Monthly Archives: August 2012

14 Underrated Books (Readers’ Picks)

Gabe Habash -- August 30th, 2012

Earlier this week, we took to Twitter and asked you, our readers, what one book you loved and thought more people should read using the hashtag #underratedbook. We picked some of our favorite responses below, and have included our PW review where applicable. Be sure to take a look at the hashtag for the complete list of underrated books–you just might find a great book you’d never heard about.


PW Review of In Pharaoh’s Army



PW Review of The Believers



PW Review of Waltz of the Asparagus People


PW Review of The End of the Alphabet



PW Review of The Flamenco Academy




PW Review of The Rings of Saturn


PW Review of A Long Way Gone


PW Review of The Long Walk



 PW Review of Pandora in the Congo


Paid Book Reviewer Goes Down Honest Path

Gabe Habash -- August 28th, 2012

The current hot issue in publishing is paid book reviews, initially incited by David Streitfeld’s “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy” that appeared in the New York Times over the weekend and profiled Jason Rutherford’s (now an inactive domain)–a service that was pulling in $28,000 a month for writing reviews of books commissioned by their authors.

The issue grew early this week, with Salon taking on the underlying issue here–self-publishing’s uphill battle for respect.

But on the afternoon of August 27, shortly after the Times piece initially ran, things took a stranger turn: an email containing a press release from Rutherford appeared in inboxes of Publishers Weekly. The email’s subject line: “NY Times Story on Paid Book Reviews Makes a Splash.” In the message, Rutherford promoted the Times article, citing online traffic stats and touting Streitfeld’s profile as “extensive” and “far longer than a traditional newspaper piece. The Reason? Rutherford’s story was so compelling that it mandated more detail and attention.”

The end of the message mentions how “blown away” Rutherford was at the response to the Times article, as well as closing with this sentence:

Rutherford is currently planning a comeback in book publicity, but “in a way that doesn’t offend Google or Amazon”.

Email sent by Rutherford to Publishers Weekly. Click to enlarge.

The email, meant to drum up more interest in Rutherford and his “comeback,” is a clear sign that he doesn’t think he’s committed any fault and further reinforces the image of an individual who’s only aware of his enterprises, not of his enterprises’ context or their consequences. In other words, he’s out of touch with reality (in a way that’s reminiscent of “publisher” PublishAmerica). Rutherford’s email is evidence that he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with manipulating the system if it allows him to manipulate it. The only problem is that he doesn’t seem aware that he’s been caught.

Dark Corners of the Book-Related Internet II

Gabe Habash -- August 27th, 2012

Welcome to Dark Corners of the Book-Related Internet, where we distill hours of book-related internet searching into 5 little tidbits we think you’ll love. Have a good week, everyone.

1. The half-done annotation to Nabokov’s most allusive work, Ada. In other words, it’s almost more frustrating that the great Brian Boyd annotated only half of the Nabokov novel that most begs for an annotation.

2. This amazing essay about a writer’s envy of the success of her writer boyfriend (who also happens to be a certain someone you probably know).

3. Can you name the poets who wrote the 20 most anthologized English-language poems? (and if you don’t feel like playing the game, here are the 20 most anthologized poems)

4. Rosecrans Baldwin on the thing that every single writer does.

5. Everyone probably already saw this cute kid reciting Billy Collins by memory, but it’s worth watching again because it’s a cute kid reciting Billy Collins by memory:

Click here for more great book finds in dark corners.

The Kids Are Alright: Making New Stories

Peter Brantley -- August 23rd, 2012

There has been much discussion recently on the future of book design. Much of the debate centers around whether explicitly defined packaging such as EPUB or EPUB3 is necessary to contain an ebook, as opposed to “books” that live on the open web as networked resources. Obviously there are advantages for commercial publishing firms to preserve the constraints of packaging in order to sell goods (as opposed to services), and there are also good arguments for the portability and preservation of an author’s expressed intent. My own prejudices tend to run towards an assumption that authoring for the web, particularly as growing HTML5 support permits more advanced rendering and user interaction, will ultimately be a more compelling design experience.

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Every Word I Learned from ‘Infinite Jest’

Gabe Habash -- August 23rd, 2012

That picture above is an index of page numbers with words I didn’t know in Infinite Jest. So basically, I just added more information to a whopping book of information. I’d be curious to know how many of these words you guys know, and whether other readers of IJ kept a similar list. One of the pleasures of reading the book for me was keeping this list and discovering that such varied bits of existence had such specific words to name them. Looking through a copy of Both Flesh and Not, which has Wallace’s essays separated by two pages of his vocab words, brought back a pretty warm memory of how much fun it was to read IJ‘s sentences.

