Posts Tagged ‘libraries’

Book Links

October 23, 2013

9 Books to scare the hell out of you. A good list with some I didn’t expect. I still have a hard time seeing lists like this with an array of newer titles while leaving anything by King, Rice, Matheson, etc. off. I know The Shining can only be on so many lists, and newer works deserve (and need) the exposure, but it’s still a bit weird for me. Nice seeing Shirley Jackson get some much deserved love, though. Despite her greatness, I think she gets overlooked at times.


Irma Boom: objectification of the book. I love books as physical objects, and Boom takes this to wonderful places. If you don’t know her work, check it out. You will enjoy it.


Libraries of the Rich and Famous.  I love the clutter of Keith Richard’s library, but I think Woody Allen’s tastes would most mirror my own. If I was filthy rich, that is.


We don’t read as well as we used to.  A new study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that American adults had a lower reading proficiency than their counterparts from twenty years ago.  It’s a bit of a thing that “young adult” books are becoming increasingly popular with adults, that it is common to see someone with some salt in their beard or grey in their hair lugging around Twilight or The Hunger Games, and it’s always assumed it’s because young adult fiction is becoming so well done. Maybe it’s because more and more people can’t handle more difficult reads.  This isn’t to say young adult novels are bad, but they are not really difficult, either. Anyway. There is my moment of fire in a crowded theater for this post.

Finally, David Bowie has a list of 100 must read books.

Book Links

September 30, 2013

Leave it to Texas. They have decided to open a new library…without any books. It might make budgetary sense, but the idea of a library being essentially a Mac Cafe doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe it is just a cultural inevitability, though. I know there have been sales numbers over the past year that has shown the market for ebooks slowing, and that there is a renewed hope for paper and cardboard to hang on as the present and future principle form for books, but I just don’t see it.  Not with wages stagnating, population growth and growing urbanization making living spaces smaller, and the general desire to comfortably lug whatever the hell we want with us to wherever we want to take it.  Hardcopy books will likely, eventually, go the same way hard copy movies and music appear to be going: towards a niche market.

Please don’t buy my book on amazon. Author Jamie Clarke wants you to buy his book direct from the publisher, instead. He has  a website up promoting his cause, and I encourage folks to go and check it out. And if you want his book, buy it from the publisher (and get it early!).  As always, I support the majority of antiAmazon sentiment, but I’m not familiar with Clarke’s work. I’ll be checking it out, though.

Finally, TC Boyle has a new collection of stories coming out. 15 years worth of stories covering 900+ pages. I enjoy Boyle’s work, though I haven’t made enough of a dent in his last collection. Still, I look forward to this one.

Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker – review

August 10, 2012

Baker’s Human Smoke is an enthralling, sprawling montage of events that led up to the United States’ official involvement in WWII. It actually goes just past that, rounding out on Dec. 31, 1941, but it really only makes sense to end it on the last day of the year, with the United State’ entry into the war coming so shortly before it. The wonderful thing about this book is that I felt like an idiot while reading it.  Baker sets the book up to read in short burts, often less than a page or even half a page in length. He will jump from one person’s account of living in the early stages of the Nazi regime in Germany and then jump to the Quakers lobbying FDR to allow them to send food and assistance to people recently put beneath the Nazi boot heels. Baker does a remarkable job of weaving numerous histories together into a satisfying whole that is impossible to move away from for long.

My feeling like an idiot happened on average in about one in five of these vignettes. While Hitler&Co. clearly had a thing against the Jews, the rest of the prominent world leaders weren’t exactly friendly.  The impression  I have always gotten of history is that the Nazis quickly rose to power, then began massacring the Jews and there wasn’t a whole lot that could have been done. That this genocide was almost predestined and just had to happen. Instead, there were numerous opportunities for goverments to have stepped in and mitigated the human disaster that was to become of the Jews and other minority groups who fell under Nazi rule. The United States refused to alter their immigration policies. What amounted to refugee ships were turned away at ports. Other nations refused to step up and give the Jews safe harbor.  I hate to refer to it as indifference (though it would be a nice term than anti-semitism, which is did seem to at least border upon at times) but the coldness of other nations when there were moments they could have stepped in was abhorrent.

I was also mildly shocked at Churchill’s cold bloodedness. It’s easy to sort of be okay with his willingness to kill German’s at the time, but some of the quotes attributed to Churchill throughout the book make him appear nearly indifferent to the horrors caused by his naval blockade and the amount of collateral suffering imposed by his actions. By contrast, the German’s do not come off as nearly the monsters history largely paints them as. It seems that there was a genuine opportunity for the worst of their attrocities to be avoided, or at least greatly mitigated, by a different approach (such as allowing the Jews to get the hell out of Europe before everything hit the fan instead of slamming shut the immigration doors).

Another thing that I wasn’t as aware of before reading is how the US goaded Japan into action. Baker does not have a lot of takes from the Japanese side, but they really are not necessary considering the wealth of what he has from the Americans. FDR wanted to get into the war and Pearl Harbor gave him the excuse to do it. There have been some conspiracy theories that the US knew it was going to happen and did nothing just for that purpose, which I don’t fully believe. But it is clear that FDR was repeatedly jamming a stick into the side of Japan, trying to get them to react. It’s the lengths America went to for this that got to me. I had no idea we supported China’s fight against Japan so long or so openly. Or that we taunted them by giving fuel to the Soviets but not to them.  Or the numerous smaller things that just kept poking that stick.

Reading Baker’s collection of excerpts makes it appear as though the leaders of the world were nearly spoiling for another war. And those who were actively pushing for military engagement were marginalized by those that were. there’s a certain feeling of connection between this and the W. presidency after 9-11. It seemed that regardless of anything else that was to happen, war would be declared. It’s a brutal idea, that was might be desired by a select few to the point of inevitability.

