Book Blogs weekly round-up (July 23)

Your weekly round-up of the best in book blogging:

1) The trouble with Amazon (from The Nation)

A taste:

Amazon has not grown to where it is today by being touchy-feely. Sure, it adopted the informal trappings that characterized many of the new technology start-ups of the 1990s. But if Bezos’s first desk at the company was an old door on trestles, the business conducted from behind it has been as ruthless as anything he encountered in his previous gig as a Wall Street broker. Soon after Amazon’s launch in 1995, Bezos told his employees that he wanted a place that was both “intense and friendly” but that “if you ever had to give up ‘friendly’ in order to have ‘intense,’ we would do that.”

This hard-nosed approach has not endeared Amazon to publishers, who have consistently felt the pressure of the company’s intensity, especially when it comes to setting terms. In researching this article, I uncovered widespread resentment about the aggressive way Amazon pursues its objectives, matched only by dread of being publicly identified as a critic of publishing’s largest customer.

…Dennis Loy Johnson, co-publisher of the Brooklyn-based independent Melville House, is one of the few publishers who have dared to speak openly about Amazon’s bullying. His story is far from atypical. In 2004 a representative of the retailer contacted Melville’s distributor demanding an additional discount. Such payments are illegal under antitrust law, which precludes selling at different prices to different customers. Large retailers circumvent this restriction by disguising the extra discount under the rubric of “co-op,” money paid to the bookseller for promotional services, often notional. In this case the distributor did not bother with such niceties, describing what Amazon was after as “kickback.”

Johnson resisted Amazon’s pressure and complained to Publishers Weekly about what he saw as the retailer’s capo-like tactics. What happened next evidently still rankles. “I was at the Book Expo in New York and two guys from Amazon came to see me. They said that the company was watching what we were doing and that they strongly advised us to get in line. I was shocked at how blatant the pressure was.” Within a couple of days Johnson noticed that the buy buttons for his books had been taken off Amazon’s site, making Melville’s titles unavailable.

In the end Johnson, faced with an offer it was nigh impossible to refuse, agreed to the co-op. His books’ buy buttons were reinstated. Today Amazon is Melville House’s biggest customer, and though Johnson still regularly flays the company on his popular publishing blog Moby Lives, he also concedes that it is highly effective at bookselling: “They make buying so easy. It’s impossible to resist.”,0

2) Luxery Lit – a book for $75,000 (from the WSJ)

A taste:

Luxury publisher Kraken Opus mixed in a pint of Mr. Tendulkar’s blood with paper pulp to create the signature page for a book celebrating the renowned batsman’s career. The 10 limited-edition copies, which comes out in February, cost $75,000 each and have already sold out.

Kraken is one of a handful of high-end publishing houses that are pushing the boundaries of extravagance and novelty in the luxury book market. Such books are being treated as investments and sometimes commanding prices usually reserved for original art works.

3) Terri Gerritsen explains why you rarely find a review of her books in major newspapers

A taste:

All you writers reading this have no doubt stared in frustration at the book reviews page of major newspapers and wondered why your title isn’t included in the latest roundup of novels. John Q. Stuckup’s latest literary novel about the usual (yawn) white-male-midlife-and-bad-marriage-crisis will eat up a zillion column inches. So will the review of Jane Babyface’s debut memoir about her angst-filled days as a barista/ hooker. But your novel? The wham-bam thriller that will probably find twice the audience as Mr. Stuckup’s or Ms. Babyface’s? It’s nowhere to be found in any newspaper review pages.

4) Vote for the your favorite Thriller at NPR

A taste:

Last month when we asked the NPR audience to submit nominations for a list of the 100 most pulse-quickening, suspenseful novels ever written, you came through with some 600 titles. It was a fascinating, if unwieldy, collection. Now, with your input, a panel of thriller writers and critics has whittled that list down to a manageable 182 novels.

…In the end, you’ll decide what makes the top 100. Everyone gets 10 votes. Feel free to lobby for your favorites in the comments area. We’ll announce the winners on August 2.

5) J.D. Rhoades asks, “Who cares if it’s well written?”

A taste:

Does good writing even matter?

I’ve been  thinking about this question for a couple of weeks ever since our discussion of the Twilight books. You may remember that  commenter KarinNH mentioned that her students were reading the books and that: ventured that I wouldn’t like the series because “it is really poorly written.” Interestingly, the ones who were recommending the books all agreed. Emphatically. However, they were willing to look past that because they liked the story.

I found this interesting for a couple of reasons. One, my daughter, who’s read all the books and seen all the movies, says exactly  the same thing: the writing’s really bad, but you care about the story. Two, I felt the same way about the last book that everyone I know purported to despise, but which I found quite entertaining: Dan Brown’s THE DAVINCI CODE

6) Lisbeth Sanders slays vampires (in India)

She’s fun, fearless and female, and she has Calcutta’s women readers hooked. Lisbeth Salander, an eccentric 25-year-old who solves crimes across continents with feminist chutzpah, has pulled the city’s 14 to 40 female readership out of the Twilight zone. Swede Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published Millennium trilogy has become the hottest selling cult fiction series here since Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight sunk its teeth into women readers and sucked them into the world of vampire romance.

7) The book that’s changing Afghanistan

Sales to date are at four million copies in 41 countries, and the book’s yarn is well known: disoriented after a 1993 failed attempt on Pakistan’s K2, the second-highest mountain in the world, Mr. Mortenson took a wrong turn into the village of Korphe, was nursed back to health by the villagers and, in gratitude, vowed to build them a school.

He returned to Pakistan a year later with a $12,000 donation from a Silicon Valley benefactor and spent most of it on school construction materials in the city of Rawalpindi — only to be told he could not get his cargo to Korphe without first building a bridge. The story of that bridge, Mr. Mortenson’s relationships with Pakistanis, and the schools that followed appealed so much to one military spouse that in the fall of 2007 she sent the book to her husband, Christopher D. Kolenda, at that time a lieutenant colonel commanding 700 American soldiers on the Pakistan border

…“It was practical, and it told real stories of real people,” said Colonel Kolenda, now a top adviser at the Kabul headquarters for the International Security Assistance Force, in an interview at the Pentagon last week.

Colonel Kolenda was among the first in the military to reach out to Mr. Mortenson, and by June 2008 the Central Asia Institute had built a school near Colonel Kolenda’s base.

8 ) AbeBooks gives us the best of prison literature

A taste:

Call it the Slammer, the Big House, the Pokey or the Clink, prison remains a place no-one wishes to go but everyone wants to read about. The vast majority of people will never step inside one but everyone can imagine what jailbird life must be like.

9) The Celebrity biography trend

A taste:

Publishing is experiencing a glut in celebrity tomes that hasn’t been seen since the ’90s, when comedians like Jerry Seinfeld (Seinlanguage, 1993), Paul Reiser (Couplehood, 1995 and Babyhood, 1998), and Ellen DeGeneres (My Point… And I Do Have One, 1995) discovered just how much extra-curricular cash—and increased visibility—could come through the page. The boom, in that era, ended in a crash—with Reiser and Whoopi Goldberg’s books being declared “colossal failures,” while works by Mia Farrow and Jay Leno were merely considered “disappointments.” But the ’90s was a while ago and hope springs eternal—especially for a business that has been in freefall mode for the past few years.

10) Literary burlesque – who knew?

A taste:

The concept came out of a chance remark by Chicago photographer/writer Franky Vivid. He walked into a room and found his naked wife, burlesque superstar Michelle L’amour, in repose, reading a book, which prompted him to remark, “I like the image.”