Reviews

Should we stop reading into authors’ lives and get back to their books?

10 September 2018

From The Guardian:

As soon as the news of VS Naipaul’s death broke a few weeks ago, a thousand think pieces rose as one, as though to take his place. His legacy was both attacked and defended, his misogyny and racism condemned and forgiven. This frenzied conversation crystallised around a question readers have been grappling with for years, but with increasing urgency: to what extent should we consider an artist’s personality, politics and ethics relevant to our appreciation of their work?

It seems that almost no one can separate the writer from the books when it comes to Naipaul. The same is true of our response to work by authors who have recently been accused of various levels of misconduct following #metoo. In the past week alone, compelling and devastating reports of abuse by lauded authors have appeared in the media: Gwyn Conger Steinbeck, John Steinbeck’s second wife, detailed his sadism and womanising in a memoir that has recently come to light; author Joyce Maynard has written of her experiences with JD Salinger, who summoned her to live with him when she was 18 and he was 53.

Practical criticism – the academic approach to texts that aims to consider words on the page independently of their author or the reader’s preconceived ideas – began almost 100 years ago; now, in 2018, such “death of the author” talk appears to be dead itself. While the takes on Naipaul were diverse, and some argued that Naipaul’s bad character was irrelevant to his work, the fact of his bad character was always front and centre. It could not go unmarked– but what remains to be decided is the extent to which it marks the legacy of a Nobel prize-winning author.

I am in favour of removing monuments erected to celebrate individuals whose life work was to destroy the happiness or lives of others. I think the statue of white supremacist Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford, belongs in a museum with a lengthy note about Rhodes’s horrific legacy and the cultural circumstances under which the statue was first erected. The same is true of the many tributes across the US to Robert E Lee. But a book is not a statue. A story is not necessarily a tribute to, or celebration of, its author. I am left reaching, instead, for the correct metaphor to evoke the relationship between work and creator. Is a book its author’s child, innocent of its parent’s wrongdoing? Or is it a hologram of its creator, representing all that its author was and did? Of course neither of these is correct; I’m still searching for an analogy that lies between these two extremes.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG suggests if you can’t separate the author from the book, your mental, emotional and analytical self-discipline may need some work.

PG is reminded of a quote that he suspects begins (or began) every first-year semantics class, “The word is not the thing.”

Although S.I. Hayakawa popularized it, at least in the US, PG understands the phrase originated with Alfred Korzybski, who also said, “The map is not the territory.”

Here is a longer quote from Hayakawa:

Citizens of a modern society need […] more than that ordinary “common sense” which was defined by Stuart Chase as that which tells you that the world is flat. They need to be systematically aware of the powers and limitations of symbols, especially words, if they are to guard against being driven into complete bewilderment by the complexity of their semantic environment. The first of the principles governing symbols is this: The symbol is NOT the thing symbolized; the word is NOT the thing; the map is NOT the territory it stands for.

PG also suggests that the book is not the author and vice versa.

If a reader comes to a book having pre-judged it by its author, he/she may well fail to understand the book. If the author had written this particular book anonymously, using a pen name, would the book be different?

The idea that one should pre-judge a book by what one knows (or thinks one knows) about the author seems totally bizarre. One is not supporting Naipaul by reading his books. What we know or think we know about an author does not change the words the author wrote.

A bit of perspective on the history of a society’s popular thought and accepted truths might help today’s critics of people who lived in a much different time and culture that attitudes and understandings change and today’s verities can well be tomorrow’s disdained falsities.

Is Quality, Like Beauty, in the Eye of the Beholder? The Elusive Art of Book Reviewing and Its Influence

24 August 2018

From No Shelf Required:

What is a book review? Many have attempted to answer this question over the last few decades in a multitude of ways—from informed scholars, librarians, and booksellers to publishers, authors and readers. While their views differ widely on how successful book reviews are in bringing us closer to a book’s quality—and whether this is even possible—their definitions of book reviews and their core purpose seem to be in sync. To start, book reviews are a ‘genre’ in their own right, as they have features specific to them, and they can be as entertaining to read as the books they put under the microscope. These features, of course, depend on the context in which the books are reviewed (e.g., reviews found in academic journals are more in-depth and lengthier than those found in mainstream newspapers and magazines), but the general purpose of book reviews is always to serve as kind of an economic model, helping readers—whoever they may be—to decide if they should spend their money on a book, be it for entertainment, enlightenment, or scholarly pursuit. In other words, the main purpose of book reviews is to reduce search costs and uncertainty (Clement & others 78).  In this sense, then, readers hope that book reviews will guide them in the direction of the books they both want and need.