Before we begin, some thoughts:

It should be noted that this list doesn’t include most of the hyper-scientific or hyper-medical terms because, well, I think my head would’ve blown a gasket.

Something you might notice: “agnate” is on here three times. That’s because I didn’t know “agnate” on page 91 and when it came up again on page 151, I still didn’t know it, and when it came up again on page 382 as “agnation,” I still didn’t know it. (Same thing happened with “scrofulous.” And “saprogenic.” And “lordotic.”) In that way, I suppose the title of this post is a lie.

Nonetheless, below you’ll find some pretty difficult vocabulary. If you want to know the most difficult passage of the book, my vote would go to pages 322-333, in which the details of Eschaton are laid out (which was supposedly Wallace’s favorite part of the book). If I had to estimate, I’d say those 11 pages took me an hour and a half to read.

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Amazon’s Election Heat Map 2012

Gabe Habash -- August 21st, 2012

Amazon has released an “Election Heat Map” for 2012, a map of the U.S., updated daily, which shows bestselling political books by state–separated into blue (liberal) and red (conservative) categories.

According to Amazon, 56% of political books being purchased are “red” and 44% “blue.”

The top 10 “blue” books, as of August 21:

  1. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  2. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  3. The New New Deal by Michael Grunwald (Kindle)
  4. The New New Deal (hardcover)
  5. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  6. The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz (hardcover)
  7. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
  8. The Price of Inequality (Kindle)
  9. Days of Destruction by Chris Hedges
  10. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

The top 10 “red books are:

  1. The Amateur by Edward Klein (Kindle)
  2. Fool Me Twice by Aaron Klein and Brenda Elliott (Kindle)
  3. Fool Me Twice (hardcover)
  4. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Kindle)
  5. The Amateur (hardcover)
  6. Obama’s America by Dinesh D’Souza
  7. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (Kindle)
  8. Leading from Behind by Richard Miniter (Kindle)
  9. Killing Lincoln (hardcover)
  10. Atlas Shrugged (paperback)

For the candidates’ books over the past 30 days, Obama’s The Audacity of Hope is outselling Romney’s No Apology, but Ryan’s Young Guns is outselling Biden’s Promises to Keep.

Washington D.C. is the “bluest” part of the country with 78% of purchases swinging left; Mississippi is the “reddest” with 72% of books swinging right.

What Books Were We Reading in 1995?

Gabe Habash -- August 16th, 2012

One of the hidden gems in Amazon’s vast metropolis is its bestselling books of the year, which combines all the daily bestseller charts for the year into one big list representing that calendar year’s top-selling books. The feature, luckily for us, goes back to 1995. Let’s take a look at whether our online book buying habits in the time of America Online and what Wikipedia says was the rejuvenation of “the hippie look” were foolish or smart.

Amazon’s top 10 books in 1995 were:

1. How to Set Up and Maintain a World Wide Web Site: The Guide for Information Providers by Lincoln D. Stein

2. A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper by John Allen Paulos

3. Brightness Reef by David Brin

4. Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway by Clifford Stoll

5. The Dark and Deadly Pool by Joan Lowery Nixon

6. Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte

7. Learning the Unix Operating System by Jerry Peek

8. Emblems of Mind: The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics by Edward Rothstein

9. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought by Douglas R. Hofstadter

10. The Bold Vegetarian: 150 Inspired International Recipes

There are a few things this list tells us. Namely, that the world hadn’t started using online shopping yet–that explains the narrow range of topics. Also: the most common Amazon customer was already familiar with web technology (or aspired to be), or was a vegetarian David Brin fan. In fact, over a quarter of the top 100 were either directly or indirectly related to technology–meaning people (or at least the average 1995 Amazon user) took to the web to learn more about the web. This included a huge boon for sci-fi or fiction with a technology angle, as the top 100 saw books like Isaac Asimov’s Gold and Greg Egan’s Permutation City (“Someone has blocked the bail-out option. And you know who did it. You did. The other you. The real you. The one that wants to keep you here forever.”) placing highly.

But what about other highlights on the list? Here’s a rundown.

-Bill Gates’s The Road Ahead was the #12 bestselling book of the year. In case you want to catch the fever, there’s still time: here are 50 copies selling for a penny, and a couple more selling for double that.

-Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid was #15, meaning a lot of people were really concerned about looking smart.

-A Dilbert book topped a Calvin and Hobbes book.

-Just enough people read The Art of War for it to beat out the book immediately behind it, a guide to cooperative living.

-The Big Book of Weirdos reached #37. One has to think that if it were a little weirder, or maybe a little bigger, it could’ve topped Snow Falling on Cedars.

-Politically Correct Holiday Stories was #51, giving us a pretty specific indication of what we found funny in 1995. Compare author James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (still in print!) with Go the F*ck to Sleep, the #8 bestselling book on Amazon in 2011. They’re like Mr. Glass and Bruce Willis.

