Today’s mail delivery included a nice surprise: a new book from Oxford University Press. This one has a publication date of April 14 and is called How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts and it is authored by John Sutherland.
The first thing I noticed about the book is the feel of its cover. This is a paperback but the book’s front and back covers feel as if they have been plasticized, giving them a slick texture that I could not help running my fingers across while trying to figure out how the publisher got this effect. Too, the book’s turquoise color jumps out at you. That’s about it for cosmetics, however. As you can see from the picture, other than the color and texture of the cover, the book has a relatively generic look to it.
But, of course, it’s what’s inside the covers that really counts. The book’s introduction describes it as a “toolkit,” one that “the well-equipped reader will want to have.” The 200-page book encompasses 50 “big ideas” about literature, each individual section presented in an easy-to-read format illustrated with offset quotes, timelines, and a one-paragraph summary/definition of its particular “big idea.” The book is further organized into six major sections (each containing a few of the 50 ideas): Basics, How It Works, Literature’s Devices, New Ideas, Word Crimes, and Literary Futures.
The very last piece in the book, Idea 50, is titled “Literary Inundation,” and it addresses the tsunami of the written word facing today’s readers. It offers suggestions as to how to cope with the great deluge and notes the ironies of the situation – such as the fact that books are being published at a faster clip than at any time in world history just when more and more bookstores are closing their doors.
How Literature Works looks like fun, and I can’t resist delving into it despite the fact that I’m already reading four other books. Some books just feel right from the second you pick them up. For me, this is one of those.
From self-publishing to a book deal worth a supposed $2 million – that’s what’s happening to one 26-year-old from Austin, Minnesota:
…She’s spent years writing and rewriting books, always dreaming of becoming an author. She’d been thinking about paranormal novels before the “Twilight” craze hit the pop culture scene, but the vampire mania helped her decide on paranormal romance as a genre she could have fun with. Since then, she has written about teens and vampires, troll princesses, zombies and more.
She sold about 25,000 books online in mid-October, and was steadily working to put out one book a month on Amazon.com. Fast forward a few months, and as of Wednesday, Hocking has sold 1,030,768 books and counting.
Hocking’s book deal with St. Martin’s revolves around her “Watersong” series, a story arc involving sisters and sirens (the Greek monsters who lured sailors to their doom) she’s been toying with for some time. While the first book is due out by fall 2012, she’s free to publish other books online so long as they don’t interfere with the “Watersong” publishing schedule.
Stories like this one are becoming more and more common, proving once again what a rapidly changing world we live in. Self-published e-books can sell hundreds of thousands of copies for unknown writers. YouTube videos can be used to publicize self-produced music – and linked to iTunes to allow relatively unknown singers to make a decent living. Throw in Facebook, MySpace (although this site seems to be fading fast) and a few other sites, and anything seems possible. Even those who do not become big “stars” in the publishing or music worlds have a chance to earn some decent money and go farther than they otherwise ever could have hoped.
The business model definitely changing. Publishers and music labels are having to adapt to a world they never expected to face. Already, the music industry has crippled itself by fighting all this new technology rather than embracing and adapting to it. Sadly, as their reaction to the whole e-book episode indicates, publishers are beginning to move down the same path chosen by the labels.
As consumers, we have to ask ourselves if this new way of marketing artistic content is good, or bad, for us. Are we missing out on something potentially great because the big corporations cannot spend the kind of money they spent in the past to publicize artists? Or, is the opposite true? Are we being exposed to more talent than ever because “new media” make it possible for everyone to get their shot? How many talented writers are going nowhere because they do not have the skills or desire to market themselves at a time when publishers are not spending the money to nurture people like them?
What bothers me a bit is that I have seen very few stories like this one about “serious” writers. It seems, from what I’ve seen so far, that the only ones becoming successful self-published e-book authors are those writing off-the-wall thrillers, cookie-cutter romances, or books about zombies and vampires. Where are the self-published authors who write serious literary fiction or nonfiction books? Are they out there? If you know of any who fit that description, please let me know so that I can take a look at their work.
Good thing or bad thing? It’s just not that simple anymore.
Here’s yet another idea that has me slapping my forehead in disgust because this kind of thing never occurs to me. It’s clever, its simple, and it got published as a really cool children’s book.