If we examine how information professionals and scholars have perceived book reviews over time and in varied settings, we can conclude that despite their imperfections and sometimes contradictory performance and impact, the presence of book reviews in scholarly and mass communication is understood to be both necessary and helpful, not only to guide readers through the maze of published literature—which today exceeds 2.2 million new titles in any given year, according to UNESCO estimates published in 2017—but also to point to the cultural conditions of our time and to give us alternate views on particular subjects. Indeed, the world needs different opinions. As Peyre put it, “unanimity in any acclaim for a book (whether or not by a Nobel Prize winner), a play, a concert performer, or an artist, even if he has become as venerable as Picasso or Chagall, should arouse suspicion. It can only be a sign of conventionality, of intellectual laziness, or timidity” (Peyre 130).

Yet despite such explanations for the necessity of diverse opinions, there has been no shortage of views pointing, sometimes harshly, to the inherently self-defeating nature of book reviews.

. . . .

Book reviews are studied usually in terms of several criteria: review length, lag-time, orientation, evaluative slant, and reviewer identity (Rehman 127). They are also studied in terms of their influence on author reputation and career advancement, as well as in terms of their power to predict a book’s critical reception and, ultimately, its financial success. Questions that appear frequently in such studies include, for example: How have book reviews and our perception of them changed over time? How often are critics truly objective in their analysis? Should they strive to be more descriptive and less prescriptive in their analysis? Are book reviews only about the book or do they also reveal details about the critic? What is the impact of negative reviews on a book’s sales and on an author’s public image? What is the role of professional editors in the process of preserving ethical standards behind book reviewing? How much influence do editors have in deciding what books are reviewed in professional publications and by whom? How often and in what ways are book reviews used as marketing tools by publishers, authors, and such middlemen as PR agents? And, perhaps most relevant, just how many books can possibly be reviewed in a world that sees 2.2 million titles published annually?

. . . .

Upon closer examination of available literature (and based on my own experience as a professional book review editor at Library Journal), I have come to identify four major types of book reviews: academic reviews; trade reviews; mainstream media reviews; and, since the advent of modern technologies and social media platforms, user reviews. The first three types refer to the book reviews written, edited, and published by professionals, while the fourth refers to the reviews we encounter online and all over the Internet; they are usually written by amateurs who voluntarily share their thoughts about a book (often anonymously).

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

PG suggests that, as a means of informing a purchase decision for a particular book, user reviews are likely, on a collective basis, to be far more influential for a given individual reader (especially a reader of ebooks) than any of the other categories of reviews written by “professionals”.

While an individual user review may be useless for deciding about a prospective ebook purchase, collectively, a group of user reviews is often quite valuable for PG.

The consequences of an unwise ebook purchase are also smaller than an unwise printed book purchase for several reasons:

  1. Generally speaking, ebook prices are lower than printed book prices, so less of the reader’s money is at risk.
  2. If an ebook proves unsatisfying, it can usually be returned for a refund with a mouse click, a much simpler process than trudging back to a physical bookstore with printed receipt in hand. (PG is likely not the only person whose physical bookshelves include poor purchase decisions for which the return process wasn’t worth his time. They sit there, like awkward distant relatives one prefers not to speak with, but still have some embarrassing connection with the observer.)

The other problem with “professional reviews” is that a great many of the publications in which they were formerly published have gone out of business or are otherwise unable or unwilling to pay a “professional” for a review. How many people actually read online publications that include “professional” reviews. Does a book reviewer who writes “professional” reviews still qualify as a professional if he/she isn’t paid at all or is paid so little that a day job is required for sustenance?

The New York Times book reviews were very influential in days now past because of the large number of the paper’s subscribers and their attractive demographics (nice income, good education). Today, the Times’ overall audience is far smaller (particularly in comparison with other online destinations) and who knows how many people actually read the book reviews as opposed to seeing a link to a book review or opening a page that includes a book review, then heading elsewhere? (PG will note in passing that online web traffic analytics for this sort of thing are notably inaccurate. Here’s a link to a short article that describes a variety of estimation methods and points out their shortcomings.)

