert policies in his native Brooklyn that limit the sale of real estate to white people, a well-reported expose, earned him nothing but trouble. He hasn’t received the laurels bestowed on his hotshot cousin, Steven, a heroic columnist, at least in his own eyes. The book is set during a newspaper strike, apparently resembling in some respects a strike that occurred at the Daily News in the early 1990s. Araton makes entirely believeable the tension among the eight different unions striking the paper, triggered by the intemperate drivers.

Other characters include Jamie’s wife, Karyn, from whom he’s separated; their son, two-year old Aaron; and Jamie’s Latina colleague Carla, a savvy ally in the newsroom, and a sympathetic soul who knows Jamie’s secrets, even while she has many of her own. One subplot concerns Karyn, who’s in the midst of being recruited by a talkative entrepreneur in Seattle who’s starting a new business selling books on the Internet, still so new at this point in the ’90s. He even wants to recruit Jamie, who wants desperately to maintain a connection to Aaron, and so flirts with the idea of moving across the country. Araton never gives this Jeff-Bezos avatar a name but he hardly needed to do so. One irony that Araton doesn’t seem to have anticipated for his novel is that Bezos is now himself a newspaper owner, of the Washington Post, an inheritor of the world that Jamie Kramer and his father inhabit.

I will say very little about the ending, except that it’s a treat, as just desserts are served all ’round. This is a really enjoyable, sort of old-fashioned novel, offering a social portrait and a really rich story. Kudos to Mr Araton and Cinco Puntos Press, of El Paso, Texas, for writing and publishing this worthy novel. Thanks to Bobby Byrd of Cinco Puntos, who at BEA gave me the autographed copy I finished reading today. I’m going to be recommending COLD TYPE for weeks.

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June 8th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

Did Allied Bombing of France in WWII Cross an Ethical Line?

Are you aware that during WWII, British, American, and Canadian airplanes bombed Nazi infrastructure and installations in occupied France, or that an estimated 57,000 French civilians died from Allied actions during the war? I was not until last night, when I heard an in-depth report by BBC correspondent John Laurenson that CBC Radio carried on their weekend news program. In Laurenson’s story, the transcript of which can be read here, with several illustrations, he added that Free French forces pleaded for a halt to the raids, to no avail. Meanwhile, the Vichy government—cooperating and collaborating with the Nazis all the while—tried to turn the populace away from any sympathy for the Allied cause by decrying the bombardment.

Laurenson narrates that “According to research carried out by Andrew Knapp, history professor at the UK’s University of Reading, ‘Roughly 75,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on the UK [including Hitler's V missiles]. In France, it [was] in the order of 518,000 tonnes.’” Incredible, but apparently accurate. Some of the raids—especially the one pictured here that leveled Le Havre, killing 5,000 inhabitants of the city—would under today’s international agreements, probably be regarded as war crimes. More than 1,500 French towns were hit during the war.

DeGaulle must’ve lobbied Churchill, and FDR, to stop the raids that aimed to hit “marshaling areas,” as the Allies phrased it. But it was the conduct of Marshall Petain and his government that most concerned the Allies,. This topic, and the scale of French casualties, was taboo for many decades, with the moral ambiguity that had shrouded the war years in France. According to this report, many French were conflicted about the bombing campaign. They didn’t ‘support’ it, but many were ashamed of the conduct by the Vichy leaders, and hoped the Allies would prevail. In that context, the deaths of civilians was in some ways as expected, if not excused, as that of combatants. It was total war. Along with the above figure on the French casualties, at least 60,500 British civilians died from the German aerial bombardment. On D-Day itself, in 1944, 2,500 Allied combatants died, while about the same number of French civilians died that day.

Though I don’t excuse certain aspects of the Allied bombing, which has been examined and as far as I can tell, convincingly indicted in A.C. Grayling’s important book, Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan, I think I have a sense of some of the priorities and concerns that may have preoccupied all the Allied heads of state (Churchill and FDR, and also Mackenzie King, Canadian Prime Minister during the war, whose fighter pilots also flew bombing runs over France). They weren’t certain the Allies would win, and so believed in, or rationalized, some bombing that crossed an ethical line.  As for the crews who flew those missions they were lethal for them, too, for Laurenson adds about the British flyers: “Almost half of Bomber Command’s airmen were killed in action. Their missions, their commanders argued, would help win the war more quickly.”

In the case of Churchill, in particular, I don’t mean to cut him any slack he doesn’t deserve. I’ve read Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, where Churchill’s belligerence is on display, and in his own words for it’s a book assembled entirely from original documents. And, yet I must concede that he fought the war like he feared the Nazis might win, a possible outcome that would have been even more detestable than the moral crimes he committed, or may have committed.  I recommend you read Laurenson’s story here.

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June 5th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio; Urban Life & New York City

Fun Night of Happy Music with Brain Cloud at the Rodeo Bar

Brain Cloud is a happy music-making outfit, maestros of western swing whose infectious repertoire harks back to the music of Bob Wills, Patsy Cline, and early country & western radio. They are fronted by Dennis Lichtman, multi-instrumentalist (clarinet, mandolin, fiddle), while also featuring fab vocalist Tamar Korn, and hot sidemen playing lap steel guitar (Raphael McGregor); hollow-body electric guitar (Skip Krevens); and a solid rhythm section with a stand-up bassist and drummer who also played a washboard vest. They have so much fun playing their tunes, and with such good humor, you can’t help but feel good, even giddy, as you listen to them play. Licthman sports a very open personality on stage, offering polite kudos to his bandmates, and clear announcements of song titles and their origins, while Korn is a veritable vocal gymnast who uses her voice in skillful and surprising ways, often mimicking the sounds of the instruments near her on stage, and miming the fiddling of her stage partner, Lichtman.