Take a look.
I’ve seen this meme in several different places in the last couple of days (but I think it originated over at Tales from the Reading Room): The Top Ten Books I Had to Have – But Still Haven’t Read. My only problem will be keeping the list to only 10 hardcovers that I could not wait to get my hands on but failed to read – so far.
1. Beach Music by Pat Conroy – I bought this one the week it first hit the bookstores, way back in 1995 and it still sits on my shelf just as bright and shiny as the day I brought it home. Reading it was one of my stated goals for 2011 but I’ve grown a bit superstitious about this one, sort of holding it back so that I will always have a new Pat Conroy novel in my back pocket. I’m starting to doubt that I will read Beach Music until Pat gives me a new one to hang on to.
2. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan – Does anyone remember what a smash hit this novel was when it first came out. It clearly marked Amy Tan as one of the decade’s most talented newcomers and I had to get my hands on a copy. I did – that was 1989. It’s a First Edition copy and its now worth several hundred dollars, I’m told, but I still haven’t read it.
3. The Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie – I’m sure everyone remembers the tremendous controversy generated by Rushdie’s supposed insult to Islam, the jihad declared against him, him going into hiding in the U.K., etc. I stumbled upon two first edition copies of the book and snapped them up, thinking they might become rather valuable. They did – at least for a while – and I traded one copy for a pristine first edition of The World According to Garp. Still haven’t read the other copy that’s been on my shelf since 1989.
4. This Body of Death by Elizabeth George – Much like my silliness with Pat Conroy books, described in number 1, it feels good to have an Elizabeth George in the bag for when I want to visit some of my favorite fictional characters. I do have reading this one as one of my 2011 goals but it has been on the shelf since May 2010 already.
5. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway – This is a beautiful collection of Hemingway’s short stories I picked up, brand spanking new, in 1987. I love Hemingway and I’m learning to love short stories more every year – haven’t read a one from this book.
6. The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard – Leonard is an excellent writer of westerns, both novels and short stories, and this is a collection of those short stories. I really enjoy seeing this book on my shelf; it is a quality publication and feels good in my hands. Have I read any of the stories since buying the book in 2004? Don’t ask.
7. The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott – I bought this one at a time I was particularly enthralled by stories about the British experience in India. This seemed like the perfect collection to give me a better feel for the period as it was experienced by both sides. As I recall (and my memory may be faulty) PBS or some network was also televising some of Scott’s work. So I grabbed this collection – in 1976 – and I have still only read the first novel in the book, The Jewel in the Crown.
8. Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut – Over the years, I have really tried to like Vonnegut’s books. I really have. In fact, I bought this hardcover at full price (only $17.95, plus tax, but those were 1987 dollars). It is still brand new but I doubt I could get my money back on this one if I tried to sell it to the collector market. Maybe I’ll even read it one year but Vonnegut has not been an acquired taste for me even all these years later.
9. The Collected Stories of Richard Yates – I love Yates’s novels but have read only one or two of his short stories. I figured this nice collection would be a way to catch up on those, so I grabbed the book in May of 2001. And there it sits, still taunting me with its beautiful presence.
10. Careless Love: The Unmasking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick – This biography is almost 700 pages long, counting the footnotes, but it is the second volume (I think) in Guralnick’s Presley bio. I bought it in 1999 thinking that I would hold off from reading it until I could find an equally nice copy of the first book, Last Train to Memphis. Still looking.
So there you have the ten unread books that jump off the shelf at me every time I approach them looking for something else to read. They whine; they tear up; the scream as loud as they can – and I still ignore them. One of these days…
Remember when Amazon made the big announcement that some of its Kindle books would be available for sharing with your friends (or family, if you have no friends)? Of course, the whole thing was pretty much just a big slice of PR baloney because each e-book could only be loaned once for 14 days – and never again. So along came sites like Lendle where book owners could list their books for sharing with others who offered to do the same. The more books you listed, the more books you could borrow from someone. It was all done by the rules: each book was only good for one 14-day swap and then it was retired forever.
Sweet deal, right? Well, it was apparently too sweet for Amazon (or, more likely for the publishers that produce Kindle books for Amazon) so Amazon pulled the plug on Lendle yesterday by denying the site access to its Kindle database.
