Monday, September 03, 2007

I Note the Passing of the Author Who Grasped the Bond Baton

Trivia time: Do you know who wrote more James Bond books than originator Ian Fleming? Fleming wrote a mere 12, this author wrote 14. According to an August 29 article in The New York Times*, “Though the reaction of critics was mixed, the novels were embraced by all but the most orthodox Bondians and appeared regularly on the New York Times best-seller list. Among Mr. Gardner’s Bond titles are “License Renewed” (G. K. Hall, 1981); “Win, Lose or Die” (Putnam, 1989); “Brokenclaw” (Putnam, 1990); and, most recently, “Cold Fall” (Putnam, 1996).”

The author was John Gardner, who died August 3 near his home in Basingstoke, England. He had written more than four dozen books in a prolific career that surpassed 40 years.

*May require log-in to New York Times Select

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Your Cell Phone Can Call, Text, Take Photos, and … Now … Order Books?

Today’s cell phones can do a thousand things it seems, including now quickly order books. That is, if you order through ShopText. According to Publishers Weekly, “The Manhattan company ShopText, founded in 2005, lets people buy products instantly using SMS (i.e., Short Message Service, or cellphone text message), and has just started selling books.”

It’s actually a little more complicated than that. Here’s the scenario as explained by blogger
DigitalSolid: “You’re paging through a magazine or newspaper, or you encounter an out-of-home ad (even, perhaps, a digital billboard), and you decide you simply must have that product. You type a six-digit short code into your cell phone, send the number a text message with a keyword, and after a verifying second text is received and replied to, your product has been ordered.”

Imagine sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic or on the commuter ride home and you remember you want to order a book you saw in an ad. You don’t have to wait to get to the bookstore or go online to find it, you simply take out your cell phone and send a text message. And, of course, it applies to more than books: music, artwork, all kinds of cool merchandise and impulse buys. It’s even an easy way to donate to charities!

This is just the beginning. My bet is, some day we will even be able to text message the milk and bread for pick up on the way home or -- in the best of all worlds -- pick up on the doorstep as we arrive home!

Where Would the Book Be Without Its Jacket?

Where would the groom be without his tuxedo jacket? Where would the book be without its cover jacket? In the same straights I’m afraid: just a guy with a shirt and tie, just a book with a cover and spine. That’s why jackets are important, both to grooms and books! That’s why a new weblog on Publishers Weekly is worth a read.

Called
Jackets Required, this blog is a weekly column by Fwis, a design group that critiques book jacket design. The articles are short and pithy, but they offer a designer’s perspective on the artistic side of jacket design. If you’ve ever wondered what thought goes into creating a book jacket, this column will give you some interesting insights. And like any good blog, there’s a place for comments, so you can add your two cents or ask your daunting question to people who should have an educated opinion.

Why should you care? Think about how many books you’ve picked up off the display table because of what you saw on the jacket. Think about the ones you didn’t pick up. What made the difference? Maybe Jackets Required will discuss it and you can say, “Yeah, I thought so, too.”

This week’s
Jackets Required column is on the book Loving Frank: A Novel.

One of Fwis’s project websites is called Covers and its tagline reads: “Covers is dedicated to the appreciation of book cover design.” They feature other articles including one on bookshelves that caught my attention. Those are some pretty wicked looking bookshelves! Take a look.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Fall Book Festivals Coming Soon

Publisher’s Weekly just published their fall book festival schedule saying, “Fall’s coming, and so are book festivals around the country which will celebrate authors, community, creativity and literacy.” They’re a great time to see what’s new in books and speak with some of the authors. The article includes a list of 42 locations including city, dates, website information, and contacts for publishers and booksellers. Here are just a few of the earliest sites:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival
Atlanta, Georgia – Aug. 31 to Sept. 2

Central Coast Book and Author Festival
San Luis Obispo, California – Sept. 8

Montana Festival of the Book
Missoula, Montana – Sept. 13 to 15

Wyoming Book Festival
Cheyenne, Wyoming – Sept. 15

Brooklyn Book Festival
Brooklyn, New York – Sept. 16

Fall for the Book Literary Festival
Fairfax, Virginia – Sept. 23 to 28

West Texas Book & Music Festival
Abilene, Texas – Sept. 25 to 29

Baltimore Book Festival
Baltimore, Maryland – Sept. 28 to 30

Georgia Literary Festival
Blue Ridge, Georgia – Sept. 28 to 30

South Dakota Festival of Books
Deadwood, South Dakota – Sept. 28 to 30

National Book Festival
Washington, D.C. – Sept. 29

Santa Barbara Book & Author Festival
Santa Barbara, California – Sept. 29

The Latino Book & Family Festivals
Houston, Texas – Sept. 29 to 20
Los Angeles, California – Oct. 12 to 14
Chicago, Illinois – Nov. 10 to 11

Orange County Children's Book Festival
Costa Mesa, California – Sept. 29 to 30

West Hollywood Book Fair
Los Angeles, California – Sept. 30

See the Publishers Weekly article for the rest of the locations and festival details.