As times change, some people change and others do not. Yesterday’s profession, regardless of how valuable it might have been back in the day, may not have the same value today. While not wishing bad fortune on anyone, PG notes that today’s “professional” can be tomorrow’s barista.

 

‘Silence Is Health’: How Totalitarianism Arrives

20 August 2018

From The New York Review of Books:

The white supremacists chanting “blood and soil” as they marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, last year were probably unaware that the leading Nazi ideologue who used the original slogan of Blut und Boden to promote the creation of a German master race was not himself a native German. Richard Walther Darré, who proclaimed the existence of a mystic bond between the German homeland and “racially pure” Germans, was actually born “Ricardo” on the other side of the Atlantic, in Argentina’s prosperous capital, Buenos Aires.

Sent by his German immigrant family to the Heimat for schooling at the age of nine, Darré later specialized in agriculture, the logical choice for someone with an Argentine background at a time when the succulent beef and abundant wheat of Argentina’s pampas made the country renowned as the “breadbasket of the world.” For a while, during the 1920s, he contemplated returning to Buenos Aires to pursue a career in farming, but that was before his writing caught the attention of Adolf Hitler’s rising Nazi Party. His 1930 book A New Nobility of Blood and Soil, in which he proposed applying selective cattle-breeding methods for the procreation of perfect Aryan humans, dazzled the Führer.

As early as 1932, Darré helped the SS leader Heinrich Himmler to set up the Race and Resettlement Office in order to safeguard the “racial purity” of SS officers. Darré’s work also inspired the Nazi Lebensborn (Fount of Life) program that rewarded “unmarried women and girls of good blood” who had children with racially pure SS officers. Hitler was so impressed with the “Blood and Soil” movement that in 1933 he named Darré Germany’s minister for agriculture.

. . . .

Subsequently, in my work as a writer, I focused on how hundreds of Nazis and their collaborators escaped to Argentina. This made me painfully aware of how their presence during the thirty years between the end of World War II and the 1976 coup had numbed the moral sense of what was then an affluent, well-educated nation, with disastrous consequences for its people. Argentines’ forced cohabitation with Nazi fugitives resulted, I came to believe, in a normalization of the crimes that the German émigrés had committed. “He came to our country seeking forgiveness,” Argentina’s Cardinal Antonio Caggiano told the press when Israeli operatives captured the Nazi arch-criminal Adolf Eichmann and spirited him out of Argentina in 1960 to stand trial in Jerusalem. “Our obligation as Christians is to forgive him for what he’s done.”

Some fifteen years later, Argentina began its own descent into full-blown totalitarianism, and its military embarked on a mass killing program that differed in scale, though not in essence, from the Nazis’: an estimated 30,000 people were made to “disappear” by the dictatorship. The same politicians and religious leaders who had turned a blind eye to the presence of Nazi criminals in Argentina looked away again as blood-soaked generals kneeled to receive their blessings in Buenos Aires Cathedral. Much of my adult life has been haunted by the need to answer the question of how this could have come to pass in Argentina. And how it might come to pass elsewhere.

. . . .

This normalization of totalitarian undertones accelerated after my family moved back to Argentina when I was nineteen. To make myself better acquainted with Buenos Aires, I would take long walks through the capital. One day, in 1974, I found myself frozen in my steps on the broad 9 de Julio Avenue that divides Buenos Aires in half. In the middle of this avenue rises a tall white obelisk that is the city’s most conspicuous landmark, and in those days a revolving billboard had been suspended around it. Round and round turned the display and inscribed upon it in large blue letters on a plain white background was the slogan “Silence Is Health.”

With every turn, the billboard schooled Argentines in the total censorship and suppression of free speech that the dictatorship would soon impose. The billboard message was the brainchild of Oscar Ivanissevich, Argentina’s reactionary minister of education, ostensibly to caution motorists against excessive use of the horn. His other mission was an “ideological purge” of Argentina’s universities, which had become a hotbed of student activism. During an earlier ministerial term in 1949, Ivanissevich had led a bitter campaign against the “morbid… perverse… godless” trend of abstract art, recalling the Nazis’ invective against “degenerate” art. During that period, his sister and his nephew were both involved in smuggling Nazis into Argentina.