E-book buyers already give up a fistful of rights one expects to have when buying a book, especially the right to resell the book to another buyer. That’s bad enough, but throw in the inconvenience caused by the fact that Kindle books are pretty much readable only on a Kindle; the ridiculous refusal of certain publishers to sell e-books to libraries, period; and the limit that one particular publisher places on how many times an e-book can be checked out from a library before it has to be repurchased, and one begins to think these publishers don’t have the first clue about marketing their
shiny new golden eggs e-product. If book publishers learned nothing from what happened to the music industry in the last decade, they deserve to suffer the same fate – and they will.
Consumers are going to find ways to get cheap e-books. They might prefer to borrow them from others of the same mind but, if publishers refuse to let that happen, there are plenty of ways to get at the books. It might not be legal, but it will happen. Pirate sites are already out there, but they are tiny compared to what was available (and still is) for CDs and movies. If publishers do not start playing fair with their customers, however, those pirate book sites will not stay tiny for long. When consumers feel cheated, they see little wrong in cheating back. Is that where the book world is headed?
Who benefits from this boneheaded Amazon move? Publishers? Retailers? Customers/readers? The unfortunate answer is: no one, absolutely no one.
Tom Chaney makes the biggest mistake of his already despicable life when he murders Mattie Ross’s father and robs him of his horse and the cash in his pockets (including two unusually shaped, and easily recognized, gold pieces). Now he has to deal with Mattie Ross, the murdered man’s fourteen-year-old daughter, a girl who will not rest until she sees Tom Chaney hang for the murder.
Mattie makes the trip to Fort Smith, Arkansas, with two missions in mind: claim her father’s body and send it home for burial, and hire someone to help her capture his killer. The first task is a relatively easy one, but the second is more of a challenge. Mattie, though, knows exactly the kind of man she is searching for and, once he sobers up, U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn seems to be the answer to her prayers. He is a man with true grit enough to match Mattie’s own.
Rooster Cogburn has a history of his own, having ridden with the infamous Quantrill’s Raiders during the Civil War, but he is smart enough to keep the odds in his favor. Not only has he accepted a $100 contract from Mattie Ross to capture her father’s murderer; he also draws a U.S. Marshall’s salary and hopes to claim the bounties being offered on Chaney and others traveling with him. After LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger/ bounty hunter, offers to split the bounties with Cogburn, the two men decide to team up – and to sneak out of Fort Smith early enough to leave Mattie far behind. It would not be that easy.
True Grit is first rate western adventure as seen through the eyes of Mattie Ross, now an old woman recalling the adventure of a lifetime she experienced at age fourteen. Young Mattie sees the world in black and white terms. She wants Tom Chaney to hang for the murder of her father or she wants him shot dead if it proves impossible to take him alive. What’s right is right, and she will not rest until she makes it happen, even if she has to shoot the man herself.
There is adventure in True Grit and there is humor. The more subtle humor stems from the way that the roughest and toughest characters in the book speak their dialogue. Even in the heat of battle, or while throwing personal insults at each other, Cogburn and the rest speak in Mattie Ross’s voice, including her vocabulary and grammatical style. It took me more than a few pages to figure out that the book is more a monologue than a traditional novel. The reader is hearing the elderly Mattie Ross recount her adventures, and each of the characters, from Rooster to Tom Chaney, speaks the way that Mattie would have spoken had she been in their shoes.
It is easy to see why True Grit made Charles Portis’s reputation; it is a shame, however, that Portis wrote so little else. This is one of those books that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, and it is good to see that the new movie version has given it new life.
Rated at: 5.0
Time for something a little different.
It seems that one UCLA student does not appreciate people talking on their cellphones in the study area of the school’s library. Hard to argue with that sentiment – if only she had stopped there. The young lady, unfortunately, proceeds to mock the “Asians” who have offended her. Her YouTube “vlog” is a hit – something I suspect she now regrets. Note: The most offensive part of the young lady’s rant is not included in this particular clip but is definitely mocked in the lyrics of the answer-song.
One young “Asian” has decided to respond, in song, to her concerns (Beware: there is at least one “F-bomb” involved here) and the rest is history. Lesson learned?