-The Patrick O’Brian Calendar for 1996 made it to #92, making it the most profitable halfhearted gift of 1995!

Lending literacy

Peter Brantley -- August 14th, 2012

In early August, a heated reaction to an online ebook lending website, Lendink, unleashed a storm of complaints to Amazon and an avalanche of DMCA take down notices. The campaign was launched and accelerated via Twitter; it sadly represented a misunderstanding of how the allegedly infringing site operated; the policies of major ebook retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble; the intent of both publishers and many authors; and how lending works.

As recently reported by Violet Blue in C|Net, Lendink was a site built by a disabled army vet “who created a person-to-person e-mail request system where e-book fans could find out about lend-enabled books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and contact each other to arrange loans on titles they wanted to read.” This type of lending is an opt-in permitted by publishers for many mainstream titles; books published at the 70 percent royalty rate through the KDP program are automatically lendable. The Lendink site simply connected existing purchasers of books willing to lend their books, with people seeking to borrow them. Essentially, Lendink facilitated the creation of a supra-network of avid readers beyond immediate friends and family. Continue reading

Bad Writing Award Winners Announced

Gabe Habash -- August 13th, 2012

The winners for the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have been announced, giving us this year’s best worst writing. The winner this year was Cathy Bryant of Manchester, England, who came up with this beautiful dud:

As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.

The annual contest awards the writers who can conceive of the very worst opening sentences imaginable. Started in 1982 at San Jose State University, the Bulwer-Lytton awards are a nod to the novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose “It was a dark and stormy night” begins with the following:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

Here are some other winners from this year’s awards. Click here for the full list of awfulness.

She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on … not with good paint, like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and – just like that cheap paint – the dress needed two more coats to cover her. — Sue Fondrie, Appleton, WI

They still talk about that fateful afternoon in Abilene, when Dancing Dan DuPre moonwalked through the doors of Fat Suzy’s saloon, made a passable reverse-turn, pirouetted twice followed by a double box-step, somersaulted onto the bar, drew his twin silver-plated Colt-45s and put twelve bullets through the eyes of the McLuskey sextuplets, on account of them varmints burning down his ranch and lynching his prize steer. — Ted Downes, Cardiff, U.K.

William, his senses roused by a warm fetid breeze, hoped it was an early spring’s equinoxal thaw causing rivers to swell like the blood-engorged gumlines of gingivitis, loosening winter’s plaque, exposing decay, and allowing the seasonal pot-pouris of Mother Nature’s morning breath to permeate the surrounding ether, but then he awoke to the unrelenting waves of his wife’s halitosis. — Guy Foisy, Orleans, Ontario

As I gardened, gazing towards the autumnal sky, I longed to run my finger through the trail of mucus left by a single speckled slug – innocuously thrusting past my rhododendrons – and in feeling that warm slime, be swept back to planet Alderon, back into the tentacles of the alien who loved me. — Mary E. Patrick, Lake City, SC


6 Authors Who Never Quit Their Day Jobs

Gabe Habash -- August 9th, 2012

We all know about the non-writing day jobs authors have had to shoulder in order to keep writing.  But none of those authors kept their jobs after they made it big–why would Steinbeck keep giving tours of a fish hatchery after writing The Grapes of Wrath? However, there are some authors out there who kept their honest work for the duration of their careers, either because of calling or (in one case) necessity.  Here are the authors who never quit their day jobs.


William Carlos Williams

Day Job: Doctor

William Carlos Williams got his medical degree in 1906 and published his first book, Poems, in 1909. For the next forty years, he was a doctor in Rutherford, New Jersey–and he also produced some of the most important poetry of the century. In his autobiography, answering the question of how he found time to write while carrying on an active business, Williams said: “One occupation complements the other, they are two parts of a whole, it is not two jobs at all, one rests the man when the other fatigues him.” Indeed, his daily experiences as a doctor were a main influence on his writing.


Wallace Stevens

Day Job: Insurance Executive

In perhaps the most direct refusal to trade in a 9-to-5 for a laurel-resting “prestige” position you’ll find on this list, Stevens turned down an offer from Harvard following his 1955 Pulitzer because he would’ve been forced to give up his vice-presidency position at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. Stevens began his career in 1904 as a lawyer, but the bulk of his professional time (nearly 40 years) went to the Hartford, where he started in 1916. He published his first book of poems, Harmonium, in 1923, but it went largely unnoticed. The birth of his daughter Holly in 1924 was one of the main reasons Stevens took a long hiatus from writing poetry seriously, but he resumed in 1933, beginning the most productive phase of his writing career.

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