Ivanissevich’s Orwellian billboard made its appearance just as right-wing violence erupted in the buildup to the military coup. That same year, 1974, Ivanissevich had appointed as rector of Buenos Aires University a well-known admirer of Hitler’s, Alberto Ottalagano, who titled his later autobiography I’m a Fascist, So What? His job was to get rid of the kind of young left-wing protesters who gathered outside the Sheraton Hotel demanding that it be turned into a children’s hospital, and he warmed to the task of persecuting and expelling them. Being singled out by him was more than merely a matter of academic discipline; some fifteen of these students were murdered by right-wing death squads while Ottalagano was rector.

As a partial stranger in my own land, I noticed what those who had already been normalized could not: this was a population habituated to intolerance and violence. Two years later, Ivanissevich’s slogan made a macabre reappearance. In the basement of the dictatorship’s death camp based at the Navy Mechanics School (known as ESMA), where some 5,000 people were exterminated, officers hung two banners along the corridor that opened onto its torture cells. One read “Avenue of Happiness,” the other “Silence Is Health.”

. . . .

It was in these years in Argentina that I learned how quickly the veneer of legality can be peeled away from a society. In 1977, a year into the dictatorship, I joined the Buenos Aires Herald, a small English-language newspaper that was the only news media outlet reporting on the crimes of the regime. “I had the privilege of speaking out while everyone else kept silent,” says the then-editor of the Herald, Robert Cox, a Briton who now lives in Charleston, South Carolina. It was not the fact that he was British or that his newspaper had a limited circulation that allowed Cox to print what the other newspapers would not. It was simply that he could not bring himself to remain silent about the carnage he was witnessing. Unlike so many Argentines, he had not been desensitized by growing up among Nazi fugitives; instead, he had been raised in wartime London among the rubble of buildings destroyed by Hitler’s bombs and rockets.

But there was a price to pay for the privilege Cox speaks of. Returning home from my very first day of work, I saw three plainclothes police officers—unmistakable despite their shoulder-length hair, leather jackets, and bell-bottom trousers—leaving my apartment building carrying a leather satchel from which a spool of recording tape was visible. The secret police had tapped my phone, the building superintendent whispered to me. A green Ford Falcon was parked across my street.

The discreet tipoff from my building’s super was unusual; it was far more common for people to snitch on their neighbors, and this was, of course, encouraged by the military. In December 1979, Cox was forced into exile, along with his Argentine wife and their five Argentine-born children, after he received threats that revealed a detailed knowledge of his family’s daily routines. To this day, the Cox family remains convinced that it was a close acquaintance who provided the dictatorship with the information. The transformation of friends into informers is a defining characteristic of totalitarian regimes.

If you want to know what sustains totalitarian violence in a society, psychology is probably more useful than political analysis. Among the elite, support for the dictatorship was enthusiastic. “It was seen as kind of a social faux pas to talk about ‘desaparecidos’ or what was going on,” says Raymond McKay, a fellow journalist at the Buenos Aires Herald, in Messenger on a White Horse, a 2017 documentary about the newspaper. “It was seen as bad taste because the people didn’t want to know.”

Those who have lived their entire lives in functioning democracies may find it hard to grasp how easily minds can be won over to the totalitarian dark side. We assume such a passage would require slow, laborious persuasion. It does not. The transition from day to night is bewilderingly swift. Despite what many assume, civilized coexistence in a culture of tolerance is not always the norm, or even universally desired. Democracy is a hard-won, easily rolled back state of affairs from which many secretly yearn to be released.

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

The Amazon Book Review

29 July 2018

PG may be the last to know it, but Amazon has its own book review here.

The First Reviews of Every Ernest Hemingway Novel

2 July 2018
Comments Off on The First Reviews of Every Ernest Hemingway Novel

From The Literary Hub:

On this day in 1961, in Ketchum, Idaho, Ernest Hemingway—the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning, machismo-exuding, globe-trotting war correspondent and titan of 20th Century American fiction—took his own life. His much-imitated writing style and tumultuous personal life have ensured that he remains one of the world’s most widely read, and divisive, authors.