Neopets Gets New Line of Books in 2008

Good news for anyone like my daughter who loves Neopets! According to The Book Standard, “HarperCollins Publishers has teamed up with Neopets, an online pet site for tweens, to create a new line of books based on the company's virtual world of Neopia where users create and care for a "Neopet." According to Neopets, there are more than 40 million registered members of the Neopets website worldwide.”

Their first works will include illustrated novels, puzzle and game books, a how-to-draw book, and a field guide to Neopets, all with links back to the Neopets website. It all debuts in the fall of 2008.

I honestly didn’t think Neopets would last long, coming on the heels of the Pokemon and Digimon fads, but they continue strong today in the online world. It makes a lot of sense for them to expand beyond the Internet into traditional publishing. Neopets fans are dedicated and they spend a long time collecting their favorite Neopets and interacting in the Neopet world. This will help them extend that.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Two More Translations of War and Peace Coming This Fall

Just what the world needs, two more translations of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace! According to Publishers Weekly (PW) there are already at least a dozen English translations, and “Just last year, Viking published a translation by Anthony Briggs that PW called ‘the most readable version on the market.’" Now Ecco (Harper Collins) will publish a version coming out September 4 and Knopf (Random House) will publish another one coming out October 16.

Why add two more to the confusing list of tomes? Says PW, “Ecco is calling its edition, translated by Andrew Bromfield, War and Peace: Original Version. It is essentially Tolstoy's first draft. Knopf contends that Ecco’s version is not the finished classic readers know. Ecco maintains its edition is more reader-friendly than Knopf's, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, because it is shorter and more ‘narrative.’"

Really now, how can one choose a version to read? That's just too many choices without an educated speculation or someone's highly educated recommendation. I wouldn't know which to read, which represents a lot of pages to get bogged down in if I've made a poor choice. What's the value in adding two more volumes? Anyone knowledgeable enough about these two authors to know what they add to the story that already exists on War and Peace?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Amazon’s Second-Quarter Earnings More Than Tripled!

Just when you thought pre-selling 1.6 million Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows books was as good as the news gets for online retailer Amazon.com, along comes second quarter earnings figures.

According to
MSNBC.com today, “Amazon.com Inc.’s second-quarter profit more than tripled, boosted by strong sales of books, music and electronics worldwide. Earnings for the three months ended June 30 climbed to $78 million, or 19 cents per share, from $22 million, or 5 cents per share during the same period last year, the company said Tuesday.”

The Book Standard today quoted Amazon.com founder and CEO explaining, "Our strong revenue growth this quarter was fueled by low prices and the added convenience of Amazon Prime. More and more customers are taking advantage of Amazon Prime and we're pleased with the acceleration in subscriber growth this quarter." They have more details on the earnings figures, too.

Second quarter earnings don’t take into account the phenomenal sales of the final Harry Potter book, which actually occurred in the third quarter and are expected to bring in approximately $3 billion in sales.

Amazon.com seems to be doing everything right. Although I’ve heard grumblings from some quarters that Amazon’s service isn’t always on par with the local bookstore, I’ve never had anything to complain about. Used properly and intelligently they are like any online retailer that allows you to maximize the searching and shopping power of the Internet and home delivery of products you don’t need immediately. When I know what I want and I don’t need it right at that moment, I order it on Amazon.com. Or if I don’t know what I want but I know what to search for, I find it on Amazon.com. Where I find most value in the local bookstore is browsing or putting my hands on something now. Plus, the valuable assistance of an experienced bookseller helping me find something in his or her section.

Of course, if you’ve had a bad experience with Amazon, you can always order on one of the multiple other online bookstores:
Alibris, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Powell Books, etc. They all give you the power to be your own bookseller.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Potter Book and Audio Set Sales Records

Sales of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows set records on both sides of the Atlantic this past weekend. According to Publishers Weekly, publisher Scholastic sold 8.3 million copies in the first 24 hours in the U.S., while Bloomsbury sold 2.65 million copies in the U.K. in the first 24 hours. The audio version also set a record in the U.S. selling an estimated 225,000 copies, a 40% increase over Half-Blood Prince.

Independent booksellers in the U.S. reported brisk sales, with scattered reports of sell-outs! Apparently Scholastic limited the number of books that independents could order based on past Potter sales. The independent I frequent had a smallish display left for sale Saturday morning after a busy event Friday night, although tickets are sold for the Friday night event, from which book distribution are dependent, are sold well in advance. This independent actually is one of four stores, and I don't know how many copies the other three stores have on-hand.

