After my friend Christine’s dad died, she gave everyone who worked with her at the soup kitchen a plastic bag filled with birdseed. The bags had a little tag on them with a picture of cardinals and a note about how her dad loved feeding birds, so we should feed them in his memory. I had never met her dad and I only knew Christine from the hours we spent together every Wednesday afternoon cooking alongside a lot of other volunteers, but it was also impossible to be anywhere near her and not know her. She let everyone in to her world, which was fascinating, larger than life. She had been so many places and known so many interesting people. All the New York things I’d read novels about, Christine had experienced, and she also knew the people who wrote those novels. Now she worked as an art restorer and spent a lot of time cooking and dishing out food in a soup kitchen in Greenpoint.
I didn’t have a backyard or birdfeeder, so I just put the seed out on my windowsill. Birds came and ate it, which seemed slightly miraculous. How did they know to come? After the bag ran out, I bought more. More than a year later, I still put some out every morning. Mostly mourning doves come, but occasionally also juncos and finches.
Christine took her own life last Friday — I’m now hearing she had a bad chemical reaction to newly prescribed antidepressants, which makes the senselessness of her death extra horrible. It seems impossible. She was so much more alive than most people.
This morning I heard the unmistakable metallic chirp of a cardinal and went to watch him eat the seed. He sang as he ate, loud and full of life, with his majestic crest flaring in the early sunlight. Christine, I thought.
I know the idea that someone who has died comes and visits you in some reassuring form is silly, childish wishful thinking. I believe that at the same time that I believe that Christine’s spirit is in the world still, in birds and cats and people, in everything that sings loudly and proudly and is absolutely always purely itself.
Emily Books, the online feminist bookstore I run with my best friend, was started as an attempt to create a tiny, but serious, competitor to Amazon. To our surprise, the publishers who will talk in private about how much they hate Amazon did not want to do business with us. When I approached the VP of what I’ll generously call the “Digital Development” department of one of these publishers about selling one of her books via Emily Books, she was dismissive. She won’t do business with retailers who can’t offer digital rights protection (DRM), she explained. OK, I said, that software is far too expensive for most independent booksellers, and for Kindle devices, it’s proprietary to Amazon. What sort of non-Amazon branded digital protection would they require? Was there a viable workaround, an alternative? What if we were able to come up with something? As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized how stupid they were. Surely such a thing—an Amazon workaround!—would be incredibly, obviously valuable. Surely many people far smarter and wealthier than me were working day and night on it. Well, the Digital Developer reiterated, acknowledging my gaffe by speaking as if to a very slow child, they would need the software required for a Kindle. Never mind that these arbitrary criteria exclude basically all retailers who are not Amazon, never mind that DRM does little to prevent a determined book pirate, never mind that a real-life retailer was literally asking for her business, money on the table. It’s rare to witness someone line up such a perfect shot to their own foot, unless you work in publishing, I guess.
That was two years ago. Meanwhile I’ve waited to see what these well-resourced and well-connected publishing insiders were working on to challenge Amazon. Large publishers have websites, of course, but they generally don’t use them to sell books. In 2010, several of the major publishers banded together with Apple (illegally, as the Justice Department later determined) to forge a better pricing arrangement on ebooks; they agreed to settle the resulting lawsuit (Apple went to trial). In 2011, a few of the top publishers got together (legally this time) to fund a website, Bookish.com, that was supposed to offer a “recommendation engine,” feature reviews, and sell books directly to consumers. After two years and several million dollars, the site finally launched to general apathy and was soon sold, for an undisclosed but apparently small sum, to a startup called Zola.
Publishers create rules that hobble them by forcing them to depend on Amazon, which has had the effect of permanently changing the way books are published. For worse, so far. But alternative publishing models that exist outside the corporate ecosystem as much as possible offer hope for the future.
Dear Emily Books readers,
We’re looking for an intern to start June 1 and continue through September 1. We’d like you to be currently enrolled in college, ideally in the NY metro area. The position entails a maximum of 5 hours of work per week that you do at home, or wherever you like to work, and pays $10/hour. You’ll also check in with me (Emily! Hi!) once every few weeks about ongoing projects and we’ll have a quick coffee. Responsibilities include:
*reading books and telling us whether you like them
*writing about books
*acquiring books (we’ll reimburse you promptly, of course)
*proofreading (basic HTML required)
*SPECIAL PROJECTS that can be your own initiatives
Still interested? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line INTERN. Include your resume in the body of the email (no attachments), any relevant experience, and please feel free to share links to your tumblr or twitter. If you’ve read Emily Books, tell us which is your favorite and why.
Thank you! We look forward to hearing from you!
like my room, Trisha Low’s The Compleat Purge is strewn with artifacts that coalesce into a portrait of a person. Purge is a confessional, fatalistic diary, a portrait of the teenage girl, earnest but deeply troubled. The narrator “Trisha Low” commits suicide annually. Through legal documents, a series of cybersex fantasies, and an excerpt of an 18th century romance novel, “Trisha” lives and dies, exploring the many masks of feminine identity in a twisted textual performance.