Reviewing and Similar Modes of Writing: Costello Connections

Elvis Costello has received a high proportion of my musical attention so far this year. One of the ensuing posts has accounted for a high proportion of this blog’s recent traffic.

I’ve read a couple of books on Costello. This post is about them, and about writing about music, and about writing about books. The first book is Elvis Costello – God’s Comic: A Critical Companion To His Lyrics & Music by David Gouldstone. It’s an update of the same author’s A Man Out of Time. The main difference is that God’s Comic has a chapter on the 1989 album Spike.

Although I enjoyed the extra chapter, and agree with Gouldstone that Spike is among Costello’s best albums, I think that A Man Out of Time is a more coherent book, focusing as it does on Costello’s first decade. The inclusion of good material that reduces the coherence of the whole is appropriate in a book about Costello, especially when the material relates to the sprawl that is Spike.

Writing about music is notoriously difficult. The music blog Dancing About Architecture quotes Costello himself as stating that: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture… it’s a really stupid thing to want to do.” Let’s not get into tracing the history of that quote, otherwise we’ll never get back to the books.

I think that Gouldstone does a pretty good job in giving his take on Costello’s music and, especially, lyrics, without claiming that his are the last words or the only right words. The writing in God’s Comic is analytical without being heavy.

In that, it contrasts with the writing of the second book: Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition. Consider the following sentence.

He [Costello] readily models existing musical, literary, or cinematic techniques in service of his songs, and in so doing, enhances his lifework’s sonic diversity.

I couldn’t get through even the part of the book on Costello, let alone the rest of it (even though Joni Mitchell also interests me).

At this point, I think that I should bump the thoughts on reviewing books into its own post, and close by remarking that I have high hopes for another book on Costello. It’s Graeme Thomson’s Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello, which will probably be part of my next Amazon order.

SWPL Can Has Bookdeel

The NYT reports book deals for two blogs: Stuff White People Like and I Can Has Cheezburger. I don’t get the latter: LOLcats don’t make me L, certainly not OL.

But I do get the former. That’s probably not surprising, coming from a white guy married to an asian girl. Having said that, SWPL isn’t one of the feeds in my reader. SWPL is a site I visit when I link reminds me of its existence.

Today’s link came via Toni, who blogged about the book deals. I’m glad it came today, because I really love today’s SWPL post, about music and the piracy thereof.

I didn’t mention book deals in my account of making money from your blog. Perhaps I should have done. But given that there are millions of blogs, and a handful of book deals, the omission doesn’t seem too serious. On the other hand, SWPL apparently got a $300k advance.

Word of the Year: Free

It’s not yet March (check time: yes, we have another 23 minutes of this extra day of February, or at least, we did when I started this parenthesis), but I will state that the word of the year for 2008 is free. That’s free, not as in freedom, but as in $0.00.

Chris Anderson has just published an article in Wired explaining Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business. It’s a preview of the book he’s writing. As I’ve previously noted, the book won’t be out until 2009. I don’t know what the word of 2009 will be.

So back to the word of 2008: free. That’s how much I’ll charge you for these links.

Much though I consider Harlan and Alex to be worth reading, I find my own views to be closer to those of Neil and Chris.


I love (semi-obligatory Valentine’s Day reference) books, and have a few book-related things to inflict on you. First, I have an account at Goodreads. Actually, I’ve had one for a while, but I’ve recently started using it, thanks to a couple of friend requests.

Second, I’m delighted to report the blog-to-book deal for Strange Maps.

Third, Adam Koford’s recent post at Drawn! might have been written for me. That’s not just because it recommends a Complete Idiot’s Guide. It’s because it concerns people who think that they have a children’s book in them (and there do seem to be an awful lot of us), realize that such books are usually illustrated, and think that this means that they need to find an illustrator before submitting to a publisher.

Adam states that “publishers never want to see unsolicited manuscripts with art.” He also refers to the problem of requests to provide illustrations for someone’s book, or idea for one. I’m glad I didn’t ask him if he wanted to work with me on mine. I’m also glad that he has already done an illustration for one of my stories.

Andy Grove’s Book Survives

A dozen years ago, Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive came out. I had cause to pick it up again today.

You can find (most of) the preface online at Intel. Here’s the key definition: “a strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change.”

In order to describe the fundamentals of a business, Andy extended Michael Porter’s Five Forces of Competition model into a Six Forces model. The force he added was that of complements. For example, Microsoft Windows was an important complement to Intel’s chips, and remains so today.

