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The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories is a collection of "lost" Dr Seuss stories culled from short stories published in magazines like Redbook in the 1940s and 1950s, collected and reprinted for the first time.
The publication of a new Seuss collection is reason to celebrate in and of itself, and Bippolo Seed is more than a curiosity or a completist's collection of offcuts -- much of the material in this book stands with Seuss's best-loved work. The illustrations are classic Seuss and full of wit and irreverence, though the ratio of words to pictures is a lot wordier than the typical Seuss, owing, I suppose, to the constraints of the original magazine publication. If I had to choose a favorite from among these, it'd be "The Great Henry McBride," (MP3) about a young fellow who can't make up his mind on a single career and demands that the world accommodate his wish for excitement and novelty through his whole life.
Of course, pictures are only half the story with Seuss, an author who really demands that he be read aloud. Random House has released a companion audiobook featuring absolutely smashing celebrity readings from the likes of Neal Patrick Harris, Anjelica Huston, Joan Cusack (MP3), and William H Macy (MP3) (along with others), and you can really hear how delighted and honored the readers are for the chance to work with this material. I wouldn't recommend getting the CD without the book (because Dr Seuss's illustrations are so integral to the stories), but it is an indispensable companion.
The book is introduced by Charles D Cohen, "renowned Seuss scholar," who gives a wordy but fascinating history of the stories, providing some excellent critical context for them.
"When Don Katz first called and explained ACX to me I started to get excited. I've loved narrating audiobooks—winning the Audiobook of the Year Audie Award for The Graveyard Book was one of my proudest moments—and I am lucky in that almost all my books are now available in audiobook form. But I'm constantly astonished at how many great books, beloved books and books that have a special place in my heart, are not, and mostly never have been, available as audiobooks. ACX seems a brilliant way to change that. In an ideal world you should be able to listen to every book you love being read by someone who's perfect for it. Getting involved in ACX, and curating my own label within it, is my way of trying to help us get to that ideal world."Neil Gaiman uses ACX tools to liberate audio rights and to produce quality audiobooks! (Thanks, Juke!)
(via Street Anatomy)
The stories are read by Bronson Pinchot, whom you'll remember from his role as "Balki" on the sitcom "Perfect Strangers." This wasn't the greatest TV ever produced, and Pinchot's scenery-chewing comedy accent work was often over the top, but what little laughs Strangers evoked inevitably belonged to him.
Pinchot's funny accent work is quite unexpectedly perfect for the Dupin stories, featuring as they do the semi-hysterical Prefect of the Paris police, "G____," who is wont to burst into peals of lunatic laughter whenever Dupin calls his sagacity into question. Pinchot's reading, with its special attention to G____'s eccentricities, makes the Prefect into an unexpected scene-stealer, and to good effect.
We tend to think of Sherlock Holmes as the literary forebear of the modern detective story, but Poe's Dupin predates Holmes by more than 40 years, and Poe's detective stories are really the first of the genre. But they're not only fascinating as historical antecedants -- they're cracking stories in their own right, and have lots to recommend them over Holmes, Watson and Lestrade.
C. Auguste Dupin is a dissolute aristocrat who lives in a crumbling mansion with his companion, an unnamed Anglo narrator who fills in for Watson. The two of them are weird Bohemians who keep the blinds drawn, dote on books, smoke endless pipes, and debate philosophy until Dupin turns his prodigious intellect to solving lurid murders.
The Dupin stories are less of a cheat than Holmes's tales: the latter rely on Watson not noticing the subtle clues that Holmes picks up on, so that at the end, Holmes can say to Watson, "If only you'd looked closer, you would have seen x, y and z, and come to this inevitable conclusion," leaving Watson to say, "You astound me, Holmes!" By contrast, Dupin is far more loquacious, and he generally recites all of the facts of each case to the narrator (though there are a few withheld facts), making it possible for the reader to solve (or nearly solve) the riddle before reaching the end of the story.