Potter Pages Magically Disappear?

Better skip ahead in your Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at least to make sure pages aren’t missing. Publisher’s Weekly reports some copies of the newly released book in Vermont were missing pages 643-674. Some copies in New York skipped from page 642 to 707 to 730, then went back to page 675 and then to the end. Ah, what a wicked web we weave when first we practice to … uh … kill Harry Potter to return to power through arrogant displays of … oh, it was just a printing error!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Potter Goes Postal

After all that, our copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows finally arrived by U.S. Postal Service! Amazon.com sent it via UPS to the U.S. Post Office to deliver it to our home! Fortunately, our mail arrives mid-morning these days and the wait wasn't very long, but a few months ago we would have had to wait till late afternoon, and that would have been unbearable for my wife. And to make matters worse, we would have been looking for the wrong deliverer all day, expecting it to arrive by UPS. As our royal cousins in London might say, "We are not amused."

Okay, okay, at least it got here as guaranteed! Let's have some perspective.

Although I brought the box directly to my dear wife to open and coddle, she handed it back to me and said, "No, dear, you go ahead and read the final chapter first." I'm not a Potter fanatic and all I'm really interested in is ending all the speculation about how the story ends. Who lives, who dies, and who got it all wrong. So I told my wife weeks ago that when she got the book I would only read the final chapter. So that's what I did, although I read both the last chapter and the epilogue to get the full effect. I won't spoil it for anyone, but suffice it to say, I think it was a good ending and a fitting conclusion to the series as I understand it in my limited perspective. It had its surprises for everyone, I think. Even reading just the last chapter I learned a lot about what happened before it.

As a writer and general reader, let me say I really enjoyed Rowling's writing in this chapter. I wasn't able to read her first book because I didn't like the style, and I have stayed away from the five previous books because of it. I may have to reaccess now that I've tasted this final book and liked it. Which reminds me of a new rule I created a few years back. I didn't want to see the movie Babe when it first came to theaters because I didn't want to see a movie about a darned pig. That turns out to have been a mistake. When the movie came out on tape my daughter rented it and forced me to watch it, and I discovered what a silk purse it was hiding in a sow's ear, if you will allow a pun-ish metaphor. I was so taken with it, I came up with a new life's rule never to let my prejudices against mud-snuggling beasts keep me from enjoying a movie (or a book) again. A similar rule may apply to books by authors whose writing may at first glance appear childish, trite, and silly -- maybe the style will grow with the subject and the audience as it appears to have with HP. (I'm projecting way ahead of the curve here, since I haven't tried reading any of the other books yet.) My motto is, learn from every experience. Let's see what I learn when I walk away from this keyboard...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Amazon Arranges with UPS to Deliver on Saturday

I spoke with Amazon.com today about their guarantee of delivery of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by July 21, which is Saturday. I pre-ordered HP for my wife on Sunday, which is in time for the guarantee, and I received an e-mail letting me know my pre-order was being readied for shipment via UPS. Then I remembered that UPS doesn't usually deliver on Saturdays! So I alerted them to call me (they have this very tight new technology that has them call me when I'm ready ... now ... in 5 min. ... in 10 min. ... in 15 min). The nice voice on the other end of the phone assured me that Amazon had a special arrangement with UPS to deliver Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to readers this Saturday as promised. So in case you were worried, it's been taken care of.

To try their Amazon.com's call technology, you need to go to Amazon Help and look for the Contact Us box on the righthand side with the Customer Service button inside. You'll have to log in. Let me know what you think.

Harry Potter’s Reviews and Release Missteps

Two U.S. newspapers have published reviews of the seventh and final Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ahead of the official release of the book. One review is in The New York Times and the other is in The Baltimore Sun.

Without giving away much detail about the book or its ending, both reviews concluded the ending was fitting. Said the Baltimore Sun article, “Suffice it to say, though, that once you have consumed the final sentence on the final page crafted by Rowling, the ending seems inevitable. It is a tribute to the author's consummate storytelling skills that once the pieces fall into place, it all seems rather obvious. No other outcome would have been as plausible.”

Books Get Out Despite Tight Security

According to a story on
MSNBC.com, “The New York Times review, which appeared overnight, said its copy was purchased from a New York City store on Wednesday, while the Baltimore Sun said it obtained a hard copy of the book ‘through legal and ordinary means.’”

I mentioned in an article a couple of days ago (see below) that publishers are keeping an eye open for early release of the Harry Potter books and that this isn’t unusual for publishers in major book releases. They in fact take bookstores to court for violating agreements to hold books back to agreed upon “lay down dates.” It seems that Scholastic, the U.S. publisher of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is suing an online bookseller and its distributor for, according to The New York Times, “‘ flagrant violations of their strict contractual obligations’ not to ship copies of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ before 12:01 a.m. Saturday, the time and date set by the publisher.” This is happening in Illinois and involves DeepDiscount.com and its distributor, Levy Home Entertainment. Scholastic accuses DeepDiscount.com of shipping copies of the book to customers up to a week before the on-sale date.