To mark the fifty-seventh anniversary of his death, we’re taking a look back at the first reviews of each of Hemingway’s nine published novels, from The Torrents of Spring (1926), to the posthumously released Islands in the Stream (1970) and The Garden of Eden (1986).

. . . .

The Torrents of Spring reveals Mr. Hemingway’s gift for high-spirited nonsense. Whatever its effect on literary foibles, it contributes to that thoughtful gayety which true wit should inspire. While he ridicules certain extravagances by pushing them to the logical conclusion, Mr. Hemingway obviously entertains a robust respect for the object of his allusive gibes. In the last analysis, the book sets out to amuse. This it does.

–The New York Times, June 13, 1926

. . . .

“It is a relief to find that The Sun Also Rises maintains the same heightened, intimate tangibility as the shorter narratives and does it in the same kind of weighted, quickening prose. Mr. Hemingway has chosen a segment of life which might easily have become ‘a spectacle with unexplained horrors,’ and disciplined it to a design which gives full value to its Dionysian, all but uncapturable, elements. On the face of it, he has simply gathered, almost at random, a group of American and British expatriates from Paris, conducted them on a fishing expedition, and exhibited them against the background of a wild Spanish fiesta and bull-fight. The characters are concisely indicated. Much of their inherent natures are left to be betrayed by their own speech, by their apparently aimless conversation among themselves. Mr. Hemingway writes a most admirable dialogue. It has the terse vigor of Ring Lardner at his best. It suggests the double meanings of Ford Madox Ford’s records of talk. Mr. Hemingway makes his characters say one thing, convey still another, and when a whole passage of talk has been given, the reader finds himself the richer by a totally unexpected mood, a mood often enough of outrageous familiarity with obscure heartbreaks.

–The New York Times, October 31, 1926

. . . .

“There is in A Farewell to Arms no change from the narrative method of The Sun Also Rises and Men Without Women. Ernest Hemingway did not invent the method, which is chiefly to be characterized by the staccato nature of sentences (an effort at reproducing universal conversational habit), and its rigid exclusion of all but the most necessary description. Yet if Hemingway was not the inventor of the method, tentative gropings toward such a manner having been made by many of his immediate predecessors, the author of A Farewell to Arms has, in his several books, made it so strikingly his own that it may bear his name, and is likely to henceforward. The method has its advantages, and also its disadvantages.

The chief result is a sort of enamel lustre imparted to the story as a whole, not precisely an iridescence, but a white light, rather, that pales and flashes, but never warms. And because it never warms, or never seems to warm, the really human in Hemingway (and there is a great deal in Hemingway that is human) fails of its due. It is not impossible that Ernest Hemingway has developed his style to the extreme to which he carries it because in it he finds a sort of protective covering for a nature more sensitive than he would have one know.
. . . .

“There will be debate as to whether A Farewell to Arms is a finer piece of work than The Sun Also Rises. And there will be cogent arguments advanced on either side. On the surface, the newer story is more effective than the earlier novel. There is more drama, the movement is more nearly continuous and better sustained. And the story of the love between the English nurse and the American ambulance officer, as hapless as that of Romeo and Juliet, is a high achievement in what might be termed the new romanticism. And yet for the present reviewer The Sun Also Rises touches a note which Hemingway caught once, and, in the very nature of the thing, cannot touch again.”

–Percy Hutchison, The New York Times, September 29, 1929

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Why You Can’t Really Trust Negative Online Reviews

19 June 2018

From The New York Times:

The Great Wall of China has more than 9,000 Google reviews, with an average of 4.2 stars. Not bad for one of the most astonishing achievements in human history.

But you can’t please everyone.

“Not very tall. Or big. Just sayin. I kinda liked it. Sort of,” wrote one ambivalent visitor of the structure, which stretches thousands of miles. Another complained, “I don’t see the hype in this place it’s really run down and old … why wouldn’t you update something like this? No USB plug ins or outlets anywhere.” Someone else announced that he’s “Not a wall guy. Laaaaaaaaammme.”

Even Shakespeare can’t escape the wrath of consumer scorn. One reviewer on Amazon awarded Hamlet just two stars: “Whoever said Shakespeare was a genius lied. Unless genius is just code word for boring, then they’re spot on. Watch the movie version so you only waste two hours versus 20.”