I found this much more satisfying than the Holmes stories, and played the game of trying to beat Pinchot to the punchline (I managed it with the Rue Morgue, but not the Purloined Letter -- it had been so long since I last read either that I couldn't remember how they came out). What's more, I found the Prefect's hostility and arrogance much more interesting than Inspector Lestrade's near-worship of Holmes (though Lestrade tries to cover this up, he does a poor job).
"Thou Art the Man," the non-Dupin story, is a lot easier to solve, but it's also much more of a traditional Poe horror story than the Dupin tales, closer in character to "The Tell-Tale Heart" than any of the true mysteries. Poe telegraphs the ending from the first paragraph, but the madness more than makes up for it.
Brite later moved away from the vampire stuff, and began to write novels about New Orleans restaurateurs. Some of Brite's fans were displeased by this, but I really like these books too. I got the impression through mutual friends that Brite had disavowed her earlier work and wasn't happy to be known for it, so I was surprised to see a new adaptation of Lost Souls. The people at Crossroad assure me that the edition has Brite's approval, though.
The adaptation is good and sometimes great. The reader, Chris Patton, does generally excellent work with Brite's material, and the production values are very high, with the exception of a couple of minor read-os -- nothing fatal or even particularly off-putting. At $12.99 for 12 hours' worth of DRM-free MP3, this is a damned good bargain.
And what's more, it is a brilliant book, even more enjoyable today, 20 years later, than it was when I first read it. It's a book that reminds you that the first novel contains material that the author has saved up for her entire life, literally, and the resulting story is so rich and, well, enthusiastic that I was swept away with it.
Lost Souls is the story of Nothing, the bastard child of a callous, erotically charged vampire named Zilla, who carelessly impregnated Nothing's human mother one Mardi Gras night in New Orleans, even though he knew that human women who carry vampire children to term always die in delivery. Christian, the older vampire who cared for Nothing's mother after Zilla abandoned her, sends Nothing away to a small town in Maryland and leaves him on the doorstep of a middle-class couple.
15 years later, Nothing is a gloomy, strange subculture kid, trying to lose himself in indiscriminate sex and drugs and drink, without success. Though his adoptive parents hid the strange circumstances of his origins, he has lately uncovered them and this has widened the gap between him and the adults around him. One day, he simply leaves, taking $100 from his mother's emergency stash and heading vaguely out of town, thinking to visit Missing Mile, North Carolina, because he's fallen in love with the music of Lost Souls, an indie band whose homemade cassette he's happened upon, and Missing Mile is the address on the cassette's liner.
Lost Souls are a duo, Steve and Ghost, close friends who live for their music and who experience a brotherly bond that is strained but never broken, despite Steve's violent, fraught affair with Ann, his ex-girlfriend, and Ghost's odd, psychic gifts. Neither of them is really able to survive in the world, but together, they make almost a whole person, keeping one another from going beyond the self-destructive brink.
As Christian, Zilla (and his two vampire lovers, Twig and Molochai), Lost Souls, and Nothing cross the American south, heading for one another, drifting in and out of New Orleans, a story of raw, erotically charged nihilism unfolds. Brite's work is unselfconsciously brutal and matter-of-fact about rapes, prostitution, murder, beatings; it is simultaneously gloomy and gothic and exuberant and modern, a trick of authenticity that puts the likes of Stephanie Meyer and Anne Rice to shame.
Brite's characters blow past the point of no-return again and again, neither seeking nor receiving redemption, and yet throughout, they remain likable and even sympathetic. There, perhaps, is Brite's greatest gift, her capacity to romanticize the careening, self-regarding, the awful so well that you have to admit that there's a part of you that wants to let go, cut loose all bonds of propriety and empathy, some predator chained up in your psyche's basement.
Brite's recent work is awfully good, and I respect any artist who turns his back on what's easy and popular to follow his muse, but whether Brite loves this book any longer or not, I still love it. I'm delighted to discover that it's back in a new form, and hope it finds another generation to thrill and terrorize.
