The e-book world often feels like a dark corridor inside which any unpoliced literary material can suddenly appear. It can be a startling journey towards neglected novels, reprinted major novels, re-found masterpieces, or masterpieces never found once, undiscovered and exciting work, but now, as well of (of course) bad work, amateur work, inflated work, narcissistic work, but this is true of traditional publishing too. But, because of its more open spaces, for me, it has been a place really of comfort and near spirituality as it has opened up a vast infinity, and recreated the meaning of what James Joyce once said literature should be, that is: “shout in the street.” Or what Walt Whitman once proposed: “That you are here—that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”
It has been more than puzzling to me to read defensive and attacking remarks against ebooks. I don’t want join in the rancor or write about value such “even playing fields” or why anyone thinks they qualify as a “gatekeeper” as too much time has been wasted on those themes, and the discourse has caused bitterness and misunderstanding. These themes have been so overworked in the major media as is and it has been disappointing to read the exchanges which too often remain bitter. For me, presenting what’s being done that is exquisitely moving and unique in ebooks wins all arguments about the prospects of a future digital book culture.
By pure luck, (since I did some work as a book critic,) I received three short stories by Jane Ciabattari, a collection under the title California Tales. Jane Ciabattari serves as the Vice President online of the National Book Critics Circle, in charge of the Critical Mass blog and social networking. Her reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and many major newspaper and magazine. Her writing is down-to- the bone truthful, her stories told with simplicity and kind of conversational-textual realism. In one story, “Arabella Leaves,” she writes about addiction, how one girl was lost to drugs. In another story, she writes about a troubled family and a dog who meet in the Viper Room during a Los Angeles earthquake. The story explores the aftermath of a suicide. In all three stories, both in theme and style, she is a keen navigator of life’s realities and edges.
Equally wonderful to me was Jane’s publisher, Shebooks. Shebooks was cofounded by three women with long careers in publishing. From their home pages they stated: “We were excited by the explosion of digital media, which was giving readers new ways to find compelling stories. The problem was that female authors, journalists, editors – and ultimately female readers –were being shut out of the revolution. Innovative digital publishing companies led by men and publishing mostly male writers were getting lots of investment and attention. (Our “aha!” moment came at a journalism conference in 2012: all guys onstage announcing their new companies to an audience that was nearly all women.) But we knew that women are voracious readers in every format – buying the majority of books and magazines and reading (and writing) the majority of blogs.
As veterans of women’s publishing, we understood the realities of women’s lives –that while we love to read, we don’t always have time for a full-length book. So we decided not to wait for our invitation to the party. Shebooks was the result: a new media format.”
Among their editors are Liza Dawson, GQ contributing editor and author; Deirdre English, Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, author, launch editor, TED Books; Barbara O’Dair, executive editor, Reader’s Digest; former editor-in-chief, ; Dawn Raffel, digital editor, Center for American Fiction, author, Secret Life of Objects; Susan West, editor, consultant, West Gold Associates, former editor-in-chief.
I love being the messenger here. It was just a lucky chance for me one of the first to write about all this. About Jane Ciabattari’s considerable talent, and the launching of a digital enterprise in that long dark corridor of cyberspace miracles.
Leora Skolkin-Smith is the author of Hystera. You can learn more about her and her book at our website.