I reviewed Water for Elephants back on December 15, 2008, giving it a 4.5 rating. That missing half point was deducted because I found the ending of the book to be a bit farfetched despite the fact that it is exactly the kind of ending I would have wished for the book’s main character after getting to know him so well. I thoroughly enjoyed (as I was at the same time horrified by much of it) the story, even ranking it number three on my Top Ten Fiction Books for 2008.
Now here in 2011 the book is generating even more buzz than it did when it was first released. That is, of course, because 20th Century Fox is about to release its version to movie theaters across the world. The book has even been re-published with one of those movie tie-in-covers I hate so much. My first impression, based entirely on this one movie trailer, is that the movie will not quite do justice to my imagination – but isn’t that almost always the way when a book comes to film?
I’m sure I will see the movie eventually, but probably in the comfort of my own home. What do you think? Is the trailer enough to get you excited about this one (it certainly appears to be beautifully filmed)?
Here’s one more reason that e-books will never equal the real thing.
We’ve discussed before why libraries carry such a limited selection of e-books (certain publishers refuse to sell to them) and why they have so few copies of the titles they do carry (publishers will only sell them a certain number of copies and they try to limit the number of times an e-book can be “checked out” before it has to be repurchased by the library). All of that means that library patrons will almost always have to queue up for an e-book, placing it on hold for a few weeks before it becomes available for download to their e-reader. Then, when the book finally becomes available, it will only be available for checkout for a few days (usually five) and can only be read for fourteen days after it has been downloaded.
Well, that combination of silliness caught up with me today. After waiting six weeks to get a copy of Tony Blair’s memoir, A Journey, I will not be able to finish it before the file becomes unreadable on my iPad. Remember, we’re dealing with an e-book here. Since I didn’t have a physical copy of the book to carry around, I failed to realize that the book is 720 pages long. For that reason, I didn’t start reading it soon enough to get it done before the file becomes unreadable – something that happens tomorrow.
My choices, you ask? Only one comes to mind: queue up again for the book and resume reading it in another month or so. The book cannot be renewed for another two weeks because the “corrupt by” date is built into the file on my iPad. I realize this is only likely to happen with exceptionally long books, and that it is partially my fault for not checking the length of the book early on, but this is just more evidence that e-book publishers don’t get it. (The OverDrive software does not show page numbers by default – a conscious effort to change the display is required for that to happen.)
One thing for certain is that I will not be rewarding Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, publisher of A Journey: My Political Life, by purchasing a copy of the book for my shelves or for my iPad, nor am I likely to line up again and wait my turn for a library copy. Two can play at this game. Unfortunately, even though it is not by choice, the book officially becomes my second abandoned book of 2011.
It’s going to be another of those weekends. After a full day’s work in the office, I managed to get me and my dad on the road, headed toward southwest Louisiana by seven p.m. We got word yesterday morning that one of his three sisters has died of pneumonia and that the funeral is scheduled for tomorrow morning in a little town there called Church Point. My father has bad knees and cannot sit in the same position for an extended period of time so we decided to make a little over half the drive tonight to help him manage the pain. The drive back after the funeral tomorrow will be over five hours long…plus stretch breaks for him, so it will be a long day.
So I’m sitting in a Red Roof Inn in some little Louisiana town I missed the name of, typing on my iPad and planning to settle down for a couple of hours of serious reading before I have to turn the lights out. I’m about half way through We Were Not Orphans, an intriguing look at life in The Waco State Home, a facility run by the state of Texas for several decades. The home housed several hundred poor children at a time and it literally saved many of them from starvation. But the home had it’s problems with sadistic teachers and “matrons” and it is heartbreaking to read the words of some of those who were raised there.
The question I’m left with is how to judge the right and wrong of a facility like this one. A lot of good was done for hundreds of children, and many of them consider living in the Waco State Home to have been the best thing that ever happened to them. A few, however, were victimized by sexual predators and sadists who worked at the home. Is it a simple matter of numbers or is all the good outweighed by the evil that seems to have occured so regularly there?
