Books in General

So You Received a Terrible Book as a Gift

25 January 2015

From BookRiot:

Why the long face? What’s up? Someone gave you a book for the holidays, and it’s clearly, obviously, blatantly awful and you don’t know what to do about it, huh? Jeeze, that’s rough.

. . . .

Option One: Assess the person who gave you the gift. Are they, for example, fantastically old? If so, you’re getting off pretty easy here, because it’s possible they may not remember giving you the book at all and all you have to say is “thank you.” Prepare a nice little gratitude statement and write it down so you can use it next year when they give you another copy of the same book. Easy! But the problem is, there are lots of gift-givers in the world who are not fantastically old and these “non-olds” may cause you problems.

Option Two: Assess if it is a terrible book or a crazy book. The differences can be very subtle. Maybe they just gave you a novel that you, personally, think has the literary merits of a log rolling down a hill (i.e., 3% literary). If it’s a crazy book, be careful! They are trying to convince you of something when they give you the book, paired with pointed looks.

. . . .

Option Three: Invent an opinion on the book. This is how you survive not reading the book without admitting you didn’t read the book and probably won’t read it, unless you are actually tied to a bomb that will only defuse if you read the book. Some gift-givers will be satisfied with you saying “I read it, it was pretty good!” and then move on. Others will want to have a dreaded conversation about the book, however. Never fear! You too can contribute a little bit to this discussion. All you have to do is remember LRV: Look at the cover, Read the back of the book, and then Visit Amazon and read a couple reviews. Go for a three star review or so. Too many stars and you’ll seem enthusiastic, and you’re doomed to many discussions and more books. Too few stars, and you have to go have a fight outside. Pick a review with a couple paragraphs, so that the plot is not only summarized but maybe a couple opinions are had about it. Those opinions are now your opinions.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Don’t Blame Readers If Books Are Being “Devalued”

24 January 2015

From BookRiot:

If you hang out on the bookternet at all, you have no doubt seen one or more pearl-clutching declarations that books are losing their value–especially ebooks, which you can get for as little as NINETY-NINE CENTS (omg)–which is putting literature in great peril. After all, if writers can’t make a living off of writing, how, HOW will we carry forth with our grand literary traditions? Usually, these declarations are followed by impassioned pleas to support your favorite writers by paying “fair value” for their hard work and sacrifice.

. . . .

I want writers to make money. I really do. I love reading. There are a few hiccups to the “customers need to realize that books are worth more” angle, though. Such as, that’s not how economics works, at all.

Reading is a buyer’s market, y’all.

According to, a buyer’s market is “a market in which goods are plentiful, buyers have a wide range of choice, and prices tend to be low”. Basically, what happens in a buyer’s market is that the supply exceeds demand, buyers have a bounty of options and sellers have to compete for the buyer’s attention. Sound at all familiar?

In a buyer’s market, the seller has little advantage that would allow them to dictate prices. If one seller decided to raise prices, customers would just go to their competition. In the book world, a reader can’t throw a stone without seeing a publisher or author vying for attention; books are literally being given away for free to try to gain an audience.

. . . .

If books are becoming “devalued,” it’s not because readers have magically lost respect for the written word; it’s because we can choose from thousands upon thousands of books and obtain them while we lounge on the couch in our pjs. Rarity breeds value, and books ain’t that rare. If only ten titles came out a year, people would pay a whole lot more to get one.

There are exceptions. For big-name authors like King, Rowling, or Gaiman, the demand for their books transcends price differential–to an extent.

. . . .

As a reader and a customer, I’m tired of being scolded for what the market is naturally doing.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Publishers Know You Didn’t Finish “The Goldfinch” — Here’s What That Means For The Future Of Books

22 January 2015

From Buzzfeed:

Millions may have held their suspicions, but last month the Canadian e-reader company Kobo confirmed it: Most people who buy The Goldfinch don’t actually finish it. According to the company’s data, less than half of Canadian and British Kobo readers in 2014 made it to the end of Donna Tartt’s behemoth novel, one of the best-selling of the year.

