recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : thepickleindex   3

Eli Horowitz Wants To Teach You How To Read - BuzzFeed News
"This might all sound very precious, or very insufferable. But Horowitz is used to people feeling that way: It’s the same sort of criticism that’s long been levied at McSweeney’s, the indie publishing organization that Horowitz ran for the better part of a decade. The cabins expand upon the aggressively twee style that made McSweeney’s publications into bookshelf fixtures in Brooklyn studios and dorm rooms across the land, but the work Horowitz does in those cabins is anything but stale. It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true: He’s radically rethinking the boundaries of narrative and our expectations for the technology that surrounds us.

At the moment, Horowitz is commissioned to figure out a new form of audio tour for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and putting together the narrative puzzle pieces as a contributing editor of Starlee Kine’s Mystery Show podcast. He’s editing a narrative project called bcc that plays out in the form of a series of back-and-forth emails between two characters — on which the reader is bcc’ed. But most urgently, there’s The Pickle Index, his collaboration with developer Russell Quinn, which aims to effectively reconceptualize the book — in its digital and printed forms alike.

Horowitz helped change the book world once. Can he do it again?

Horowitz’s name is on five books; as an editor, he’s worked closely with dozens of authors, including those of Dave Eggers, indie filmmaker and artist Miranda July, essayist Wells Tower, Michael Chabon, Joyce Carol Oates, and Denis Johnson. Every book he’s written has been optioned for film or television: The New World, published in May, was optioned by Olivia Wilde; The Silent History, a digital app turned paperback from 2012, is slated to become AMC’s new prestige drama. “Everyone who knows him thinks of him as their secret weapon,” July told me.

But to understand how Horowitz arrived at this position of would-be digital visionary, you need to understand a few things about McSweeney’s, and the attitudes at its core. Much of it can be traced, at least originally, to the ethos of Dave Eggers — who, in the early ‘90s, moved to San Francisco and launched satirical magazine Might and slightly less satirical lit magazine Timothy McSweeney’s Literary Tendency. In 2000, Eggers, then 30, published his unconventional memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which became a best-seller and a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize.
With Heartbreaking Work, what had been a largely San Francisco-based literary phenomenon went national, and the Eggers name — and McSweeney’s along with it — came to stand in for a particular mix of playfulness and sincerity, doubling down on the intrinsic value of the printed object as the specter of a digital, bookless future started to haunt publishing. McSweeney’s can thus be understood as an attitude (optimism), a tone (oscillating, dynamically, between sincerity and satire, but never irony), and a posture (open).

Enter Horowitz. “The mythic version of how I came to McSweeney’s is pretty much true,” he told me, settling into a couch at the cabin. “826 Valencia (a writing tutoring program launched by Eggers) was getting ready to start. They needed help building the place, and I had this mild carpentry background — I’d taught myself from a book — so I helped build the Pirate Supply Store,” the storefront attached to the tutoring center that sells McSweeney’s publications and, uh, pirating supplies.

“They needed someone to sit at the register,” Horowitz tells me. “So I did that, and I would read books, and Dave saw that. He was busy trying to finish his first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, and he was like, ‘Wanna read this and tell me what you think?’”
Three months later, Horowitz found himself the managing editor of McSweeney’s. “There wasn’t anyone else around to manage,” he admits. “Which was good, because I didn’t know anything. None of us had ever worked in publishing before.”

Horowitz says this, like he says everything, with a tone of slight bemusement. His work has a sense of humor that oscillates between wry and farcical. He loves digressions and declaring new sections of conversation: “Now that’s a topic.” He’s around 5’10”, and feels coiled, like you might get an electric shock when you shake his hand. Chris Ying, editor-in-chief of the food magazine Lucky Peach, which launched under McSweeney’s, describes his mind as “endlessly churning.” In his demeanor, like his cabins and his projects, there’s a sense of “the new sincerity” — a term from music and film criticism often affixed to McSweeney’s. He might joke about the shitty construction of the dumbwaiter he made to bring up his book to one of his sleeping lofts. But he deeply, unmistakably loves it.

Horowitz winds through the story of how McSweeney’s gradually became more and more of a thing. In 2003, there was the launch of The Believer, a sister publication for interviews and nonfiction, the second 826 outpost in Park Slope, Brooklyn; then, a slew of books with the McSweeney’s imprint, all solicited and edited by Horowitz. And the predictable backlash: In its inaugural issue, the literary journal n+1, largely composed of East Coast intelligentsia, railed against it, calling Eggers and his followers “a regressive avant garde.”