Since The New York Times obtained its copy from a New York City bookstore before the release date, I wouldn’t be surprised to find some legal action taken in that jurisdiction.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Potter Doesn't Turn Fans into Faithful Readers?

Remember the story when the Harry Potter books first became popular that they were turning children into more faithful readers? Turns out that may be urban legend. According to an article in The New York Times on July 11, “as the series draws to a much-lamented close, federal statistics show that the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as before Harry Potter came along.” What turns kids into good readers isn’t one good series of stories – that’s actually called fandom or hero worship. No, what turns kids – or adults – into good readers is the love of good stories in general: Good plots, imaginative settings, worthy themes, memorable characters, and brilliant storytelling. It was silly to expect one series of books to turn children into readers as if by … well … magic.

Children become sustained readers when they move beyond Harry Potter – to discover other series with equally compelling characters and well written narratives, to find suspenseful adventures or interesting biographies or compelling histories or spellbinding fantasies. We can encourage and nurture the trend if we remove the distractions and interruptions, like blaring TVs, incessant iPods, and spellbinding Xboxes and give words on pages a chance to sink in and do their “magic.” It’s when that magic has a chance to grab hold of the imagination and the child is given the chance to manipulate it him or her self that the child embraces reading long term.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Alexander Dumas' Lost "The Last Cavalier" Coming in October

If you’re an Alexander Dumas fan revel in the news. A lost work rediscovered and published in France in 2005 is coming to the United States in October, according to Publishers Weekly (PW). According to PW, “The Last Cavalier was found at the National Library in Paris two years ago by longtime Dumas scholar Claude Schopp.” PW further said, “The novel, which he said is very much in the vein of classic Dumas—it’s a revenge story set during the Napoleonic era.” The initial first printing by publisher Pegasus Books is set at 10,000. 752 pages.

Amazon.com lists The Last Cavalier as available September 12, 2007, but you can pre-order now. The description is quite exciting.

Book Recommendation: Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar

I’ve only read the introduction and the first few pages of chapter 1, and I can already tell you, Ya gotta read Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar… by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein.

What attracted me to this smallish book was the crazy title, which immediately caught my eye from the new books table at my local bookstore. What got me to buy the book was the mixture of jokes and philosophies that produced them. Yeah, jokes aren’t just about being funny, they’re about ideas and attitudes and points of view. This book looks at the two together, as its subtitle explains: “Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes.” It’s a trip for your mind through your funny bone.

I’ll give a fuller review when I have finished the book, but I wanted to give you a heads up on what looks to me like a good summer read, an easy way to expand your mind while having a good time.


By the way, this week it’s number 13 on the New York Times Bestsellers list!

"Tintin in the Congo" Gets Graphic Novel Treatment at Borders

An illustrated children’s book from the 1930s, Tintin in the Congo, controversial for its outdated racial stereotyping, is about to take a seat with the graphic novels at a major bookstore chain – Borders, this according to a story on MSNBC.com. I disagree with this decision even as much as I admire Borders for a lot of other things they do.

Tintin in the Congo is one of 23 books by author-cartoonist Herge, the pen name of Georges Remi, being reissued to mark his centennial. The other books in the series will remain in the childrens book section.

If you’re familiar with the graphic novels section of the bookstore, you know it’s full of superhero fiction, books on Japanese anime characters, and books of Japanese anime "sexploitation." Depending on where Borders places this book, be careful if you take the kids with you to find it. It may be in a general display area or it may be closer to the sexploitation (because of its controversy) area. I have a feeling it will be in the former, which is usually closer to the superhero area, but be forewarned that the other exists.

Here’s my problem with this tactic: Tintin in the Congo isn’t a graphic novel, it’s a children’s book. It was written and illustrated long, long ago at a time when people had horrible ideas about the races. According to the MSNBC.com article, “Remi depicts the white hero’s adventures in the Congo against the backdrop of an idiotic, chimpanzee-like native population that eventually comes to worship Tintin — and his dog — as gods.” I believe the publisher has taken a more responsible approach, which is to reissue the book with an explanation in the preface that puts the racism in context. Instead of sequestering the book in graphic novels, why not create a display in the children’s books section that highlights how times and views have changed and the fact that Remi was actually embarrassed by this book and later editions were changed to omit offensive material. Use it as an educational piece instead of hiding it away!

