Later in the week, perhaps, I'll say something about humiliation and failure. I'd rather not start out there; I think it's better to ease into it.
Instead I'll start with relatively minor embarrassment: For years and years I've heard and read references to "Within the Context of No Context," a New Yorker essay by George W.S. Trow, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not get around to reading it until a few weeks ago. There's a passage on the subject of "synthetic talk" that I think might be relevant to my week of blogging for Powell's:
On a television talk program it is the role of the host to frame the synthetic talk. He must do two things: create a sense of intrusion and forgive the intruders. To do this effectively he must obscure the flow of energy. He is honest when he implies that his aim is to grant access. He lies when he implies that the aim is to grant a viewer access to a context. No context exists. There has been no intrusion. No forgiveness is necessary. The true role of the host is to grant, to a celebrated product, access to the viewer. The intrusion is intrusion on the viewer.
I'm not going to lie to you. I'm the one who is getting access to you. So forgive the intrusion.
The obvious difference between the talk show scenario and this series of blog entries that I'm starting today is that, unlike a typical talk show guest, I am not a celebrated product. So let me explain myself. I have a book called Letters from New Orleans. This project started out as a series of very informal essays, mostly written online, about living in New Orleans from the start of 2000 through late 2003. These essays were collected into a book thanks to Garrett County Press, and published in the summer of 2005. The result was not exactly a memoir, not exactly a travelogue, just a series of explorations and ideas that revolved around a particular place and time(s).
Never having written a book, I always assumed that publication represented the end of the process: It would seem that by the time a book physically exists, it ought to be finished. I learned that this is not true, and that in the case of a book about New Orleans published in the summer of 2005 it's really not true. The actual words in the book did not change with the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, but Letters from New Orleans was transformed into a portrait of the city as it had been. (As it had been for me, anyway.) This is of course a heavier load than the project was ever intended to bear.
The less spectacular way that a book's publication does not signify its completion is this: Books, like everything else, must be promoted. Several of my guest blogger predecessors in this space have shared their experiences of the promotion process, such as meeting drivers at the airport or staying in nice hotel rooms. The process is somewhat different for a book from a small, independent press.
Most of what I know about promotion and marketing and so on comes not from direct experience, but from having spent the last several years writing about advertising and consumer behavior. Since January 2004 I've been writing a column in the New York Times Magazine, called Consumed, about things people buy and why they buy them. Before that started I'd been writing about advertising for a while, and I've learned enough to realize that, in "branding" terms, a book about New Orleans by a guy who writes about consumer stuff makes no sense at all.
Whether you're intruding on me, or I'm intruding on you, the possibly good news is that this is a relatively eventful week, and I have no idea how it will turn out. So there's a little suspense that will perhaps keep both of us interested, or at least off balance.
Today, Monday, in my role as Consumed guy, I'll be visiting the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum to chat with (or deliver a "guest lecture" to) students studying design criticism in a class that's part of an MA program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design that Cooper-Hewitt offers jointly with the New School. I'm not a design critic, of course, but one of the interesting things about the Consumed column is that different groups of readers see it in totally different ways: It's a marketing column, it's a psychology column, it's a media column, it's a culture column, it's a design column, etc., depending on the reader's interests. This, by the way, is not a failure; it's my favorite thing about Consumed.
Tomorrow night, in my role as Letters from New Orleans guy, I'm doing a reading at Mo Pitkin's in the East Village.
I'm living in a state of near-constant dread about the reading. But I'm looking forward to the Cooper-Hewitt thing. I always enjoy meeting groups of students, and I suspect that I generally get a lot more of those experiences than the students do. (Again, kind of like the talk show guest in Trow's scenario.) Tomorrow, perhaps, I'll have something to say about how it went. Unless it entails a great deal of humiliation and failure, in which case I'll save it for later in the week.
Also, I take requests, so if there is anything you actually want to know, just say so.
Finally, tomorrow I'll address the pressing question: Where is my face?
? Rob Walker