Saturday, March 26, 2005


POD People

An interesting piece in the Sydney Morning Herald:

When the Irish author Andrew Byrne started researching his book about homelessness he began by sharing a longneck with an Aboriginal man behind Central Station. "I was talking to him about his family and he just broke down. Basically, his entire family are all dead. There was an awful lot of emotion in what we were talking about," Byrne said.... Homeless: True Stories of Life on the Streets, to be published this week, is a record of the interviews with people Byrne encountered over four months around Australia. He befriended strangers, met their mates, spent hours in homeless shelters and took lessons in making a home out of a cardboard box. Byrne says he is still surprised at how ordinary people can end up in dire situations.

Though largely still the province of daily journalism, homeless reportage does sometimes make it into book form in the US -- witness the recent release of Michelle Kennedy's Without A Net: Middle Class and Homeless With Kids in America -- but I was a little surprised when searched for "homeless" among 2005 releases on Amazon. Of the six books that came up, three of them were print-on-demand titles from PrintAmerica and iUniverse: Razl Santoyo's I Love You, Baby, I Love You: Stories of Homeless People in a Border Town, "A Redhed"'s Murder and Underwear: Working With the Homeless in Chicago, and Robert C. Greene's Cardboard Condo: How the Homeless Survive the Streets.

Now, I find print on demand (POD) to be as dubious as anyone else does, and for all the usual reasons -- bad editing, bad design, bad promotion, and just plain bad writing. And PublishAmerica's practices in particular have taken a pounding from investigative journalists. Nonetheless, this example of homeless narratives raises an interesting question. Forget all the bad novels and the conspiracy wingnuts these places attract for a moment: could it be that some crucially overlooked social issue writing is getting displaced into POD because of the indifference of traditional publishers to these topics? Will sociologists and future historians with a tolerance for hot-glue binding and bad editing find themselves consulting POD works such as these someday?

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