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October 2009

Boston Book Fest

The rain certainly didn't slow down the Boston Book Festival held in Copley Square yesterday, with all sorts of publishers, authors, and producers of various book-related products milling about under tents and in buildings between the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church.

Paris review I headed down specifically to catch Book Worms and Net Crawlers, a panel discussion of "the ubiquitous Internet and the explosion of social media" but in my wanderings beforehand I scored a first-edition, 1958, 5th Anniversary issue of The Paris Review, complete with an interview of Ernest Hemingway by George Plimpton, a story by Philip Roth, drawings by Alberto Giacometti, and fantastic old-school ads for Hennessy cognac, Christian Dior parfum, and Pan American airlines. Can't wait to read through it all.

As for the main event, the Book Fest assembled a fantastic group of authors to discuss how the 'net has impacted modern culture:

  • Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks - a look at the mainstreaming of online gaming. Ethan's work is reminiscent of Second Skin (which I mentioned to him, and he acknowledged having met the creators of the film), delving into the roles of gaming and fantasy in the modern world. In short, participants love online games because they provide opportunities not available in the physical world (e.g., the socially awkward can be "popular" and the wheelchair-bound can run, jump and dance). This desire to escape physical world confines contributes to the wild popularity of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft (13 million players-strong) and perhaps even social networks like Facebook, which allow people to put their "best face forward" by constructing public profiles that make them look their most fascinating, witty, and attractive.
  • Ben Mezrich, author Bringing Down the House and The Accidental Billionaires, among others; the latter has earned him the nickname "the Jackie Collins of Silicon Valley." I actually just read Billionaires, a fun romp through Harvard University with Mark Zuckerberg and friends (now enemies) as they try desperately to overcome their own social anxieties by creating Facebook. The irony of it all is that Mark Z. has remained famously closed off & tight-lipped, despite having created a world-wide phenomenon that encourages people to share the most banal details of their daily lives with anyone & everyone. It's a great story (fast, too) - run out and read it before the film version (starring Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker) hits theaters. Yes, another big-budget production in Boston! Catch Ben Mezrich in person if you can, too - he's wildly entertaining.

  • The insanely high-energy David Pogue - NYTimes tech columnist and author of The World According to Twitter, his own experiment with crowdsourcing leveraging the popular microblogging service to tap into the collective wit and wisdom of his 500+ followers. I actually picked up a copy of this laugh-out-loud little book, which David was kind enough to sign for me. In it, he illustrates how Twitter (like other social apps) can be a great information source: pose a question to a group of trusted peers and you will get near-instantaneous responses to your query. He's a big advocate of Aardvark, the new social search app which identifies "experts" in your social sphere and solicits answers from them on your behalf.

There was also a brief discussion at the end about technology's impact on the book publishing business, including marketing and distribution of new "books" in the age of the Kindle and other e-readers. I'd love to see this topic in a future panel (and I'd love to participate, given my experience with blogger outreach and emarketing). These authors could learn a thing or two from Paolo Coelho.

PS: there were no signs of the SCORPIONS at the book fest, which makes me question their commitment to the written word.

The SCORPIONS: Read. Bleed.

Scorpions They operate in the shadows: in dive bars, back alleys, dog tracks, firing ranges, and the occasional all-you-can-eat buffet. 

Their mission is to motivate, educate, elucidate, and intimidate. They live amongst us, and yet they are a total mystery.

I'm talking, of course, about the SCORPIONS, the toughest book club around. 

Haven't heard of them? Don't worry, you will.

You see, this "hard guy" book club is taking the country - the world, even - by storm. First came coverage in the New Yorker. Then a post on Gawker. Now, Playboy.

Marge simpson Yes, the granddaddy of lad mags actually cited the SCORPS in a short article about the "best hard-guy books of all time" (see page 19 in the Marge Simpson collector's issue). Next up: Cafe, the highest-selling men's magazine in Sweden (watch for the November issue).

The invite-only club is comprised of eight members who meet on a regular basis to discuss "tough guy" books...things like Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridien and Steve Alten's MEG. But like most book clubs, the reading is only part of the fun: each meeting of the SCORPIONS incorporates discussion of selected reading material as well as competition, gambling, tests of strength (mental and/or physical) and trivia. And in some way, the losers always pay. Or as the SCORPS would say, "We read. We bleed. We kick ass."

Scorps2 004So who exactly are these mysterious book lovers and what makes them so tough? The CultureJunkie took it to the streets (and pool halls and back alleys) to find out.

CJ: Why all the interest in the SCORPIONS?

SCORP #8:  As in the insect?  Next question.

CJ: Has the attention distracted from your mission?

Tanaka: No. We still kick a lot of ass and are comfortable with how awesome we are.

CJ: What makes you so tough?

Shakelton: What makes water wet?  What makes birds fly (besides their wings)?  What makes a guy struggle when he is in a choke hold?

CJ: Which is more fun: the books or the physical challenges?

Judge: None of it is fun – it’s a way of life.

CJ: Tell me something we don't already know about your membership.

MC Trouble: We’ve applied to have SCORPIONS headquarters recognized as a sovereign nation.  Status is still pending.

CJ: If you could have any super hero be an honorary member, who would it be?

Scorp #8:  MC Trouble’s Mom.  [members nod their heads in unison]

CJ: What song/artist would be on the SCORPION soundtrack?

Undead:  Scorpions – Winds of change

CJ: If I wanted to take a SCORP-themed vacation, what would you recommend?

The Spaniard:  Travel light and bring fist packs.

CJ: How about best spot for dining out?

Slayer: Medieval Manor.  Ask for Waffles, he knows us and will take care of you.

CJ: Favorite shopping destination?

Undead:  Bangkok Red Light District [I contemplate asking what MC Trouble's honorary-member Mom would say to that, but then fear the answer]

Shakelton:  Hip Zepi in Downtown Crossing

CJ: What's next for the SCORPIONS? Are you hoping for an invitation to the Playboy Mansion?

Tanaka: If invited, Hef should hope we accept.

Round House - Take Two

Remember the Round House in Somerville, MA?

Well, check this out:

The Round House at 122 Olmstead Road in Wilton, CT, is walled in glass and floats 12 feet above ground, rotating 360 degrees to provide panoramic views of the 40 acres of conservation land surrounding it.

Take a quick tour:

The house was designed by Richard T. Foster, a renowned architect who collaborated with Philip Johnson on the famous Glass House.

It's listed by Christie's for $2,295,000.

The Walkstation

I need this. Seriously.

The Walkstation is an electric, height adjustable work station attached to a commercial grade treadmill with a maximum speed of 2 miles per hour, allowing office workers to burn up to 100 calories per hour.

It's the first in a series of FitWork™ products designed to get sedentary office workers moving.

As the holidays are approaching, this looks like a much better option than the hedonic treadmill :)

[via Trendwatching]