- Call Me Ishmael
MobyLives is the blog of Melville House, the successful independent publisher known for many things, including for publishing the infamous Tao Lin, and, more recently, for being the publisher where Hannah Horvath from the hit series Girls interns. Literary blogs really run the gamut in regard to content, professionalism, and tone, the latter often being colored by the blog’s comment section. MobyLives, like The Millions, seems to have a rather calm tone, and the comments rarely blossom into “flame wars” or “shit storms” like HTMLGIANT or Salon. This is a matter of taste, because many people enjoy the fracas of a contentious comment section. Personally, when I get sucked into reading eighty comments of people disagreeing on some minor or even serious aspect of literature, I usually regret it. And yet at other times, I feel as if I’m participating in a lively discussion without having to leave my house.
MobyLives is extremely well written—all of the posts I read were written by employees of Melville House—with thoughtful, original pieces discussing a vast array of literary concerns. It tends toward news items and has a wonderful “Day in Review” section that is a thorough roundup of what else is going on around the Internet, linking to articles in Publishers Weekly, interviews with authors, and news items such as obituaries of authors. It’s not afraid to address the business aspects of publishing, writing about the Department of Justice’s suit against Amazon, for instance. The recent piece entitled “Brazilian Prisoners Reduce Sentences by Reading” shows the breadth of news items covered by MobyLives. Often, the blog posts are quite opinionated, as in “Edward Albee: How to Piss off a Translator,” where Ellie Robins, an editor at Melville House, rightly criticizes Albee for demanding from his Catalan translator that there be no “deviation from the exact English words,” an absurd idea in that anyone who knows anything about translation or language in general knows that that’s not how language and translation work. On a lighter note, there’s an “Upcoming Events” section that focuses on Melville authors and, seemingly, New York City. There’s also a “Free Stuff” section with links to downloads of introductions, stories, essays, and discussion questions, a great way to provoke interest in Melville’s books. [End Page 10]
Like any good literary blog, they are not without a sense of humor. One recent piece, “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Infamous Book Promotions Over the Years,” is an entertaining photo slideshow of a great variety of authors and the various stunts they performed to sell their books. For instance, I learned that Guy de Maupassant had Le Horla (1887), the name of his book, written on a hot-air balloon and then sent it flying over the Seine. They also mention the JT LeRoy scandal, which was one of the more divisive scandals of the past decade. Many people felt betrayed by Laura Albert, the real JT LeRoy, a middle-aged woman posing as a young male homosexual cross-dresser prostitute who claimed abuse and wrote “autobiographically.”
And speaking of promotion, one aspect of MobyLives that differentiates it from others like The Millions is that it also serves the purpose of advertising and promoting Melville House’s titles. This makes sense—why else would a press have a blog? There are links to purchase their titles, as well as other information about them. I enjoyed learning more about Melville House’s books. In fact, whereas once I wrongly only associated them with Tao Lin, they publish an impressive list, including important reprints as well as many foreign authors. Some of the esteemed authors they publish include Heinrich Böll and Herman Melville, as well as fascinating books of interviews with Kurt Vonnegut, Roberto Bolaño, and Ray Bradbury, and graphic novels, memoirs, a novella series, and much, much more.
I’m grateful for literary blogs, the proliferation of them—indeed, the necessity of them in the world we live in: the time of the Internet. I understand that small presses need a web presence, and Melville House does...