How did Kobo know this? Like every e-reader and reading-app maker today, the company, a subsidiary of the Japanese e-commerce titan Rakuten, has access to a comprehensive suite of data about the reading behavior of its users. In a white paper titled “Publishing in the Era of Big Data” and released this fall, the company announced that “with the onset of digital reading … it is now possible to know how a customer engages with the book itself — what books were left unopened, which were read to the very last word and how quickly.” In other words, if you read books digitally, the people who serve you those books more than likely know just what kind of reader you are, and just how little effort you made with Infinite Jest.

The paper was a rare peek into the nascent world of reader engagement analytics, which have been a staple of web publishing but which the big legacy book publishers have been slow to embrace. It was fascinating, not just for the insights it offered into reading behavior (Did you know the industry standard finish rate for mystery books is 62%? Now you do!) but because the enormous corporations — Amazon and Apple — that know the most about how you read are ferociously silent about that knowledge. Both Apple and Amazon declined to comment for this piece.

. . . .

In a leery New York Review of Books blog post, titled “They’re Watching What You Read,” the novelist Francine Prose wrote, “…writers (and their editors) could soon be facing meetings in which the marketing department informs them that 82 percent of readers lost interest in their memoir on page 272. And if they want to be published in the future, whatever happens on that page should never be repeated.”

. . . .

It’s true that engagement analytics pose a highly abstract threat to a certain idealized kind of furrowed-brow, human-and-their-word-processor, Great Novel writing and reading, as well as to those people whose livelihoods and self-images are invested in that ideal. (“Excuse me, Mr. Joyce, you’re losing a lot of Kindle Fire readers here in this third section. Maybe tighten it up a smidge?”) But it’s also true that most books released by the declining publishing industry are hardlyWar and Peace, that so far these numbers have played almost no role in editing and acquisitions in the publishing industry, that they have far greater implications for marketers than they do for writers and editors, and that the companies making the most significant use of engagement analytics aren’t traditional publishing houses, but startups.

According to Claudia Ballard, a book agent with William Morris Endeavor, there is still only one salient number when it comes to the books that get picked up.

“The truth of the matter is people have been picking up books and not finishing them for a long time,” Ballard told BuzzFeed News. “At the end of the day, a unit sold is still a unit sold.”

Link to the rest at Buzzfeed and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Turning Faded Memories Into Poetry – Writing Workshops For People With Dementia

21 January 2015


There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. But there are people trying to make a difference for the millions of Americans who have the disease. Molly Meyer helps people living with Alzheimer’s rediscover lost memories, and create new ones through poetry.

Poet Molly Meyer comes to workshops prepared. In addition to the standard – paper and pens – she has a suitcase filled with tchotchkes.

There’s a large spinning globe and an old quilt, a neon green plastic cup and a black hatbox from the 20s.

As Meyer places everything on the table she talks with a dozen people gathered around a table in the memory care unit at CC Young retirement community in Dallas. Many of them have dementia or Alzheimer’s. Which means they’re known for what they don’t remember, rather than what they do remember.

. . . .

As Meyer holds up a Hawaiian grass skirt, she asks, “what does this make you think of?” She’s trying to trigger memories with props.

Today’s theme is travel.

“What is the first thing you think about when you think about London?” she asks.

A woman calls out “art galleries, shopping!” A tall man who’s new says “crowded streets.”

. . . .

As her parent’s memories declined, Meyer found it hard for to empathize. Instead of trying to relate with them, she became frustrated.

“I didn’t write poems with my parents and I have that regret,” she says. “But I regret not taking the time to just sit and ask questions.”

Meyer says she sees an incredible amount of creativity in patients with Alzheimer’s. “People who think outside the box.”

And although she doesn’t know if her workshops are therapeutic, she says the results are impressive.

“I’m not a doctor, but I see it every day. I see people wake up, be invigorated, engage with the person next to them and I think that has to be beneficial in some way,” Meyer says.

. . . .

Inside My Treasure Chest

You’ll find…

An old piece of jewelry,

a graduation tassel,


a knitted Christmas stocking,

a letterman’s jacket—blue and gold,

and a thousand pictures of steam locomotives.


Inside my heart’s treasure chest,

you’ll find my friends, my family, and love.


–Ed, Cleto, Marion, Margaret B., Barbara, Bob. S., Margaret A., Mervin, Ned, Clara, Carolyn, Gerald, John, Jesse, Ginger, & “K”

Link to the rest at and thanks to Deb for the tip.