Through all of this, Horowitz was holding the place together. He didn’t have Eggers’ visibility or celebrity, but behind the scenes, he was refining the voice and sensibility of the organization. He was editing and fixing the printer and figuring out how to make the postage work when the new issue took the form of a mass of old-timey letters and pamphlets in a box. “He came up with some of the best and strangest concepts for the journal and for our books,” Eggers told me. “He embodies a rare dichotomy of being very organized and very calm, but also has the soul of an artist.”

McSweeney’s, I’m told by others who’ve lived through it, was like any other close-knit organization, literature-based or otherwise, in that it functioned somewhat like a cult. And when you were in, you were in deep: Everyone was breaking laws and cutting corners and fucking around and each other.

So when I ask Horowitz, who left in 2012, if he’s nostalgic for those years, he looks at his lap and makes a laugh that sounds like a sigh. He pauses, gathers himself, half-smiles.

“No. That’s not what I feel.”"



"Horowitz applied the same philosophy to his newest work, The Pickle Index, which tells the story of a delightfully unskilled circus troupe against the backdrop of a fascist dystopia, united by a forced devotion to fermented items. “There are all these different ways that you can read that are valid, so I wanted to fully imagine all of those formats. So: the book-iest book I could do, and the app-iest app. Even the paperback, and the Kindle version. They’ll have their own sort of thing, with different reaches and different audiences.” For the hardback version of The Pickle Index, you go back and forth, chapter to chapter, between two beautifully illustrated volumes, each around 100 pages. For the paperback, those chapters are integrated, this time with accompanying woodcut illustrations. And then there’s the app, which releases sections of the narrative over the course of 10 days.

Horowitz paid for the 5000-copy hardcover run himself; whatever profits it and the app makes will be his and Quinn’s. When I ask how he’ll know if the project is a failure, he pauses. “I don’t see how this project could fail,” he says. “It just is! It might turn out well, people might like it, I might think back on it more fondly or less fondly. But it can’t be a failure. Failure is when you’re trying to be the No. 1 photo sharing platform, and then you either are or you aren’t.

Which is something Horowitz is uniquely capable of saying, of course, from the cushion of one of the Airbnbs that effectively bankroll his experimentation.

It’s pitch-black along the River Road back to Eli’s other cabin. He points out a roadside establishment, TJ’s Grill at Angie’s George’s Hideaway, whose name pleases him greatly. He’s pleased so easily, really: by a good garage sale, or teaching himself how to fix something, however poorly, so long as he learns something in the process, or by the artist who creates simply for the process, the doing, of it. “I really believe in people who make things just because they want to make things. Like a guy who dies, and you look in his backyard and find 700 little sculptures of little dudes. Like that.”

That ethos, however, is alien to the structures of the mainstream publishing industry, which ask for pitches with concrete promises of a final product, a certain audience: concrete markers of success. The sort of things that are hard to think about when you really just want to fiddle your way through a process, living the platonic ideal of the artistic experience, unencumbered by monetary concerns. Which is why Russell Quinn described the unifying quality of Horowitz’s projects as “low risk.”

“A lot of Eli’s projects appear to be big and monumental,” says Quinn, who lives in a geodesic dome, a five minute drive from Horowitz. “But even his cabins come from a place where he would rather buy a cheap thing and do it his way than buy a suburban house and do it up. Same for projects: We like thinking about how we can do them just the two of us. Because Eli has to get past the point where he doesn’t hate what he’s working on, and he doesn’t want to do that publicly, or with backers, or selling the concept of a book before it’s written. It’s a low-key humbleness: not figuring things out until the end.”

That night, I sleep the sleep of the well-cabined, and the sunrise wakes me instead of an alarm. We have plans to explore the app for The Pickle Index, but once we open it, I’m … [more]
elihorowitz  suddenoak  thepickleindex  annehelenpetersen  2015  books  publishing  mcsweeneys  apps  applications  ebooks  epublishing  srg  826valencia  daveeggers  bookfuturism  russianriver  tumblr  twitter  digital 
december 2015 by robertogreco
The Pickle: A Conversation About Making Digital Books — Medium
"But I also wonder if there’s a factor beyond straight economics — a way in which the currently ascendant Startup Narrative can get applied where it doesn’t quite belong. Robin, you brought up the question of platforms vs one-off, artisanal apps. I think the answer has got to be somewhere in between — an assortment of platforms, plus an accrual of code libraries and lessons learned. But I also think that question itself can be inhibiting to the creative process — this drive to anticipate the future, to guess correctly, to fit optimally within larger trends. To me, maybe that’s the true reality-distortion field — the blurring of “worthwhile” and “scalable,” the idea that valuation will tell us whether something’s a good idea. That standard might work well for, say, grocery-delivery startups, but is it how we want to think about our novels, our stories, our art-whatevers? Publishing has grappled with these tensions for centuries, but they might be less familiar in the tech world.

