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Month: March 2018

Knucklehead by Adam Smyer

I want to say a few things about the novel Knucklehead by Adam Smyer, published this year by Akashic. The novel could not be more timely, and I urge everyone who has found their way to my blog to buy a copy and read it.

The novel is the diary of a black man whose law degree and loving wife and fancy job can’t shield him from a culture where he is continuously demeaned and threatened because of his race.

The writing in this novel is very loose. There is a casualness about the prose that is both endearing and distancing–it’s a style where you never know what the narrator is going to do or say next. In one scene after another the protagonist continues a debate with himself, the debate of his lifetime, about whether this is the time when he’ll resort to deadly violence to solve his problems. From moment to moment he relies on some outward sign that will give him permission to unleash his rage, and you keep expecting him to do great harm to someone, and at the same time you are kind of rooting for him to go ahead and do it, given the horrible things that happen to him, and given how dismissively he is treated even by those who supposedly love him.

The perpetual threat of violence, in almost every scene, was a very uncomfortable place for me to be as a reader, but an instructive one. I finished the book with a terrific headache, and I felt it was exactly the right way to feel about what happens in the story, both in terms of the real historical events it documents, and in terms of the fictional journey the main character takes from beginning to end. The chapter about the 1991 beating of Rodney King that was captured on video–a time when everyone was briefly filled with the hope that finally something would change, now that the evidence of police brutality was there for all to see–is heartbreaking to read given where we are now.

Now that I’ve written all of the above I also want to add that at times this is a very funny book. It’s a remarkable book. You should go in open-eyed and open-minded and see what happens.

Here is a link to the Akashic website where it’s currently $11.95:




That’s how much it costs to print a 228-page book with Ingramspark, the POD part of Ingram, the largest book printer & distributor in the world.  And it costs a little less than that at Amazon’s Create Space.

So the cost for anyone to publish a physical book–a bound trade paperback, that is–is about the same as buying a large coffee at a drive-up espresso bar.

I’ve been mulling that over tonight, because I spent a couple of hours reformatting my book to be in very large print for my friend with poor eyesight. It really did just take a couple of hours. While I was at it, I revised the dedication, to dedicate it to my friend who needs the very large print. And then I uploaded the file, and ordered a copy, and in a day or so I’ll be able to give my friend a unique edition to my new novel.

It gave me all kinds of ideas about individualized books, and what purpose they might serve. Each book published could be made unique, designed for just one reader. Changes are ridiculously simple to do with ebooks, which are ephemeral to begin with–you just upload a new file, and within a few hours the old version is gone and the new version is there instead. (The ease of changing an ebook leads to all kinds of questions about when it becomes a “new work” requiring a new ISBN or new copyright application…it seems people have different opinions, and I’m not sure who would be checking, or how they would know that what was there now is not what was there yesterday).

But I hadn’t really thought about how easy it has become to also print unique, one-off physical books, which would be lasting and could be all different from one another. The entire market for books is still predicated on the belief that the more of a book you sell the better. But maybe one day it’s going to be more about selling one at a time–and each in some way unique. A famous author might do limited editions, like silk screen artists do, where each copy is numbered. Or a thriller writer could change the name of the hero to be the name of the reader who ordered the book.

I don’t think we have begun much more than baby steps toward understanding how POD and digital publishing is going to change what we read, not only online but in the physical book world as well.