Focusing on the negative: Cultural differences in expressions of sympathy

20 January 2015

PG doesn’t think this has anything to do with books, but it does have something to do with words and he found it interesting.

From APA PsycNET:

Feeling concern about the suffering of others is considered a basic human response, and yet we know surprisingly little about the cultural factors that shape how people respond to the suffering of another person. To this end, we conducted 4 studies that tested the hypothesis that American expressions of sympathy focus on the negative less and positive more than German expressions of sympathy, in part because Americans want to avoid negative states more than Germans do. In Study 1, we demonstrate that American sympathy cards contain less negative and more positive content than German sympathy cards.

. . . .

In Study 3, we demonstrate that these cultural differences in “avoided negative affect” mediate cultural differences in how comfortable Americans and Germans feel focusing on the negative (vs. positive) when expressing sympathy for the hypothetical death of an acquaintance’s father.

. . . .

American and German participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 conditions: (a) to “push negative images away” (i.e., increasing desire to avoid negative affect) from or (b) to “pull negative images closer” (i.e., decreasing desire to avoid negative affect) to themselves. Participants were then asked to pick a card to send to an acquaintance whose father had hypothetically just died. Across cultures, participants in the “push negative away” condition were less likely to choose sympathy cards with negative (vs. positive) content than were those in the “pull negative closer” condition. Together, these studies suggest that cultures differ in their desire to avoid negative affect and that these differences influence the degree to which expressions of sympathy focus on the negative (vs. positive).

Link to the rest at APA PsycNET

We live amid a great sprawl of what passes for literature

16 January 2015

From essayist Arthur Kristol:

Before the 18th century, no self-respecting man of letters (who, after all, had been weaned on the ancients) would have thought to dismiss the authors who had formed his education. The past wasn’t something to surpass or circumvent, but to adapt and make relevant.

. . . .

In Edward Young’s Conjectures on Original Composition (1759), we find the notion that “the first ancients had no merit in being originals; they could not be imitators. Modern writers have a choice to make and therefore have a merit in their power.”

. . . .

[W]hat made the postmodern charter different was its willingness to discard the very idea of standards. Starting from the premise that aesthetics were just another social construct rather than a product of universal principles, postmodernist thinkers succeeded in toppling hierarchies and nullifying the literary canon. Indeed, they were so good at unearthing the socioeconomic considerations behind canon formation that even unapologetic highbrows had to wonder if they hadn’t been bamboozled.

. . . .

[N]ow add to the mix an Internet that enables every autodidact with a bad teacher to address the world and pretty soon the world begins to tilt. The razing of aesthetic standards combined with the reallocation of cultural consensus in the form of blogs and Amazon reviews must surely affect the books we write. Almost 70 years ago, Erich Auerbach proposed that a nation’s literature depends in large part on the nature of the reading public. So what happens when that reading public becomes for the first time truly public, not only in the sense that every reader can finally be heard but that his or her voice is hardly less valid than those stemming from our cultural or educational institutions?

. . . .

We live amid a great sprawl of what passes for literature, a diffusion prophesied years ago by Houston Baker, a president of the Modern Language Association who declared that choosing between Virginia Woolf and Pearl Buck is “no different from choosing between a hoagie and a pizza.” And in this blur of the present, when every book, every critical evaluation, is almost immediately swept aside by another, there seems little of consequence. . . .

Although serious writers continue to work in the hope that time will forgive them for writing well, the prevailing mood welcomes fiction and poetry of every stripe, as long as the reading public champions it. And this I think is a huge mistake. Literature has never just been about the public (even when the public has embraced such canonical authors as Hugo, Dickens, and Tolstoy ). Literature has always been a conversation among writers who borrow, build upon, and deviate from each other’s words. Forgetting this, we forget that aesthetics is not a social invention, that democracy is not an aesthetic category; and that the dismantling of hierarchies is tantamount to an erasure of history.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

What not to say to authors (and what to say instead)

16 January 2015

From Author Allsorts:

Myth one: Authors are all filthy rich…like JK Rowling

What not to say: “Wow, you’re an author? So, where’s your castle then, JK Rowling?”