The Rodeo Bar is a long-running NYC venue for live music. On weeknights there’s no cover charge in their music room, with a reasonably priced Tex-Mex menu on offer. Kyle and I ordered dinner (tacos and pulled pork), which was served quickly, and cleared off our table before Brain Cloud’s 9:00 PM set began.

Before the show, we chatted with Dennis, whom I had first met in 2011, when Brain Cloud played the Brooklyn Folk Festival. He also plays with the jazz combo, Mona’s Hot Four, an outfit that plays weekly at Mona’s Bar on Avenue B on the lower east side. In 2012, I attended a joint launch of a documentary and a CD about the jazz scene at Mona’s, and wrote about it here on this blog. In 2013, I attended a CD release party for Brain Cloud’s album “Outside Looking In,” also the title of a signature song of theirs that Lichtman explained was composed by Izzy Zaidman (and I note from the CD below, Lichtman and Korn), musician and leader of Izzy and the Catastrophics. Like much of Brain Cloud’s repertoire, this song sounds like it could come from the 1940s, though it’s a modern evocation of that era. They appear at Rodeo Bar many Wednesdays, I recommend you go hear them some time. Here’s what their CD looks like, along with pictures I took during last night’s show.

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May 31st, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Urban Life & New York City

Annals of Urban Wildlife—My Latest Encounter

Walking in Riverside Park tonight at dusk, at about 106th Street, I heard a scuffling nearby. Before I could actually walk up to the source of the noise, I spied what was making it: a raccoon feeding noisily on the contents of a decidedly full trash can. I stood a few minutes and took some pictures. Unconcerned about me, the animal kept angling for ways to get at the food scraps in the can. At first it was pulling stuff thru the steel mesh, then it got up on top of the can, dipping its head and torso in for maximum effectiveness. Quite a show of nimbleness. I was reminded of the time a couple years ago when I saw a baby skunk at the West Harlem Piers in Riverside Park at 125th Street, and my friend, CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence saw a white sturgeon in his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia. Click here to see all the photos I took of the raccoon tonight:

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May 28th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Food & Spirits; News, Politics & History; Urban Life & New York City

Blending New York City History, Anarchism, Contemporary Painting, and Home-brewed Ale

AleA fascinating slice of synchronous civic history was on display on the Lower East Side of Manhattan recently. At 50 East First Street, on a one-of-kind block tucked just north of East Houston, is a new gallery/activist venue called OSMOS Address. Kyle and I enjoyed the exhibit at the purpose-driven space run by socially conscious curator Cay Sophie Rabinowitz. The show features the paintings of Peter Dreher, who for forty years has devoted himself to painting domestic objects—a water glass and a chalice, for instance—in an ongoing series of meditative still-life works. Along with Dreher’s mesmerizing paintings, the evening offered visitors to the gallery the chance to taste a savory reddish pale ale—brewed by Austin Thomas, artist, gallerist and craft brewer—with aromatic fresh-baked bread from Table on Ten in Delaware County, New York, each small loaf sporting a sprig of rosemary—serving as an earthy tasting companion to the ale.Bread

Quoting from a handout distributed at OSMOS Address, the small batch ale was brewed as part of an homage called “Beer on Sunday,” honoring a distinguished nineteenth century tenant of this same address, “a German-American anarchist named Justus Schwab, who kept a ‘Beer-hole’. . . where writers, artists, radicals and other misfits met to drink and talk in to the night.”

The free-thinking anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) knew Schwab well and said this about her close friend:

“Schwab was the traditional Teuton in appearance, over six feet tall, broad-chest, and strait as a tree. On his wide shoulders and strong neck rested a magnificent head, framed in curly red hair and beard. His eyes were full of fire and intensity. But it was his voice, deep and tender, that was peculiar characteristic. It would have made him famous if he had chosen an operatic career. Justus was too much the rebel and the dreamer, however, to care about such things.”

A reprinted article on hand, originally appearing in the New York Times of March 7, 1879, chronicled a criminal trial in which Schwab was the defendant. He had been arrested at 50 East First on July 22, 1878, accused with dispensing alcoholic beverages at his Beer-hole shortly after the clock turned midnight and ticked over in to that early Sunday morning. Arrested at 12:15 am, Schwab was charged with a violation of Sunday closure laws—aka “blue laws”—a sign of churches’ influence on local regulations, which were still on the books in many municipalities well in to the twentieth century. Hearing the case, a three-judge panel found in Schwab’s favor, pointing out that the law as written forbade the serving of alcoholic beverages between one o’clock and five o’clock in the morning, and made no mention of midnight as the cut-off. Schwab was acquitted and the judges ordered court costs to be paid to him by the arresting officers. A pretty big win for the activist who not only kept beer taps in his establishment, but also operated a printing press with which he issued broadsides and political pamphlets in service of the causes embraced by Emma Goldman and other radicals of the time. The plaque about Schwab at 50 East First Street relates a friendship he shared with keen misanthropic writer Ambrose Bierce, a writer primarily identified with San Francisco, whose later disappearance during the Mexican War remains a mystery. I was unaware he had spent time in NYC.Schwab plaque

Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and Austin Thomas presented all this lore alongside the works of Peter Dreher in an adroit blend of hitherto hidden history and adventuresome aesthetics. I look forward to attending other events at OSMOS Address—where Rabinowitz told us she plans to set up a printing press—and at shows put on by Austin Thomas of Pocket Utopia. Kyle and I also enjoyed meeting longtime residents of 50 East First Street, artists Christin Couture and William Hoise, keen appreciators of nineteenth century aesthetics and collectors of objects and antiques from the era.

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May 27th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

Hockey Night in Canada

Getting set to drop the puck between Habs-Rangers.