OtPS is a Six Forces account of Intel and its environment. That said, it is a dozen years old, and that’s a long time in a tech industry. The risk of obsolescence is particularly acute when we realize that the last chapter is “The Internet: Signal or Noise? Threat or Promise?”, opens with the then-recent story of Netscape’s IPO, and goes on to explain what the internet is. But the chapter stands the test of time remarkably well.

So does the book as a whole. I expect to be able to rate OtPS as highly in another dozen years, for the clarity of the six forces framework and Andy’s exposition.

123 Meme

I’ve been tagged by Jen to do the 123 meme, which goes like this:

1. Pick up the book nearest you with at least 123 pages. (No cheating!)
2. Turn to page 123.
3. Count the first five sentences.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five other bloggers.

Let’s see, the book nearest me now is the same one that was nearest me when I read Jen’s post: Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation. The three sentences are as follows.

Not calling backup, I quickly learned, was considered a sign of strength, and for an intern there was nothing more flattering than to be considered “strong.” Once, I made the mistake of calling a third-year resident at her apartment in the middle of the night to ask for help performing a spinal tap. She roared at me on the phone for not taking care of the procedure earlier, before she came on duty at 10:00 p.m.

The five tagees are as follows: Brian, Constantine, Jonathan, Liz, Nicholas. I predict that 2.5 of the 5 will go for it.

The Pirate’s Dilemma

The Pirate’s Dilemma. It’s a slideshow…

… it’s a book that tells the story of how youth culture drives innovation and is changing the way the world works. Actually, I think of it mainly as a book, but that might be a sign of my age. So, back to the trendier stuff: it’s also a blog that identities the Mac Book Air as the end of the CD business.

Temeraire and Transformative Works

I recently finished Empire of Ivory, the fourth novel in Naomi Novik‘s excellent Temeraire series. It’s set in the time of Napoleon and Nelson and in an universe with dragons. Temeraire is a dragon.

His human sidekick, William Laurence, moves from the navy to the aerial corps when the newborn Temeraire becomes attached to him, toward the start of the first novel, His Majesty’s Dragon. The blend of fantasy and alternate history is wonderfully executed.

A further reason to applaud Naomi is that she is the founding chair of the Organization for Transformative Works, a pro-fanfic nonprofit. The T in OTW requires some explanation.

Transformative works are creative works about characters or settings created by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creators. Transformative works include but are not limited to fanfiction… A transformative use is one that, in the words of the U.S. Supreme Court, “adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the [source] with new expression, meaning, or message.”

The bulk of my fanfic involvement came about a decade ago, when I read some X-Files fanfic, some of it very good. I also wrote some. The first act of Two Agents of the Bureau, my blank verse drama, seems to have survived. The other four acts were never born.

Were I to write Temeraire fanfic, I’d start at the end, with how I think the series should end. It should do so with the death of Laurence, and with the grieving Temeraire wondering where he now belongs: with his friends in the aerial corps, in China, the land of his birth, or… Temeraire takes to the sky, and… roll the titles.

That said, I’m in no hurry for the series to end. It has yet to take us to the Russian front, or to the New World, and I suspect that Temeraire is due for a visit to each of them.

The Thirteenth Tale

I spent much of yesterday reading The Thirteenth Tale. If you love books, particularly gothic novels, and are looking for an engrossing winter read, I can recommend this novel.

I found it hard to put down, so it’s just as well that I started it while at the in-laws’ place for the holidays, rather than in more usual circumstances with more work and kid-care to distract me from fiction. Dear reader, I hope that you are finding time to read books as well as blogs this holiday season.

Blogging a Book

Joe Wickert, publishing executive and blogger, pointed out today that many authors and publishers are still concerned about potential cannibalization when book content is also available for free online, but that such concern is excessive. He drew on evidence from a recent NY Times article: Turning Free Web Work Into Real Book Sales.

Joe started blogging at the insistence of Shel Israel and Robert Scoble, as a condition of Wiley publishing their book Naked Conversations. That book was written on the blog of the same name (or rather, on the blog that used to bear that name).

His post was timely for me, since I intend to write a book next year, or at least, to write a book proposal in the early part of next year. It reminded me that the book should have its very own blog, and soon. The book in question will be about management, but it’ll be interesting and otherwise readable.

Also timely was an entry in the forum from Mark, Support Maven at Automattic. Advertising your own book is allowed at It’s one of the few cases in which advertising is allowed on blogs. So that’s the likely site of my book blog.