Our society so loves to punish that it often fails to change the offensive behavior for which the punishment is administered. Take the case of Don Imus. I am not a fan of Mr. Imus and I am definitely not an apologist for him. What he said that got him fired from MSNBC-TV and CBS Radio was offensive and insensitive and stupid. But what if instead of firing him, his bosses had forced him during his suspension from the air to travel around the country hosting a public panel discussion on racism? What if he were forced to face the actual people he had offended in an open and frank discussion in a dozen or more libraries, churches, or auditoriums? What if he discussed the words he had used and their actual meaning? Their origins. Who has the right to use them (if anyone?). Who the people were he was talking about when he used them. Who he is in relation to the community of people he offended. Who else uses those words and whether or not they have the right to use them. What is one’s responsibility versus one’s right of free speech. And so on. Exposure to all this would have given him a whole different perspective and change in view that firing him outright never will, and we would have had a dialogue on racism that we aren’t having now.

In the same way, hiding this book in graphic novels is going keep the book from offending some people, but it’s never going to address the issue of racism and its roots in the 1930’s culture the book sprang from. And we will never learn from those mistakes.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat Is Releasing in Paperback

Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat is releasing in trade paperback on July 24, according to Publisher’s Weekly. It’s actually the second revision of the very popular book since its debut in April 2005. Why buy the paperback version? Besides being popular with anyone not willing to pay for the hardcover version, the paperback has been updated. Says PW, “The new edition offers two new chapters, one covering the spread of disinformation via the Web, and the second about the use of the Internet for activism. There’s a new 35-page conclusion and, promises the publisher, all the statistics are revised.”

Harry Potter Books Have Shipped for B&N Stores

Barnes & Noble starts shipping copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to its stores today, according to The Book Standard. Meanwhile, 700 of their stores will be holding parties for the official release of the book. Oh, the magic and mayhem!

You can still pre-order your copy at Amazon for delivery by July 21 (see article below) -- barely. But honestly, with the record-breaking first printing I'm having a hard time believing you won't be able to walk into your favorite bookstore on July 21 (not right after midnight ... early the morning of the 21st) and get a copy off the shelf or off a special display. When I worked at a bookstore, hundreds showed up for the other parties, stood in line to get their copy just past midnight, then the next morning we had plenty of copies to sell to those patient enough to wait. In fact, we had plenty for months after. One year, my sister pre-ordered hers on Amazon and actually got it before the midnight partygoers got theirs!

Bookstore Sales Are Down -- But Is Reading?

Bookstore sales in May 2007 were down compared with a year ago, says an article in today’s The Book Standard, quoting a decrease of 0.4 percent from a report by the U.S. Census Bureau. The same article said bookstore sales for the year so far are down as are sales for the entire retail sector. The figures do not take into account online book sales.

The key here, I think, is the last sentence. Bookstores are taking a beating from online stores -- in addition to all the other distractions that keep people from reading in the first place. TV, theaters, and especially the Internet. The good news for the book industry is that reading on a monitor is hard work and tiring, whereas reading a book isn't so much so.

Friday, July 13, 2007

How to Find Your Next Good Read (and your next...)

When I worked at a bookstore, people occasionally asked for reading suggestions. The problem with that is that everyone’s taste is different and not everyone is up on all the new books. In fact, there are so many new books published each year, it would be impossible to keep them all in mind. Plus, there are always little gems hidden in among the swell of okay-reads that pass through bookstores all the time, and those are usually passed along as readers discover them, not as they’re hyped. So I have a better suggestion.

BookSense is a group of independent booksellers, and they have a Web site. The site includes reading picks (recommendations) by independent booksellers from across America. Booksellers are the people who work in the bookstores and keep the shelves full. They read a lot and they know what’s popular as well as what’s new. Because they work for independent bookstores, they are less pressed to push particular authors and they are usually closer to their clientele, more loyal to reader tastes and more aware of what readers like. Independent booksellers have a closer read on the reader’s pulse and the market of good books, IMHO. Consulting BookSense for a book recommendation taps into the wisdom of thousands of knowledgeable bibliophiles. The Web site also includes a store locator for independent bookstores associated with BookSense, in case you’d like to visit a store and talk to a bookseller in person.

So, look at the reading recommendations on the BookSense Web site. Consider those in addition to sources like newspaper bestsellers lists, online bookstore bestsellers lists, magazine Best 100 Books lists, book award lists, and various critical book reviews. Online bookstores also offer the “if you bought this you might also like this” or “readers who purchased so and so also bought this…”, although that isn’t always reliable. A better option is to go to your local bookstore(s) to see what the book clubs are reading. If you have access to cable TV or satellite TV and C-SPAN2 over the weekend, watch BOOK TV for non-fiction author interviews and coverage of book fairs (or consult the
BOOK TV Web site).

What I wouldn’t necessarily consider is what bookstores highlight on their end caps and shelves. Why? Part of the display is hype, part of it is mere positioning, part of it is art, and part of it is filler. I’d also take with a “grain of salt” the recommendation tags bookstores put on their shelves (“I’d recommend…”), because sometimes that’s hype rather than true, heartfelt passion about a book. Sometimes.

Often, the best recommendation is that of a friend or relative or colleague whose opinion you hold in high regard. Someone whose taste is sound in books, movies, music, television, and other “artistic” forms.

If you’re going to lone it in the store, browsing for instance, I wouldn’t buy based on the book jacket or leaf. It can be a good guide to storyline, but it is hardly an objective view of the quality of the read. I always fan through the pages and pick a few at random, reading a few passages to see how well the book is written, getting a feel for the plot and dialogue, and discerning if I can stand to read a whole book of the author’s prose. That’s always the best test.

Good luck! Tell me how you find good reads.

There's Magic After Potter

If you’re a Harry Potter fan and you know you’ll go through Potter withdrawal when you finish the seventh – and final – book coming out July 21, then consider another seven-part British kid-wizard series: Septimus Heap. Three books of the series have been published since their debut in March of 2005, the first being Magyk, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books. The other two are Flyte and Physik. All are written by British author Angie Sage.

If you like your fiction in the form of movies, fear not. Warner Brothers Studios has picked up the rights to this series, according to
The Book Standard. Read all about it.

My wife, Kate, is a Potter fan but after the ordeal of waiting for
J.K. Rowling to finish seven books vowed never to get involved with an unfinished series again. Still, when I told her about the Septimus Heap series, she sighed and said, “I should take a look.” She does love ‘er wizards, ‘Arry.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Why Are Book Publishers So Afraid of Used Books?

Did you know that 49% of people who purchased a book online in the last year bought a used book? Alibris commissioned a study back in November, and that’s what their study found. This according to a story in Publisher’s Weekly run in April titled “For Better or Worse, Used Book Sales Grow.”

That number amazes me. Used book stores are never busy, certainly never as busy as the new book stores I visit. The used book sections of new book stores are never as busy as the new book sections, either.

However, it does explain why a local independent bookstore (Schuler Books) has recently decided to add a used book section at two of its brick and mortar locations. They only involve a couple of bookshelves, not a whole section of each store, but still they are devoting space and resources to them. And Barnes and Noble has a good-sized used book section in one of our local stores.

So what’s the story on used books? It makes good sense. The stories won’t have changed just because someone bought and read the book already. The words haven’t gotten old and fallen off the page. And by buying a “pre-owned” book, you’re saving the slaying of a tree to print a new one, plus some space at the local landfill where it would have lain dormant as it slowly decayed. And handling someone’s used book isn’t like wearing someone’s used underwear or smearing on someone’s used deodorant or biting someone’s used dentures. No, most people care well for their books and pass them along lovingly in good condition like a favorite suit or a beloved car. Better, in fact. Many read the book only once and then it sits unscathed on the shelf looking for a new companion. My experience with used books is that unless it’s from the public library, where it passes through many careless hands, a used book is usually in prime condition and as worthy for purchase as a new book.

That may explain why online retailers do a better business in used books than bricks and mortar stores.
Amazon.com, Alibris.com, and Abebooks.com, for instance. Roughly 25% to 30% of their sales are used books. Part of that may be that you don’t initially realize you’re buying a used book when you order it. Part of it may be that you want an out-of-print book and the only way to get it is to buy it used. And part of it may be that with everything discounted, saving because it’s used isn’t as apparent as it might otherwise be.

Perhaps that’s why book publishers are so afraid of used-book sales: Why pay full price for new when half price for used will do?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Books by Cellphone? Thanks, Borders!

Something useful may be coming soon to your cellphone: According to MarketingWeek, "Borders is to become the world's first bookseller to distribute content to mobile phones. The retailer will send sample chapters to customers' phones free of charge before books are released and a the book can then be purchased in-store for a discount of up to 20% using a barcode." The article didn't say whether this will happen in the U.S., the UK, or where.

Here's my suggestion to Borders and publishers: Send the text from book jackets and leafs. Cellphones are not a good format for book pages! Maybe a few sample paragraphs, but not pages! I guess I'll take a wait-and-see attitude before I fully judge, but I can't imagine wading through all that text on a small screen. Even an iPhone is going to make reading a book on a screen very hard (see article below).

Still, I like the idea of receiving book recommendations on my cellphone. Maybe as an e-mail that I receive by way of my cellphone.

I couldn't find confirmation of this story on any Borders Stores Web sites, which is curious.

Security Tight for Arrival of New Harry Potter Book

"The release of J.K. Rowling’s last outing with her creation at one minute past midnight on Saturday July 21, will be the culmination of the most fraught operation in publishing history," says The Book Standard. "Boxes have been chained shut, barbed wire has been uncoiled and satellite tracking systems for delivery vans have been double-checked," says London's Times. Book stores across the world probably haven't received their shipments of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows yet, but when they do their bulky cardboard boxes will likely be padlocked into secure rooms where even staff won't see them until the magical moment of release arrives.

Lest you think you can collar a bookseller the day before the big event -- or even an hour before -- to sneak off with your copy to avoid the crowds, don't even think about it. Booksellers are bound by contract to wait until just after midnight on July 21 to release to the public.

If a store breaks such a contract with a publisher, they face lawsuits and stiff fines -- possibly even blacklisting -- from the publisher! Every big release book comes with what the book industry calls its "lay down date." That's the first date the store can put the book out on public display for view or sale. That's why when you ask your favorite bookseller about an upcoming new book and they tell you it's coming out "tomorrow" and you ask if they will kindly sell it to you today, the answer is always no.

By the way, I see that Amazon.com will allow pre-order of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by noon ET on July 17 for "release-date delivery". Barnes and Noble requires pre-order by July 16 for July 21st delivery in the contiguous 48 U.S. states.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Books on iPhone?

"Publishers Ponder Putting E-books on iPhone" says the headline in a Publisher's Weekly article. "Not so fast!", says Apple. Publishers are interested, but Apple has plenty on its plate already with this year's most popular consumer electronic device, just released. Said PW in today's article, "Book publishers have been resistant to digital reading in the past, and text just doesn't show off the iPhone's multimedia functionality the way full-motion video and color photographs can. So book publishers will have to wait their turn. Nevertheless, publishers said that while Apple has yet to approach them about content, that day is coming."

I have my serious doubts about this as a format for books. Although I have yet to put my hands on an iPhone, what I've seen in TV ads make me wince when I think of trying to read a book on one. Think about all that scrolling! You hate to scroll a Web page now, what are you going to do with a page of book text? Furthermore, Web paragraphs tend to be shorter and more compact; book paragraphs are longer, wider, and more dense. It's going to be Hell reading a book on any PDA or other electronic device. How will it handle various fonts? Will you need to scroll side to side as well as top to bottom? Will you be able to adjust font size to make text easier to read and how will that affect scrolling? Will you be able to light the surface to make it easier to read in the dark? Will your eyes get as tired reading the iPhone as it does a regular computer monitor screen, which is already tiring to read?

See where I'm headed? People will prefer reading a book on paper. Mark my works ... on paper.

Could Potter Plotter Make It Number 8?

Never say never, say Harry Potter fans in the U.K. According to a story today in The Book Standard, ' "There has never been a writer like J.K. Rowling. And there has never, ever been a character like Harry Potter. Millions, perhaps billions of us love reading his adventures, and we never want them to end." The site hopes to get 1 million names on its petition before the July 21 release date of Deathly Hallows.' Their hope is that author J. K. Rowling will do what she's vowed not to do and write more Harry Potter stories after the release this month of book number 7.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Book Review: the beautiful miscellaneous by Dominic Smith


I like an eclectic range of books, including stories about science, so the beautiful miscellaneous by Dominic Smith seemed to be a good bet when I saw it in the bookstore. I skimmed its pages before buying it and I was intrigued by the description on the jacket leaf.

It started off slowly for me, but soon I was engaged in the storyline, fascinated by the characters and the basic plotline. But then little details got in the way. For instance, Nathan, the main character, and his father go to Manitoba to observe a solar eclipse. Nathan says, “We watched the moon drift toward the rising sun.” That’s not possible. The moon moves between the Earth and the Sun so the dark side of the moon faces the Earth. Nathan wouldn’t have been able to see the moon move toward the sun! A nit? Perhaps. However, Nathan lives in Wisconsin somewhere near Madison, yet his descriptions suggest nothing unique to that area, so it could have been almost anywhere. Other parts of his description seem spot-on, so why not in these areas, too?

In the story, Nathan is in an accident and dies briefly. He comes back to life but lives in a coma for a time, then returns to consciousness. In doing so, he is given a new gift. It is in this description that author Dominic Smith shows his greatest gifts as a writer and where I found the most enjoyable reading. The center of the book contains some pretty amazing imagery, some very fine writing.

The basic story is about the conflict between Nathan and his father, and his parent’s desire to have a son with gifts of genius. When he receives gifts of genius, Nathan has been so resentful of his parents that he can’t focus on using the gifts productively but peters them away on self-indulgent flights of fantasy during which there is no personal growth. In this respect, the beautiful miscellaneous becomes a “coming of age” story, although I don’t think a very uplifting one.

I expected some revelation at the end of the book, some epiphany for Nathan. It never comes. In fact, the ending was personally disappointing for me. A huge build up that flattens out into nothing. I wish I could say it was otherwise.
Update:
I wrote to Dominic Smith about the lunar eclipse problem and he said he would change it for the paperback printing.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Book Review: His Brother’s Keeper by Jonathan Weiner

Jonathan Weiner is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Beak of the Finch. He’s a great writer, and you will see why in His Brother’s Keeper. That’s one of many reasons to read this book, chosen by The New York Times as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2004.

