Will the Net Save Books?

BookshelfArtSo, the Net is supposed to be fatal for books, right? Why plow through a couple hundred dead-tree remnants when you can just watch a 1:15 video? And, if you want to wade through a lot of prose, can’t you do that online through Nook, Kindle, etc., even if such outfits kill profit margins for publishers and savage bookstores?

Well, such questions seem reasonable nowadays. But, as a first-time author I’m discovering how the Net also opens the world – literally, the world – to writers and publishers to develop audiences for their work. No longer is book marketing a matter of running around the country and lecturing or just reaching out to reviewers. It’s a far, far better thing than that.

UnknownOccasionally, I Google my book title – “Transcendental Meditation in America: How a New Age Movement Remade a Small Town in Iowa.” It’s amazing what comes up. The book doesn’t come out until May, but already Amazon and online retailers all over the globe list it.

Folks in New Zealand, for instance, can pre-order on fishpond. And fans of Albany Books Ltd., “your neighbourhood bookstore” in Delta, British Columbia, Canada, can find a listing on the outlet’s site. So, too, can Canadians in London, Ontario, by checking out the Creation Bookstore site. Amazon sites in the U.S., U.K. and India are carrying it, as well.

Others round the globe are on the bandwagon. Angus & Robertson, a “Proudly Australian” site, intrigues me, as do Landmark Ltd. an Indian site, and Loot Online in Tokai, South Africa. Then there’s Waterstones in the U.K.

And some sites are segmented by market, with intriguingly different prices. eCampus will let folks buy or rent the book ($15.30 to buy, $14.40 to rent, so you make the call on the difference). Another college-oriented site, knetbooks, rents it for $14.26 if you return it by June 20 (slightly higher if you keep it til the end of July). FreshmanExperience retails it for $15.30. Amazon carries it for $13.71, marked down from the $18 jacket price. (One suspects all these prices will bounce around over time.)

AnaLouise Keating
AnaLouise Keating
But it’s not just retailers who have discovered the book. AnaLouise Keating, a professor at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas, tweeted about it in early March, linking to a review she posted on goodreads, where she gave it five of five stars. Her review: “”Iowa” and “New Age”…the terms can seem like quite a juxtaposition, and Weber provides an interesting, useful discussion. Definitely worth reading.” (Thank you, Dr. Keating!)

Back in January, the book made a splash at Before It’s News, a blog by “a community of individuals who report on what’s going on around them, from all around the world.” The folks there listed it as one of 35 noteworthy new books. Hey, I’m not complaining.

UIPAnd bloggers with special interests in the area are plugging it. Evolutionary_Mystic Post runs a long description of the book and (now I’m blushing) of me. Looks like the material came from the University of Iowa folks, to whom I am much indebted, as well as from my bio material on our university site.

The folks in Iowa, no doubt, get the credit for loosing this stuff on the world. I must especially thank editors Catherine Cocks and William Friedricks, Managing Editor Charlotte Wright and Marketing Manager Allison Means. But I’ve been doing my part, too, as they counseled. I’ve developed my own website for the book, at transcendentalmeditationinamerica.com, as well as a Facebook site. The FB site is a handy spot to post newsy things that pop up around the topic, such as a recent riot among Indian meditators whom the TM Movement brings to Iowa to meditate for world peace. (Interesting irony there).

So, there will be lectures and book-signings and the traditional stuff. But, thanks to the Net, there’s so much more. Will the Net kill books? Not on this evidence.

An Author’s Life


One of the joys of the academic life is writing books. Professors are expected to produce them. Programs make time for them, particularly in the summer. And folks at universities help teachers find resources, if needed, to pay for research.

So it was exciting for me to leave the classroom this weekend and talk to people about the book I’m setting out to write. I’m looking at the Transcendental Meditation movement, the effort founded by the late Maharishi that was all the rage back in the ’70s. I’m exploring a raft of questions: Can this movement endure? How is it attempting to reinvigorate itself after the charismatic leader’s passing? And how does it fit in with the many Utopian movements that have made their mark in the U.S. from the Shakers to the Amana Colonies?

To get a sense of whether this is book-worthy, I spent a couple days at TM’s home base, Fairfield, Iowa. The aptly named place is intriguing, especially since the TM folks account for perhaps a third of its 9,000 plus residents and count among adherents the mayor and several city council members. After 30-plus years in the place, the movement seems to have to settled in comfortably, something that would have seemed unlikely — a chalk and cheese situation, with mystics and seekers from NYC, LA and India seeming an odd fit with farmers and Bible-belters. TM has a full-scale university there that seems to be a major prop to the economy.

More interesting, I spent time with remarkably gracious folks at a synagogue there — Beth Shalom — founded by TM’ers. Why, one might ask, would they need Judaism if they’ve got TM? After all, TM brings a Hindu perspective and a full-blown theology along with the 20-minutes, two-times-a-day meditation approach. In fact, there is a kind of monastery near Fairfield where hundreds of Indian guys spend their days doing Vedic chants — a good deal more than a couple short sessions in a Lotus position.

Well, it turns out that old religious ties are not obliterated by meditation. Indeed, some Beth Shalom folks, Baby Boomers all, say they got more involved in Judaism as a result of their TM experiences (and having kids who needed b’nai mitzvah). They say some Catholics, Protestants, Mormons and others retain their religions while studying the ways of the late Indian guru.

The visit was fascinating. And I’m looking forward to much more time in Fairfield through the spring and summer.

It will be an adventure and a challenge for someone used to writing magazine pieces. Where a mag effort, even a big one, seems bite-sized, a book is a full meal and then some.

Just budgeting my time and mental energy between the classroom and research efforts will be daunting. As an academic newbie, I’m still developing curricula and testing it out on live students. I’m still learning how to grade with the right balance of severity and encouragement. I’m still perfecting those lectures that must be put together anew every week.

Others have pulled off the balancing act well. Joe Starita, a colleague at the J School, has written a couple well-received books on Native Americans, including “I Am a Man,” a major effort on a Nebraska Indian chief that is getting stellar reviews. He’s done this while teaching some of the best-regarded classes at the college.

I expect it’s a matter of discipline and energy. You find time for what must be done and for what gets your juices flowing. Certainly, the ride promises to be entertaining.