Sorry to sound like an elderly hippie! I guess what I’m trying to say is this: If every novel is an implicit declaration of a definitive Future of Publishing, we’ll miss out on a lot of great novels — and, what’s more, we might miss out on some great futures of publishing too. I don’t know if these answers can really be found without rolling up our sleeves and just Making Stuff — seeing what works, what doesn’t, what’s annoying, what’s fun, how many dumb pickle jokes are too many, etc. Having a strange idea and then bringing it into reality, regardless of efficiency or scalability.

This comes back to Russell’s description of the process — meandering, playful, with lots of back-and-forth between the two of us and between the various demands of the project. What he describes is typical of many creative endeavors, but it might be a bit unusual for a traditional programming job. Pickle could never have resulted from me handing Russell a finished text and a list of specs — I mean, we thought we had a decent idea about what we were making two years ago, but we were very wrong. The project had to find itself, and that required actual collaboration, not just outsourcing — fluidity and looseness, experimentation and fun.

As for whether “eight years of ebooks” is a blink or an eternity, I have no idea. But I do know that there’s no guarantee that we’ll end up in a place that serves us as individuals, as readers and writers. I mean, look at television — finally flowering after, what, sixty years? And not as a result of any fundamental change to the medium, but just a bunch of smaller evolutions that opened the door to new creators and new audiences. I’m hoping we won’t have to wait til 2068 for ebooks to do the same (though I’m sure Russell is itching to whip up a multiplatform rendering of 91-year-old Eli’s epic poem, Incontinence on Mars)."
elihorowitz  2015  books  creativity  publishing  economics  tv  television  playfulness  play  making  experimentation  future  thepickleindex  storytelling  scalability  scale  platforms  suddenoak  russellquinn  fluidity  looseness  glvo  srg 
december 2015 by robertogreco
The Pickle: A Conversation About Making Digital Books — The Message — Medium
"1: Opening Salvo

Okay, Craig, I know you’re critical of the arrested state of ebooks today. For my part, I’m more… curious. It’s clear to me that, for all their commercial success, we don’t know what books on screens are supposed to look like; not yet. But that shouldn’t be surprising; the first Kindle came out a mere eight years ago, and most people have been reading books on screens for a few years at most.

It’s only now that we’re starting to see the really interesting work emerge.

I believe you’ve read The Pickle Index, and I think we can agree that it represents something interesting and new. The novel’s digital edition is much more than words on a screen; instead, it masquerades as a recipe app, complete with menus and lists and a wonderful little map. It’s quite slick; if it was a real recipe app, it would be a pretty solid one! Its creators, Eli Horowitz and Russell Quinn, use the idiom of the app to pull you more deeply into the story, to make you, as a reader, feel somehow like an accomplice.

It’s fabulous.

But the Pickle Index app (for reasons I don’t want to give away to people who haven’t read it yet) can only tell the Pickle Index story; the way it works is bound up with the tale it tells. Eli and Russell can’t reuse this machine for, say, The Istanbul Protocol or The Dragon Wizard. Those stories wouldn’t fit.

So, with your earlier criticism in mind: What do you think? Is this matching of content to container the road forward, or is it a lovely cul-de-sac? Is the non-naive, non-repackaged future of ebooks more of these unique apps, or is it some new, reusable “master format” that we have yet to invent?

Note to readers: This is (going to be) a long, loopy conversation. The Pickle Index is crisp and compact. Consider sampling its tangy delights."

[Craig's first response: https://medium.com/message/the-pickle-a-conversation-about-making-digital-books-1e8464b469e4#.xjy0jenpm

Collection here: https://medium.com/tag/the-pickle-index/latest ]
2015  robinsloan  ebooks  books  publishing  elihorowitz  russellquinn  thepickleindex  bookfuturism  craigmod  epublishing  applications  suddenoak 
december 2015 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read