. . . .

We use reviews to vet our options. In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that 82 percent of American adults say they sometimes or always read online reviews for new purchases. And more than two-thirds of regular review readers believe that they’re “generally accurate.”

Marketing data indicates that negative reviews in particular dramatically influence our buying behaviors. But research on the biases and demographics of online reviewers — and our own, often errant interpretations — suggests that our faith in reviews is misguided.

. . . .

There are many more positive reviews online than there are negative ones, studies show, which creates a scarcity of negative reviews that we associate with value.

For instance: In a data sample from Amazon, just 4.8 percent of reviews with a verified purchase were rated one star, whereas 59 percent had five stars, according to a study published in 2014 by The Journal of Marketing Research and led by Duncan Simester, a marketing professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management.

“The infrequent nature of negative reviews may help to distinguish them from other reviews,” Dr. Simester wrote in an email. We consequently pay more attention to them.

. . . .

We also think of negative reviews as windows into what could go wrong. Is this camera’s memory card going to go kaput in the middle of my honeymoon? Are these socks scratchy? Dr. Simester pointed out that people may see negative reviews as more informative, and therefore more valuable, than positive ones because they highlight defects — even if they’re not actually more accurate.

“We want to feel secure in our decision-making processes,” said Lauren Dragan, who analyzes consumer feedback as the audio tech products reviewer at Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews and recommends products. We use negative reviews to understand our risk and reduce our losses, studies show.

. . . .

Reviews are subjective, and the tiny subset of people who leave them aren’t average.

People who write online reviews are more likely to buy things in unusual sizes, make returns, be married, have more children, be younger and less wealthy, and have graduate degrees than the average consumer, according to Dr. Simester’s 2014 study. Online reviewers are also 50 percent more likely to shop sales, and they buy four times more products.

“Very few people write reviews. It’s about 1.5 percent, or 15 people out of 1,000,” Dr. Simester said. “Should we be relying on these people if we’re part of the other 985?”

. . . .

Another reason to be wary is roughly one in 15 people review products they haven’t actually purchased or used, according to Dr. Simester. These “self-appointed brand managers” write speculative, unsolicited negative reviews to offer the company “feedback.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Amazon comes under fire for removal of book reviews

15 June 2018

From The Bookseller:

Amazon has come under fire for removing reviews from its online book listings, with some customers having had all their reviews removed or being blocked from posting further reviews on Amazon.

Authors, bloggers and publishers have criticised the development, with many sharing their frustration through the #giveourreviewsback hashtag. Amazon has blamed temporary “technical issues”.

Author Isabella May told The Bookseller that she had had a “hellish week” of losing reviews for her two novels, published by a small independent Crooked Cat Books. “I have lost a whopping 11 reviews for my two novels in the space of just a week,” the novelist said. “Everything I am doing now as an author is about raising my profile and following my long-term vision, so as you can imagine, it’s quite upsetting to see one book plummet from a very respectable 55 reviews down to 49, and the other (more recently published title) fall from 36 reviews to 31. For a high profile author who may no longer feel the need to check their reviews, this is but a drop in the ocean. But for a new voice, it’s everything, and very distressing – particularly as my publisher retail solely online and solely via Amazon.”

Another reviewer and novelist told The Bookseller  that some of their own positive reviews for other writers had been taken down from both Amazon.com and Amazon UK, noting that books from Amazon’s own publishing arm, such as its fiction imprint Lake Union, attract significant numbers of positive reviews. One title White Rose, Black Forest  garnered 2,960 reviews on Amazon.com within three months of publication.

The reviewer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Is this removal of reviews from other authors part of Amazon being at the top in terms of publishing? Because whilst we all suffer, their authors seem to have review numbers the rest of us can only dream of.”

Despite emailing Amazon May was told the reviews would not be reinstated because they were “in violation of our guidelines”. She was not told which specifically but was directed towards its lengthy community guidelines microsite which includes various sections which includes a section on how the company “may restrict the ability to submit a review when we detect unusual reviewing behaviour”.

The retailer has developed tools and policies to combat fake reviews amid problems over “reviews for hire”.

. . . .

HarperCollins’ commercial publisher Kimberley Young told The Bookseller that the removal of reviews enables Amazon to promote its own books “at the expense of others”.

