Funny, when I write it that way, it sounds less logical. Saul Bellow’s enterprising son (his layabout son, Eddie, works part time at a Texaco in Florida, and will kick your ass at Mortal Combat. Excuse me, Kombat.) has started a venture in which ideas will be packaged in pint-sized little booklets and sold to you – like One Story, except not stories. Adam Bellow hopes to cull source material from the internets. Not an awful idea, but – well, I can’t help but quote sizable swaths of the interview:
My model, the one that I’m hoping to recreate, is an American pamphlet series published in the 1920s, called the "Little Blue Books." They were published by a Jewish, socialist newspaper editor, very eccentric, brilliant guy named Emanuel Haldeman-Julius. He was a very progressive figure and had a little publishing empire going in the Midwest. At some point he decided to put out pamphlets, which he charged a nickel for. It was strictly a mail order business. He sold these things for twenty years. And he managed to sell a hundred million pamphlets in five years. He was very close with the leading polemicists of the day, so some of them had original material. But the pamphlets were also an eclectic mix of history, poetry, proverbs, joke books, sex advice, household tips, occasional pieces of journalism. When I asked my dad, when he was still alive, whether he had ever heard of the "Little Blue Books," he said, "Oh sure, when I used to commute to college from the south side of Chicago, to Northwestern, I’d go down to the IC and there would be a little vending machine. You’d put in a nickel and you’d get out a copy of the poems of Shelley or the stories of Maupassant. You’d read it on the train and then you’d discard it."
You had me at "little vending machine" until I realized that these pamphlets are not available that way – they are mail order. I suspect that finding some way to make a pamphlet so easy to get, like those Little Blue Books, would be key. I don’t know that people will want to pay $4 plus S&H for something they could read on their laptop in their underwear. (More on that later.) You do get a PDF of the pamphlet after you order – to tide you over, until the real deal arrives, but by that point you either will have already read it, or will be wishing you hadn’t spent your coffee money on something you could have read online a week ago, or any time. There needs to be a faster way, with more original content.
Possibly. Just thinking aloud here.
This makes more sense:
The situation now is different. It’s not so much that there is a lack of reading material or higher education like there was then, but rather that people don’t have time to take in all the information that is thrown at them. And this in a period when the tone and the level of public intellectual argument in this country has been adversely affected by both the media revolution and by current events. It’s been polarized and coarsened by the political climate. It’s also been made shallower and more superficial by the media environment.
Not a lot to argue with there, but then Adam takes a bong hit and continues:
So that’s on the one hand. On the other hand, I noticed the explosion of activity on the Internet. After 9/11 there was this huge explosion. I think it can best be described cosmologically. First there is a big bang. Thousands and thousands of individual blogs are spewed out. Nobody reads them in particular. They are all just little points sort of flickering in the cosmic gloom. But over time, because the Internet is a kind of pure intellectual democracy, little aggregations form. People are drawn to one another by common interests. And at the same time, certain individuals emerge as large planetary bodies, very often surrounded by circles of other people who share their interests.
Condalmo: the thousandth point of light. Adam, you had me at little vending machines. Stop already with the internets-is-a-universe stuff.
But back to laptops and underwear:
And my audience is really twofold. First there is the universe of blogs itself, which is a narrow market but a global one. But beyond that I find that there are many, many people who have become aware that the blogosphere exists and that it is powerful and influential but being busy people with a lot of demands on their time, they haven’t got the faintest idea of how to get acquainted with it and find the stuff that would interest them. I had a conversation with Sam Tanenhaus [editor of the New York Times Book Review] and I asked him what blogs he reads, and he is a serious intellectual and a highly energetic guy. And he said to me, "I don’t have time, I haven’t the slightest idea." That tells you something. For someone like him the pamphlets would offer him the best of the blogosphere.
Paging Ed Champion!
However, in all seriousness, the idea has merit and Adam seems quite serious, so do check out the interview and his website.