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Week 1: An Introduction

As part of my Master’s program in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, I’ve enrolled in an elective course titled “Publishing: A Practical Approach.” The aim of the course is to “give students an introduction to contemporary publishing,” which sounds like a lot of fun, although I do wonder what an impractical approach to publishing would look like.

Our instructor, Jen McDerra, offered us several choices for our final project during our first class this past Monday: either we could write a 5,000 word essay on what we learned in the module, or we could keep a running blog highlighting what we learned, plus a 1,000 word summation. Given that I’ve been blogging in various corners of the Internet for nearly twenty years (yeash!), the choice was an easy one.

We did mostly introductions this week. We were also asked to come equipped with three quotations which we might use as epigraphs were a book to be written about us. I was reminded of the scene in Three Trapped Tigers where Códac notes:

“I go on listening to “Straight No Chaser” which could very well be the title of how one should take life if it wasn’t so obvious that that’s how it is”

My first two choices for quotations were easy. First, there’s this phonomenal line from Gostav Zarian’s The Traveller and His Road:

“Every thinking Armenian is like a radio station in the middle of a storm sending messages to distant places and receiving no answer.”

Horrendously beautiful and utterly true.

The next quotation was not so easy to come up with. I wanted to aim for something a bit different, and as I replayed song lyrics and movie scenes in my head, one line from I Heart Huckabees immediately stuck out for me:

“How am I not myself?”

The film is about the various ways to consider existential philosophies: either nothing matters, and you should be depressed about it, or nothing matters, and that should grant you the freedom to do whatever you want with your life. The line, as delivered, is an absentminded phrase from a pompous character, but it becomes a central theme the other characters revolve around, besides which, I always thought it had a nice little cadence to it.

I was stumped to come up with a third quote. I could think of lines in books that I loved, but not any that I could necessarily say would “define” me. I’m one of those fools who require physical copies of books—part of the reason I’m in this course, of course—but I could only bring about two dozen of my most cherished books with me from America. I reached for Douglas Coupland’s Life After God, which has helped me through many a crisis. While thumbing through it, I came across this passage late in the book:

“There was this group of blind people, with white canes and everything—a CNIB tour or something—and they hard us coming, and they motioned for us to stop, and we did. Then they handed Mark a camera. They asked Mark to take their picture.”

“Blind people?”

“Exactly. But the strange thing was, they still believed in sight. In pictures. I’m thinking that’s not a bad attitude.”

Without knowing anything about anything, it seems to me that if a reader came across this exchange at the start of the book, they would know what sort of bittersweet tale they were about to embark on. Perfect.

For the rest of the session, we walked around looking at books of various shapes and sizes, noting their publication dates, their editors, their fonts, covers and sizes, and so on. We concluded by going around the table and giving our opinions on what dangers the publishing industry faced. I thought of two issues:

  • Either the inevitable consequences of climate change will mean trees for luxuries such as books will be unavailable; or
  • The inevitable consequence of capitalism will mean that larger publishing houses will consolidate, merge, be acquired by Apple/Amazon/Google and “prevail”, while all the other ones will collapse

Next week, the class theme is “Selection for Publication.”