Reading Baker’s afterward, he notes that all of his quotes, all of his material, are readily available to the public -largely through newspaper. I’ve also been reading Baker’s book Double Fold, which I’m unlikely to finish as I just can’t get into it (though I will keep trying.  In Double Fold, Baker documents the attempt of libraries to ditch their newspaper collections in favor of microfilm or whatever new tech has happened by that is supposed to be able to store a whole lot of newspaper in a tiny tiny space. The short of it is that our digital and film copies are largely horrible and error filled. Words, sometimes pages, are lost. Finely detailed pictures are reduced to blobs. In an effort to save space, our libraries have blown vast sums of money (as Baker points out, far more than it would have cost to just build a warehouse to store the stuff they wanted to replace) to make barely legible copies that are wholly inferior to the originals. This has resulted in us losing a vast amount of knowledge about our past.  It has also resulted in our scholarly work on history changing, as there are fewer and fewer caches of source materials for our historians to draw from.  We are literally destroying our past, so it  may be no wonder that we so often seem to repeat it.

Here is the B&N link for Human Smoke.

And here for Double Fold.

Amazon, Apple, The Big Five (or is it Six?) and the Government

April 12, 2012

I’m sure everyone who cares has already noticed, but the Department of Justice (DoJ) has filed suit against Apple and major publishers for price fixing. Okay, not a big surprise. It’s something that’s been rumored for months, while some other folks are already hitting them with a civil suit because they just can’t buy their ebooks cheap enough.  What this will boil down to, as TPM wraps it up, is that the agency pricing model will likely go out the window, or be much more difficult to do. Media Decoder, over at the NYT,  has a nice article up detailing the case being made by the government.

What’s not getting talk about, though, is that Amazon is just as bad for the book business, and has been operating just as ruthlessly. The LA Times article just linked has gobs of additional links inside of it, including this one to a series done by the Seattle Times about Amazon. Did you really think Amazon was making any money selling eBooks for $10 a pop when no one else was able to sell them for less than $13? They weren’t, and they weren’t caring. Their goal was, and likely still is, to push as many other companies out of the eBook business as possible, corner the market, and charge what they want in the end, both to you, the consumer, and from the publisher – if they still exist.

It’s something I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with supporting. I’ve never been a big Amazon fan (I always bough more books through ebay, if I bought online, but I buy the majority of my books through brick and mortar stores).  I love second hand shops, and any price I could get on Amazon could usually be matched, once shipping and handling was included, by a local shop. Even if it couldn’t, there was the added effect of getting the book right then and there, having something tangible in my hands. ebooks are a bit of a different creature, though.

What is there that is tangible to a digital file? Not a whole lot, that I’ve found.  Because of this lack of tangibility, I think it becomes all too easy to overlook the repercussions of our purchasing an item through this retailer instead of that retailer. We lose sight of how important our actions are.  The truth is, Amazon kills community bookstores. It kills community. It is the new Wal Mart. Do you sell something that could be sold online? well, you’re in the crosshairs. People will walk into you store, look at your merchandise, and then buy it for five cents cheaper from Amazon after using an app to check online prices. And when your store is out of business, they will wonder why, and where they are going to have to go now to preview the novel they aren’t sure about buying, or the television, or the couch or whatever else. You get the idea.

Amazon isn’t doing any  favors for your community bookstores (from the little independent to Barnes & Noble). How is Amazon hurting publishing, though? By pushing harder and harder deals on publishers to sell their books. the cost for printing a physical copy of a book isn’t the biggest money sink. You have to pay the author, the editor, proofreaders, marketing, tech people to run the growing digital side, etc. So, let’s take Amazon’s $10 price. Amazon wants to take 30% right off the top, so we’re down to seven bucks. The other gets around a buck of it (10%) so we’re down to $6. From that $6, a cut is taken out to pay for all of those things listed above, plus everything else (building maintenance, secretaries, security, taxes,…). In other words, the profit margin is pretty damn slim. At some point, the costs of doing business are going to eclipse the returns they get from sales, and Amazon’s pricing structure will go a long way towards expediting that.

I began writing this last night, and I’m not surprised that I woke up to find this in my newsfeed this morning. Amazon is already looking to slash prices again in an attempt to gain greater market share.

This isn’t to say that  publishers are faultless. This article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution talks about how publishers have made it very difficult for libraries to expand their ebook lending. Give how one of the problems with Amazon is their work to gain a monopoly on ebooks, making them more readily available from libraries would seem to be a solid way of fighting that – especially if they adopt an open format that isn’t tied to any one device, allowing consumers more latitude in selecting their ereaders. one of the better ideas I’ve seen (other than just not dealing with Amazon) is to give away a free digital edition with the purchase of a print edition. So, instead of paying $10 for a digital copy, pay $15 for a trade paperback and get a digital copy for free. You put a balance against the ebook market, while also pushing sales for the print version the publisher seems to want to move more.

Alright, somewhat rambly post is over. I know there are gobs of stuff that I haven’t touched on, but I have only so much space and time. The short of it is that I think we’re jumping from the pan and into the fire by going after Apple and the publishers, and shifting power towards Amazon. They’re not a cuddly gentle giant looking to do right by readers everywhere, they’ll looking to make just as much money and grab as much power as anyone else. They can’t be trusted, just as we know we can’t really trust Wal Mart, and the effects of shopping with them are larger than we may initially perceive. If things continue, I won’t be surprised to see more brick and mortar stores close, publishing houses fail, and the quality of products (literature) slip, while the Cult of Amazon grows.Personally, I find it to be a bit of an ugly future.