Thursday, January 29, 2009


© Emy Booz

My daughter has pagoda-itis. She can't stop making Lego pagodas. All you sinophiles out there should recognize these two: one is the oldest pagoda in China and the other is very much like the most famous pagoda in the country. Come on, give it a go and post your guess of their names!

Self-publishing and Chinese bookstores

Our local  bookstore, Chengdu ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them.

This is the opening line of a recent article in the New York Times (by Motoko Rich, Jan 27, 2009). Rich goes on to talk about print-on-demand companies and the self-publishing market, which is expanding at a rapid pace at the same time as the traditional publishing industry is experiencing difficulties and is responding by down-sizing. An interesting statistic in the article states that 480,000 books were published in the Unites States in 2008. No wonder it's difficult getting a book sold, let alone making a royalty penny. But of course profit alone is not the sole purpose of the self-publishing business.

British author Patrick Gale lamented at last year's Literary Festival at the Chengdu Bookworm that editors no longer exist and that you've really "made it" if your book gets edited at all. (I have the privilege of having a very good editor, tack Gunilla! Doesn’t mean ”I’ve made it” though). Already in 2005 Blake Morrison wrote about this in The Guardian (link here). 

The publishing world is, as ever, in turbulence and it is all very interesting to follow. I sit on both sides of the fence, both as supplier and recipient (writer, photographer and picture researcher) so can appreciate many angles to the story. It's also extremely interesting to witness the explosion of the publishing market in China. Newspaper kiosks are bursting with glossy mags and newspaper publications. Bookstores are gigantic here, several stories high, with coffee shops and all, just like the American bookstores. People sit in the aisles, reading a book from cover to cover, treating the bookstore like a library. I've even seen people photographing pages of books so they won't have to pay. The staff of these mostly state-run bookstores don't seem to mind. They read the books too. Somehow this all doesn't bother me, as long as people are interested in reading!

A camera in the pocket is worth...

Rollei 35, silver model. Maker: Werke Franke & Heidecke

...a dozen cameras still left in their camera bag. "Susanna" graciously commented on one of my postings yesterday. She's a Leica lover too. I started to answer her comment, but thought it might be more fun to share with other camera lovers...

When I got serious about photography in the early 1980s I carried a small Rollei 35SE in my pocket with me everywhere I went, even to work. It was a funny little camera with a lens that you could pull out and rotate-lock into position. You also had to "judge" the focusing distance. When I got it right - and with practice this was no problem - the Carl Zeiss Tessar lens was very sharp. I loved this little camera that was no bigger that a pack of cigarettes (which were in my other pocket at the time). The photographs from this camera led to my first book. Afterwards I travelled for some years with two Leica CLs with only two lenses, a 40mm and 90 mm; one body for color film and one for black and white. Since then I have owned many cameras, many lenses and switched back and forth between Nikon and Canon for the larger bodies. Unfortunately I no longer own either the Rollei or the Leica CLs, I could never afford to keep them when I had to buy new cameras. Today I'm lucky enough to own a range of cameras but it's still the "little camera" that I love most and have with me every day; easy to slip into a pocket or purse, very reliable and a compact camera that doesn't "dumb down" the photographer, allowing you to make the decisions when to use flash etc. 

Books are special

Thou art alive still, while thy booke doth live, and we have wits to read, and praise to give.
Shakespeare and Company, Paris ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Books are special, I can't live without them. Yesterday I mentioned how I never leave home without my camera, well that goes for a book too, I always carry something to read. You could say that books rule my life. I'm surrounded by books at home and in my workspace, piles and piles of them clutter the floor, bookshelves and book shelves take up wall space in every room (even the kitchen and bathroom). I read all the time and can't fall asleep at night if I haven't read at least one or two lines. I also like to possess books, they make me feel secure, they're my friends, my family. I have a hard time getting rid of books, you don't get rid of family do you? When we moved once friends helping us transport our several thousand strong library commented acidly "can't you borrow these at the library?"

A wall of books is a vision of beauty and comfort to me. The first piece of furniture I ever bought was a bookcase (I slept on a mattress on the floor). We own about 30 IKEA Billy bookcases and bookshelves, as you know, are a science. They have to be able to support a huge weight without sagging. (I can't stand shelves that look like the back of a Vietnamese Sway-back pig.) Billy fits the bill (!), they're both affordable and sturdy if bought in the narrow width. One of my early boyfriends felt very threatened by my bookshelves. Books to him were a bourgeois showcase of intellectual snobbery and he went on to threaten unconditionally that "if we ever live together we're not going to have any bookcases in the living room". Another boyfriend wouldn't let me read in bed. I'm married to neither of them.
When I was a child my biggest dream was to work with books, books in any way. I saw myself working in a library or a bookstore and if asked where I'd like to go on an outing it was usually either the library or the bookstore. A visit would make me so excited that a trip to the store loo was the first thing on the agenda before I could calm myself down to actually touch a book.

Books smell good, even musty old paperbacks found at the Salvation Army or in a vacation house. I often buy books by the armful, and love the scent of printer's ink, the gentle breeze of pages fanned in my face, the secure knowledge that that hard lump in my bag on a lonely trip is a sure friend, a new book to read. When I hear that precious libraries of rare books have been destroyed in war times it grieves me almost as much as the human losses. 

That I eventually got to work in publishing was a dream come true. My first job made me happy beyond words, surrounded by friends and colleagues that loved it every bit as much as I did. We didn't just love the word or the image, we could discuss all facets of publishing, going on about typefaces and fonts for hours, the pros and cons of different kinds and weights of paper, even what our book spines would look like on the shelf. 

Finally I became a published author myself. Coming upon my very own book in a bookshop window was a childish "sweetness" that I'll never forget. 

... on the other hand there seem to be far too many lame duck books in this world. Who was it who said "If you want to write a book, don't "?

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge....

Stureplan, Stockholm, Sweden ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Many people ask me about ways to improve their photography. I usually answer with the same two recommendations: 

1) Get closer, closER, CLOSER!

2) Take your camera with you EVERYWHERE. Even inside the house! Don't put it away in a camera bag. Have it out and ready to shoot - always. Don't treat it like a precious object, USE it!

I never leave home without my little Leica D-Lux, ever. 

Digital Photography School had the same comment today, read it here

...know what I mean?

#2 Today's picture 090129

Sign outside university study hall, Oxford, England ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn