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July 23, 2012

How We Lost Bookshops Thanks to Amazon and Publishers

Filed under: Bookshops — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:23 pm

Why does Amazon rule supreme in book sales? Bookseller Tim Waterstone recounts the story of how his eponymous chain was ruined by a short-term business mindset and publishers giving in to the internet behemoth.

The tragedy for Waterstones under  HMV’s ownership and underinvestment, was that our most precious possession—the loyalty and affection of our customers—fast eroded as the quality of the bookshops deteriorated.  It was not just their physical appearance, dire as many of them became, but the quality and expertise of the inventory, the lifeblood of what Waterstones  was always about.

Research had shown for years that we were catering for a consumer market of barely twenty per cent of the population. What HMV found impossible to understand was how we—the managers—knew these numbers, and yet accepted them. More than accepted them—embraced them. We knew that the one person in five who used our stores trusted and loved them. Successive Readers Digest surveys of the time, taken across a huge sample of 14,500 British families, ranked Waterstones as the fourth (out of more than eighty nominated) most admired retail group in the country, beaten by only the cherished Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, and Waitrose. For a bookseller, it was astonishing stuff. The key to it all was this; that the 20% of the population were heavy, committed book buyers. They purchased at least fifty books a year, and with Waterstones now across the country, they bought them from us. We fitted the profile of what they wanted a “real” bookshop to be. Rocket science it wasn’t. Effective retailing it was.

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May 24, 2012

Are Books Becoming Too Long to Read?

Yagi Studio / Getty Images

Are writers including every nugget of research done on Google, and are publishers churning out these humongous volumes in order to justify their existence and bulk up e-book prices? Marc Wortman asks.

We read books by the word. But lately publishers seem to sell them by the pound. For a book to win recognition as BIG these days, it must be weighty. Quite literally. Is it time for publishing to go on a diet?

“Art is long, life is short,” so goes an ancient aphorism. Of late it seems to mean a lifetime isn’t long enough to read a good book.

Here’s a list of a few recent books I’d love to read—but probably won’t have time to: Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs (630 pages); Jean Edward Smith’s Eisenhower in War and Peace (976); Steve Coll’s investigation of ExxonMobil, Private Empire (685); Robert Caro’s fourth volume in his life of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power (736); John Lewis Gaddis’s Pulitzer-winning biography, George F. Kennan (800); Pulitzer history-award-winner Manning Marable’s Malcolm X (608); and, finally, Daniel Yergin’s The Quest (804), sequel to his Pulitzer-winning The Prize, a history of the energy industry and its role in global conflicts.

That’s a total of 5,239 pages. If you need to catch up, like I do, by reading Caro’s first three installments and Yergin’s earlier oil history, add 3,712 more. Now we’ve got 8,951 pages. Let’s subtract 15 percent for footnotes, bibliography, index, acknowledgments, and other publishing apparatus (though I enjoy looking through them). You’re left with 7,608 pages of reading. At a brisk two minutes a page, that’s about 250 hours of reading. Or, put another way, I’d have to spend four concentrated, unbroken hours reading these books each day, day after day, and in a little more than 60 days I’d have finished 11 books. Eleven.

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May 6, 2012

Stephen King: Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 2:25 pm

The iconic writer scolds the superrich (including himself—and Mitt Romney) for not giving back, and warns of a Kingsian apocalyptic scenario if inequality is not addressed in America.

Chris Christie may be fat, but he ain’t Santa Claus. In fact, he seems unable to decide if he is New Jersey’s governor or its caporegime, and it may be a comment on the coarsening of American discourse that his brash rudeness is often taken for charm. In February, while discussing New Jersey’s newly amended income-tax law, which allows the rich to pay less (proportionally) than the middle class, Christie was asked about Warren Buffett’s observation that he paid less federal income taxes than his personal secretary, and that wasn’t fair. “He should just write a check and shut up,” Christie responded, with his typical verve. “I’m tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he’s got the ability to write a check—go ahead and write it.”

Heard it all before. At a rally in Florida (to support collective bargaining and to express the socialist view that firing teachers with experience was sort of a bad idea), I pointed out that I was paying taxes of roughly 28 percent on my income. My question was, “How come I’m not paying 50?” The governor of New Jersey did not respond to this radical idea, possibly being too busy at the all-you-can-eat cheese buffet at Applebee’s in Jersey City, but plenty of other people of the Christie persuasion did.

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January 3, 2012

The Graphic Novel Renaissance

Graphic novels have won acclaim as an innovative medium for exploring issues such as Iranian politics, the Holocaust, and turmoil in the Middle East.

Twenty-five years after ‘Maus’ put graphic novels on the map, the art form is exploding.

By Maya Jaggi

Stars from the world of comics and bande dessinée— the Franco-Belgian strip cartoons that spawned the likes of Tintin and Asterix—mingled this past October at a gathering at London’s French Institute. What’s the difference, Newsweek asked, in how their art is perceived in French-speaking countries versus Britain and the U.S.? “Respect,” one English cartoonist shot back.

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Bande dessinée (BD) has a long pedigree (the French call it the “ninth art”) while Japan’s homegrown version, manga, is dignified with the name given to fine-art sketches. But transatlantic snobbery can still trivialize comics as the preserve of an all-male subculture obsessed with spandex-clad superheroes. Yet Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Art Spiegelman’s anthropomorphic memoir about his father, a Holocaust survivor, started a revolution in respect for comics a quarter century ago. A long graphic novel for adults involving Jewish mice and Nazi cats, Maus’s layered exploration of history and memory kicked down doors to nonspecialist bookshops, libraries, and universities, and won a Pulitzer Prize. Since then, critical opinion has scrambled to keep pace with an explosion of creativity among cartoonists. Graphic novels have been winning global acclaim—and they’re becoming a crucial artistic medium for memoir, fiction, history, biography, and stories that put a face on social change, in cultures from Canada to Iran.

This fall saw the publication in 12 countries of Zahra’s Paradise, a graphic novel narrated by a blogger, in which a mother searches for her son in the violent aftermath of Iran’s disputed 2009 elections. Created by Iranian-American journalist Amir and artist Khalil (their surnames are being withheld for safety reasons), it was first serialized for a transnational readership as a free, multilingual web comic. Before the third chapter was online, the book had been sold into nearly a dozen languages, turning a profit for its publishers, First Second Books in New York.

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August 28, 2011

President Obama: Why don’t you read more women?

Once again, the president’s summer reading list is dominated almost exclusively by men.

By Robin Black

While there’s no way to know whether Hillary Clinton would have hung tougher than President Obama with those recalcitrant Republicans, here’s a safe bet — her summer reading list would have included a few more women authors than his.

Obama opened his Martha’s Vineyard vacation by purchasing Daniel Woodrell’s “The Bayou Trilogy” and Ward Just’s “Rodin’s Debutante.” He’d already packed novels by David Grossman and Abraham Verghese, along with Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns,” a nonfiction account of black migration from the American South. (Some reports also had Obama carrying Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Emma Donoghue’s novel “Room.”)

That would make Obama’s reading 70 percent male — which is actually a better male-female ratio than the past. The Daily Beast collected a list of what it called every book Obama has mentioned reading since May 2008. The news for the female scribblers among us is pretty dire. It’s a 23-to-one blowout in favor of the men. The sole woman author to make the cut is Doris Kearns Goodwin — almost a compulsory read for any new president.

Now the fact that the president of the United States apparently doesn’t read women writers is not the greatest crisis facing the arts, much less the nation — but it’s upsetting nevertheless. As I suspect Obama would agree, matters of prejudice are never entirely minor, even when their manifestations may seem relatively benign.

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May 10, 2011

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , — Bookblurb @ 6:36 pm

Click to buy

Ian McEwan poses an interesting question: If Shakespeare were alive today, would he be a “man of the Twitter”? Here, the author of Solar, a witty take on climate change, discusses how Facebook, email, and Twitter fit into his daily life—and how he was a victim of text message auto-correct.

                                                                                                                                                 …read more

February 4, 2011

Respect the Midwest!

Why does the literature of the Midwest not get the attention it deserves? The creation of a Kurt Vonnegut library spurred Anna Clark to come up with 13 essential novels of that mythic region.

 Last week was a good one for Kurt Vonnegut. A posthumous collection of stories came out—While Mortals Sleep, which includes 16 previously unpublished tales and a foreword by Dave Eggers that describes Vonnegut as the “hippie Mark Twain.” As well, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in downtown Indianapolis celebrated its grand opening in the author’s hometown this past Saturday. Vonnegut’s drawings will be on display, as well as his typewriter, his rejection letters, his Purple Heart medal, and an evocative unopened letter from his father. The library will make its case to the world that the Midwest is an essential part of the legendary writer’s story. Vonnegut (who died in 2007) said as much himself in a 1986 speech: “All my jokes are Indianapolis. All my attitudes are Indianapolis. My adenoids are Indianapolis. If I ever severed myself from Indianapolis, I would be out of business. What people like about me is Indianapolis.”   …read more

January 7, 2011

2011’s Most Anticipated Books

Filed under: Books of the Year — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 10:18 am

From Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir to David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel, here are the 21 books that you won’t want to miss in 2011.

The mistletoe has been put away, the presents unwrapped, the New Year’s Champagne uncorked, and you still haven’t quite finished Franzen’s Freedom. But new books on how to run the world, turn around Starbucks, deal with a famous father, and even join a club are all coming out in the next few months. So get ready for the new literary season.

Here is The Daily Beast’s picks of the most controversial, intriguing, and just best reads for the first few months of 2011….read more

December 20, 2010

The Daily Beast’s Favorite Books of 2010

fo  The Daily Beast Tina Brown, Peter Beinart, John Avlon, Michelle Goldberg, and other Daily Beast writers and contributors pick their favorite books of 2010….

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