“Writing an honest review on receipt of a proof copy of a book is both an established practice and also a very modern tool,” she said. “Reviews drive word of mouth and help readers find the right books for them. We know algorithms favour well reviewed books and I can’t see how the removal of reviews across so many titles on Amazon can benefit the consumer – it narrows the range and discoverability of books and is another step in Amazon supporting their own books at the expense of others.”

Another senior publisher who wished to remain anonymous told The Bookseller: “This is an example of a megalithic global corporation heavy handedly trying to manoeuvre in the complicated, interconnected world of the modern book publishing community where relationships between people count not algorithms. The fact that someone follows you on twitter or Facebook does not reveal a conflict of interest for their reviews on Amazon and does give the book buyer a really good service.” The publisher added: “I suspect this another move by Amazon to favour titles published through their own publishing channels or through their massively profitable self-publishing lines. Amazon have a real problem because while none of their titles published physically through their publishing imprints are carried by any high street retailers and while they continue to sell smallish quantities of millions of titles at 99p in digital, for instance, and making lots of money from that, very few of those authors generate real commentary, hit the bestseller lists, have any media profile or generate enthusiasm among normal book readers.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG notes that HarperCollins and other large publishers also fit the description of “megalithic global corporation[s]” who have tried to manipulate the book market.

PG further notes that Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster plead guilty to illegal price-fixing for ebooks. So HarperCollins is a self-admitted manipulator of the book market “at the expense of others”, including purchasers of books.

PG understands that this is old news for long-time visitors to TPV, however he reminds one and all that the major US publishers have willfully violated the law in an effort to force purchasers of books to pay millions of dollars in higher prices. PG thinks their sense of entitlement and commitment to market manipulation extends to the terms they offer the authors of the books they publish.

The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion

8 May 2018

From The Guardian:

In recent years, the group biography has become a spirited mainstay of the publishing landscape: a means both of revisiting and reinterpreting already familiar times, people and places, and of bringing together between hard covers lives that might not be deserving of an individual doorstop. In Sharp, though, Michelle Dean has assembled not so much a group as a small crowd: her book, with its title that brings to mind suddenly puckered lips, has the feeling of a cocktail party at which several people drink too much, nearly everyone talks too loudly, and no one really likes anyone else. Through this gathering, she wanders, ashtray in one hand, dishcloth in the other. Dean relishes her guests’ bad behaviour – you might call her a little starstruck – but only to a degree. As the evening goes on, she will sometimes find herself apologising for them, these women who are so clever and talented, and yet so madly competitive, so stubbornly reluctant to attach the word “feminist” to their neon-bright names.

. . . .

Most began as journalists, making an art, as Dean’s subtitle has it, of “having an opinion”; some then went on to write acclaimed novels, and other kinds of books. Most of their names are well known: Hannah Arendt, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Mary McCarthy, Dorothy Parker, Susan Sontag, Rebecca West. Others, at least for British readers, may be less familiar: Janet Malcolm, whose singular, often controversial interviews appeared in the New Yorker; Pauline Kael, once the same magazine’s acerbic film critic; Renata Adler, the reporter whose home was also there until she put the literary equivalent of a bomb under her career. Dean gives each one about the same amount of attention, although it’s clear that she enjoys the company of some more than others. The playwright Lillian Hellman and the novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, however, she collides with so fleetingly, they appear before the reader like gatecrashers or, more likely, additions to the guest list so embarrassingly last minute she can hardly bear to do much more than pour them their first sidecar.

What unites them, besides their trade and their talent? Dean talks, in her preface, of their remarkable achievements in a world that “was not eager to hear women’s opinions about anything”; of the way they roundly defied expectations. But there’s also the adjective of her title: sharp. People did not always respond favourably to the “sting” of their words. What would have seemed daring and deeply smart coming from a man appeared only haughty, inappropriate and unkind when served up by a woman.

. . . .

Didion, in her tiny dresses, her wrists like clay pipes, was just so much surface and “swank”. Dean, a journalist herself, sympathises with all this; her book – though these are my words, not hers – is for any woman who has ever silenced a dinner table by being just a little too quick, too knowing, too mocking. Am I allowed to say that I have more than once done just that? Maybe I am.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Next Page »