This is the story of the Heywood family: Mom Peggy, Dad John, oldest son Jamie and his wife Melinda, middle son Stephen and his fiancĂ© Wendy, and youngest brother Ben. They come from the Boston area, but the story moves to San Francisco and back, visits the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Providence, Philadelphia, New York, places in New Zealand, and elsewhere where the family pursues its archenemy, ALS (aka Lou Gehrig Disease), which the family learns Stephen has. The book centers around Stephen’s battle against time and Jamie’s obsession to find a cure.

Although we see the family in youth, the real story takes place in their adulthood long after families should have split up and people gone their separate ways. Jamie takes after his Dad and is an engineer. Stephen, like most middle sons, refuses to be “his father’s son” and becomes a self-employed carpenter. Ben, initially an engineer, goes back to school to learn the film industry. About the time Stephen moves to San Francisco to rebuild a dilapidated old house, Jamie moves out, too, and changes career: He goes to work for a prestigious bioengineering institute, which turns out to be very timely, for it is then that Stephen finds out he has ALS.

Author Weiner begins his relationship with the Heywoods while researching an article for The New Yorker magazine. He visits with them many times over a couple of desperate years and he becomes hooked on their struggle. He, in fact, becomes so involved it’s too hard to remain objective as a writer. Weiner’s mother has a brain disease at this same time and he finds he has far more in common with the Heywoods and their search for a cure than he could have ever imagined.

I’ll warn you, I read this story slowly because I kept waiting for time to run out and Stephen to die. I kept waiting to receive the bad news and read about the devastation of the family and the writer. Weiner kindly saves you that misery. What I did read about was a brother who cared so much about his brother that he dropped everything else he was doing to do research, created a non-profit company, engaged doctors and scientists, found potential ideas to pursue, conducted fundraising, and brought all the right people to the appropriate tables to make things happen. The family was always there to support him.

In many ways, this story reads like a thriller. ALS is the bad guy ready to do someone in and Jamie is the detective in pursuit trying to stop what he knows he has limited time to avoid. Will he piece the clues together in time? Who is getting in his way? We know who the bad guy is and we see him plotting out his attack, slowly over time thwarting what authorities try to do to circumvent him.
You will also learn a lot about ALS, the search for a cure, genetic research, and the character of the people behind the effort to stop an indecent murderer. Especially one very driven brother. His Brother’s Keeper is a good read for all these reasons.

Find other Jonathan Weiner books

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Harry Potter to Go Green..er

According to Scholastic Inc., Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J. K. Rowling's seventh and final installment in the world-popular series, will be printed in the U.S. to meet tighter environmental standards. This according to an Associated Press story released on MSNBC.com today ( See "Final Potter book goes easier on trees").

The paper used for printing will be comprised of nearly a third of post-consumer waste fiber (environmentalese for "recycled paper"). And a limited-run deluxe edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be printed on entirely post-consumer waste fiber paper.

Considering Scholastic will do 12 million copies on the first printing, that could save a lot of trees. Congratulations to whoever at Scholastic made the decision.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Book Review: The Places in Between by Rory Stewart


Read The Places in Between by Rory Stewart expecting not great personal insights or expansive vistas. Be wowed by the accomplishment of survival of the most brutal of individual journeys.

Afghanistan is a bleak, poor, hopeless place where feudalism still reigns. It was here that Al Qaeda found a home from which to attack America in 2001 under the protection of The Taliban. In swift retaliation, America attacked Al Qaeda and defeated The Taliban. Left behind were a barely civilized population of people, four basic cultures spread across hundreds of miles of barren, cold land, ravaged by centuries of invasion, war, subjugation, and occupation. They do not trust their neighboring villages let alone outside visitors.

Against this backdrop, in January 2002, Rory Stewart, a Scottish historian and writer, decided to walk from Herat in the west to Kabul in the east. I still don’t know what drove him other than a desire to come to terms with himself, although this story doesn’t address that well. Stewart was actually completing a leg of a much larger walking journey of this part of the world. His footpath through Afghanistan, single-minded and determined, is brutal and demanding. His writing, though in narrative form, is a journal of struggle and observation. This was no trek of whimsy – he cheated death many times and in many ways. What was breathtaking was not the vistas nor the epiphanies, but getting through at the end – walking through his front door at home in the UK.

Don’t expect to close the pages of The Places in Between thinking, “I want to make that walk someday.” Expect instead to breathe a sigh of relief and think, “If it was a necessary walk, I’m glad he took it and I’m glad it’s over!” Yet, also expect to understand why the war in Afghanistan has been such a struggle for America, as it was for Russia before us and the invaders and occupiers before them.