With a Little Help is my first serious experiment in self-publishing. I've published many novels, short story collections, books of essays and so on with publishers, and it's all been very good and satisfying and educational and so on, but it seems like it's time to try something new.
You see, I've always released my work under open licenses from the Creative Commons project, so that my readers could share and remix my works. A good number of these readers wanted to know why I didn't distribute the physical book as well, and see what a writer working on his own could do.
So here you have it. With a Little Help, consists of 12 stories, all reprints except for "Epoch," which was commissioned by the Ubuntu project's Mark Shuttleworth for $10,000 (this being the most expensive option for buying the book -- don't worry, there are cheaper editions). The book is available in many forms:
* Paperback, on demand from Lulu.com: $18. Read the rest
Available in four covers, with art by Frank Wu, Rick Lieder, Rudy Rucker, and Pablo Defendini (who also did the book's design, working from John Berry's wonderful typography). Every month, I add a new appendix to this edition, detailing my balance sheet for the project, as a service to others contemplating a similar venture.
Read the rest
Fans of the abridged reading and everyone else who is interested in the audiobook are being asked to pay in towards a full, free, unabridged release, also read by Rohrbeck. Once the total of €9000 is raised, the unabridged recording will also be released, free of charge, without DRM, under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license, free for all comers (if the total sum isn't raised by a set time, all the money is refunded).
What's even cooler is that the audiobook (and the German print book, from Rowohlt), co-exist happily with a free fan-translation of the novel by Christian Wöhrl and a free fan audiobook reading by Fabian Neidhardt. Fans are free to promote the work to other fans, for free, while commercial operators produce commercial editions.
I'm going on a multi-city tour of Germany in September and I'm hoping to meet Christian and Fabian so that I can thank them in person. I'm also hoping that fans of the free editions support my cool, sharing-friendly German publishers and reward them for their open attitude towards free and paid media.
The Makers audiobook runs 18.5 hours and is formatted for burning onto 15 CDs. It's read by Bernadette Dunne. I really like Dunne's reading (here's a sample) and RHA's production job is tops. The MP3s are 128K/44KHz.
I get an additional 20 percent on top of my customary royalty if you buy it from me, and you get a book that has no DRM and no crappy "license agreement" requiring you to turn over your firstborn in exchange for the privilege of handing me your hard-earned money.
Right now, sales are only available through PayPal, though I hope that'll change soon. And if this is successful, I hope to add the audio for Little Brother and my forthcoming YA novel, For the Win.
For my next book, Makers, we tried again. This time Audible agreed to carry the title without DRM. Hooray! Except now there was a new problem: Apple refused to allow DRM-free audiobooks in the Apple Store--yes, the same Apple that claims to hate DRM. Okay, we thought, we'll just sell direct through Audible, at least it's a relatively painless download process, right? Not quite. It turns out that buying an audiobook from Audible requires a long end-user license agreement (EULA) that bars users from moving their Audible books to any unauthorized device or converting them to other formats. Instead of DRM, they accomplish the lock-in with a contract.With a Little Help: Can You Hear Me Now?
I came up with what I thought was an elegant solution: a benediction to the audio file: "Random House Audio and Cory Doctorow, the copyright holders to this recording, grant you permission to use this book in any way consistent with your nation's copyright laws." This is a good EULA, I thought, as it stands up for every word of copyright law. Random House was game, too. Audible wasn't. So we decided not to sell through Audible, which I was intensely bummed about, because I really like Audible. They have great selection, good prices, and they're kicking ass with audiobooks.
The reading is by Bernadette Dunne, a very talented actor. I just listened to this for the first time yesterday and I was blown away by Dunne's reading. I'm a huge audiobook nut, and I'm incredibly glad to have professional audiobook adaptations of my books from Random House -- and doubly grateful to them for supporting my commitment to DRM-free distribution. When you buy this book, you own it. The "terms of service" are "Don't violate copyright law," not "By buying this audiobook, you agree that we get to come over and kick you in the ass."