Grossman does such a superb job developing his characters that even the secondary ones come to life as the complicated relationships take shape. The story centers on a love triangle that has lasted for decades after the chance hospital meeting of Ora and the two young men who fall in love with her there, Avram and Ilan. Theirs is such a tangled relationship that Ora, although she marries Ilan, has sons by both men and it often seems that Ilan is more loyal to Avram than he is to her. At this late stage in the relationship, Avram has had, by far, the toughest life of the three, and it is a joy to watch as Ora tenderly gives him new life during their long walk by feeding him just the right details and stories about the son he never knew.
|Joseph H.H. Weiler, the Winner|
Some of you will remember this article from February 22 about an Israeli writer who sued an American editor who published a review of her book because she refused to accept a bad review (although this one was tame by any standard). The review’s actual writer was not named in the suit, only the publisher. The situation was laughable but it did send a ripple of unease throughout the blogosphere about the dangerous precedent something like this might set if the case were to come under the jurisdiction of the “wrong” judge.
Well, now for the good news. The French judicial system has heard the case, and the good guy (the editor/publisher, of course) won. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, this is what happened:
A French court has dismissed a criminal-libel charge brought against a journal editor over a negative book review and ordered the plaintiff to pay punitive damages. The editor, Joseph H.H. Weiler, a professor at New York University’s School of Law, said he had been awarded €8,000 (about $11,000) as a result of the action brought against him by Karin N. Calvo-Goller, a senior lecturer at the Academic Center of Law & Business, in Israel.
In the ruling, the court said the review expressed a scientific opinion of the book and did not go beyond the kind of criticism to which all authors of intellectual work subject themselves when they publish. It agreed with Mr. Weiler’s contention that the case did not properly fall within its jurisdiction anyway. It concluded that Ms. Calvo-Goller had engaged in forum shopping and had shown bad faith in bringing the complaint. It said it was ordering the plaintiff to pay the €8,000 to Mr. Weiler in reparation for the harm caused by the improper nature of her action.
|Author Jeff Lindsay|
|Dailey & Vincent, band and tour bus|
This is going to be one of those weekends (actually Fri-Sun) during which my reading takes a backseat to another favorite hobby of mine: real country music, as in the form of some of the best bluegrass music on offer today.
I drove up to a little town just west of Ft. Worth called Argyle yesterday morning – almost exactly a five hour drive at my pace – so that I could be sure to get one of the 400 tickets to be sold at the door for last night’s show. By four p.m., ticket in hand, I drove the eight miles to Denton, TX, grabbed a motel room, and returned to the festival location for some great BBQ, potato salad, and beans.
The show was excellent, as it included three of my favorite bluegrass bands. My only complaint is that the show was opened by another of those bands that play jazz using bluegrass instruments. I have no doubt that these guys are all excellent musicians; I know they are from their numerous years performing in some of the best bluegrass bands of the last 25 years. It’s just that I don’t have an ear for jazz; it all sounds like musical gibberish to me, and after an hour of it I’m ready to pull my hair out.
But the rest of the evening was a gem. First up was Adam Steffey and The Boxcars, a relatively new band composed of some veteran musicians and singers who have regrouped to have some fun together. Then came a band that I sincerely believe has the best country music stage show out there, bar none: Dailey & Vincent. Their 70-minute show is a combination of upbeat songs, gospel music, traditional bluegrass, and a whole lot of comedy. I’ve seen them several times now and it has been fun to watch them grow into such a topnotch act. Last up for the evening was Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Doyle is one of the bluegrass oldsters, having been in the business for 48 years, but he surrounds himself with young musicians and singers who are as good as it gets. His new banjo player, for instance, just turned 20 a few weeks ago – and looks about 14. I got the “bluegrass fix” I needed to get me through to June when I’ll hit the road for four days of concerts in Kentucky.
The festival lineup for today is a good one, too, but I had to drive back to Houston this morning to rest up for tomorrow’s visit to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. I promised my granddaughter several weeks ago (not realizing that I had a conflict) that I would take her and her brother out there because she really wants to see Selena Gomez. From what I understand, Selena Gomez is a Disney Channel star whose main claim to fame is that she’s Justin Bieber’s current girlfriend (I’m sure I’m shortchanging the girl’s vocal talents – I hope so, anyway, for my sake).
Oh, and I’m reading a Vince Flynn political thriller right now and have managed to get about half way through the book, but that’s mostly because it is such easy reading. That’s about all I can handle this weekend.
Wish me luck for tomorrow. This could be painful.