The reality: Honestly, I’d make more money if I was paid a pound for every time someone brings up JK Rowling when talking to me about my career, then I’d ever make from selling books.

Here is the basic maths…

An average book costs, say, £7.99.

An average royalty rate for an author is around 7-9% of the cover price.

So, if a book sells at full price, an author can make around 60p.

Oh, yes, and around 15% of that 60p goes to your agent.

And don’t forget Mr Taxman, he’ll be wanting another 20%

So, even if a book sells over 50k copies, an author would only take home around ten grand.

…And most books don’t sell over 50k copies. Most books sell less than two thousand copies.

Authors don’t do it for the money. And not just because WE’D BE FRICKIN’ MAD TO. We do it because we love it and we’re so very lucky to do something we love…but it’s usually not a living. It’s more like a ‘hobby with benefits’. And no castles.

What to say instead: “You’re an author? Golly, do you want me to get this round in then? And, yikes, you look cold. Here’s my jacket.” *covers shivering author with jacket*

. . . .

Myth four: Author know how well their books are selling

What not to say: “So, how’s your book selling?”

Reality: You would think we would know, wouldn’t you? Considering we wrote the darn thing an all. But you need access to some expensive book-sales software we can’t afford (see myth one). And your publishers, generally, don’t tell you very often.

You get occasional ‘clues’. E.g. If you go into a bookstore and there is even one copy in there THIS IS A VERY GOOD SIGN. Or refreshing the Amazon sales ranking page using one hand, and clutching some runes with the other. But, to most authors it’s a genuine mystery half the time.

What to say instead: “I saw your book in a shop. Here, look, I took a photo for you.”

Link to the rest at Author Allsorts and thanks to Scath for the tip.

“Pride and Prejudice” gets its first U.S. Supreme Court citation

13 January 2015

From The Washington Post:

It’s in Justice Scalia’s opinion this morning in Whitfield v. United States, and the opinion uses “Pride and Prejudice” much as linguists sometimes do: to offer an example of common English usage (not that recent, to be sure, but likely influential even today — or, more relevant, 1934 — given the book’s place in the literary canon):

In 1934 [when the relevant statute was enacted -EV], just as today, to “accompany” someone meant to “go with” him. See Oxford English Dictionary 60 (1st ed. 1933) (defining “accompany” as: “To go in company with, to go along with”). The word does not, as Whitfield contends, connote movement over a substantial distance. It was, and still is, perfectly natural to speak of accompanying someone over a relatively short distance, for example: from one area within a bank “to the vault”; “to the altar” at a wedding; “up the stairway”; or into, out of, or across a room. English literature is replete with examples. See, e.g., C. Dickens, David Copperfield 529 (Modern Library ed. 2000) (Uriah “accompanied me into Mr. Wickfield’s room”); J. Austen, Pride and Prejudice 182 (Greenwich ed. 1982) (Elizabeth “accompanied her out of the room”).

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

The 50 Sexiest Literary Villains

13 January 2015

From Flavorwire:

[H]ere’s fifty villains that we wouldn’t kick out of bed. A note: for the purposes of this list, the term “villain” shall encompass both true villains and the simply villainous: anti-heroes, big bads, antagonists, and a few plain old murderous jerks. With that in mind, read on for a collection of bad guys we all love to hate and also love to love just a little bit.

. . . .

Draco Malfoy, the Harry Potter series

Actually, the most handsome villain in the Harry Potter universe is probably Tom Riddle, the young Lord Voldemort, who is constantly described as being almost preternaturally handsome — something notunhelpful for getting his dastardly deeds done. But the baddie that everyone seems to get it up for is really Draco. He’s described in the books as being tall, slender, pale and blonde, with grey eyes, which doesn’t sound too shabby at all, but probably the culprit is Tom Felton. J.K. Rowling herself said, “Draco remains a person of dubious morality in the seven published books, and I have often had cause to remark on how unnerved I have been by the number of girls who fell for this particular fictional character… [He] has all the glamour of the anti-hero; girls are very apt to romanticise such people. All of this left me in the unenviable position of pouring cold common sense on ardent readers’ daydreams as I told them, rather severely, that Draco was not concealing a heart of gold under all that sneering and prejudice and that no, he and Harry were not destined to end up best friends.”

. . . .

Edmund, King Lear

One of the most villainous villains in all of Shakespeare is also a total ladies man. Though Shakespeare didn’t much go in for describing the features of his characters (Elizabethan typecasting perhaps not exactly a thing), Edmund seduces both Goneril and Regan — sisters! — so he must have a face to match that game. (Just think of Philip Winchester playing him in Ian McKellen’s Lear. Now you’ve got it.)

. . . .

Becky Sharp, Vanity Fair

A bilingual beauty of an anti-heroine with every parlor charm imaginable — a lovely singing voice, skill at instruments, excellent party banter — who also will lie, cheat, steal and manipulate to work herself just a little higher up that social ladder. As Lady Jane calls it, she is “a wicked woman — a heartless mother, a false wife … She never came into a family but she strove to bring misery with her and to weaken the most sacred affections with her wicked flattery and falsehoods … her soul is black with vanity, worldliness, and all sorts of crime. I tremble when I touch her. I keep my children out of her sight.” I love to shudder at her remorseless trickery, but I’m sure I’d be just as easily taken in.

. . . .

Irene Adler, The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

One of the only people to have ever bested Sherlock Holmes, and (if you can believe him, at least) the only woman to match him. In modern adaptations, Adler is often portrayed as a love interest for Holmes, but in the books, she’s always working against him — sexily.

. . . .

Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights

Look, I know Heathcliff is supposed to be some great tragic romantic hero, but let’s get real. In the second half of the book he basically tries to trick, swindle and destroy everyone he knows, all in the supposed name of love. Even Charlotte Brontë famously said “Heathcliff, in deed, stands unredeemed.”

. . . .

Randall Flagg, The Stand

I’ll just leave it to Sir King, who describes Flagg thus: “There was a dark hilarity in his face, and perhaps in his heart, too, you would think — and you would be right. It was the face of a hatefully happy man, a face that radiated a horrible handsome warmth, a face to make water glasses shatter in the hands of tired truck-stop waitresses, to make small children crash their trikes into board fences and then run wailing to their mommies with stake-shaped splinters sticking out of their knees. It was a face guaranteed to make barroom arguments over batting averages turn bloody.”

Link to the rest at Flavorwire

Literary Tourism: Real Landmarks Made Famous By Fiction

12 January 2015

From BookRiot:

Readers everywhere keep lists, even if just in their heads, of fictional places they’d love to visit in real life. Narnia. Hogwarts. Wonderland. Neverland. The Shire. In fact, the desire to see these fantastical locales is strong enough that many people visit the shooting locations of the film versions of the stories from which they originate, just to feel like they’re there.

. . . .

But readers don’t have to stick to the mythical to find cool fictional places to visit. There are plenty of real life locations that have been featured prominently in fiction and give readers the chance to plant their feet (and take the obligatory selfie) on the sites of some truly impressive literary landmarks.

. . . .

Carl Schurz Park (Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh)

Carl Schurz Park was designated as a literary landmark just last week. The park, which edges up to the East River in Manhattan served as a hangout for everybody’s favorite middle grade sleuth (sorry Encyclopedia Brown). Harriet the Spy will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2015, so if you’re in the Big Apple, swing by and spy on some folks in its honor! No, wait, don’t do that under any circumstances. Really. Please. I just got caught up in the excitement of the moment. Leave the other people alone, but maybe take the book and read a passage where Harriet spends some time hanging out at the park. Yeah, that’s better.

. . . .

Angels Flight (The High Window and The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler)

Chandler fans have quite a few landmarks to choose from in L.A. but Angels Flight is unique. It features a couple of funicular rail cars (called Sinai and Olivet, for good measure) that connect Hill Street and California Plaza. The cars moved from their original location (which connected to Olive Street) back in the late ’60s, and has unfortunately proven to be less than safe. Accidents have kept the cars shut down for much of the past fifteen years. In addition to appearances in the Chandler novels, Angels Flight (no, it isn’t possessive; I checked) shows up in a Michael Connelly novel of the same name.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG would add John’s Grill in San Francisco, included in The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. You can eat there and enjoy the same meal that Sam Spade ordered (lamb chops). Not coincidentally, Hammett used to order lamb chops with a baked potato and sliced tomatoes at John’s Grill.

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