Monthly Archives: October 2012

PW Best Books 2012: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

John A. Sellers -- October 26th, 2012

Leading up to the November 5th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2012, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

It’s hard not to feel like we’re in the middle of a Golden Age for young adult literature. Amid the hundreds of writers turning out intelligent, thoughtful, and beautiful books for teenagers every year, a few seem to catch readers by surprise (or me, at any rate) with every book they turn out. Libba Bray leaps to mind. M.T. Anderson belongs on the list. So does A.S. King.

True, King’s previous books have also paired the struggles of contemporary teenagers with surreal plot elements and unexpected narrative departures (cameos by Socrates happen to figure into this one), but the stories themselves feel worlds apart. PW’s review called Ask the Passengers “one of the best coming-out novels in years,” but that doesn’t really do it justice—this is a philosophical, honest, passionate, and very funny story about figuring out how love works and what it even means. That said, it’s also hard to remember a recent novel that so eloquently describes the conflicts and pressures, both internal and external, that often go hand in hand with coming out. It’s not easy, and it’s not a cure-all.

When the novel opens, readers learn that Astrid likes to lie on her family’s picnic table—summer, winter, whatever—and send her love to passengers flying overhead in airplanes. “Because if I give it all away, then no one can control it,” she says. “Because if I give it all away, I’ll be free.” What makes this act so heartbreaking? For me, it’s the underlying truth that it can be so much easier to release one’s love into the void than to give it to those closest—the parent, the friend, the boy or girl standing in front of you. What makes it so hopeful is that that same love is out there, and it might just find you when you need it.

For kids facing bullying, homophobia, or a loneliness they just don’t know how to find their way around, this book is a lifeline.

PW Best Books 2012: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Louisa Ermelino -- October 25th, 2012

Leading up to the November 5th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2012, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

Junot, Junot, Junot….might the Diaz juggernaut be slowing down? Fat chance, although now that he’s been passed over for the Nobel, where else is there left to go? Will he end up like Alexander the Great, in that tale of dubious veracity, sitting down and crying because there are no more worlds to conquer?  Nah, Diaz will be fine because he’s a writer and if we can all hold our breath long enough, he‘ll deliver another book and keep dazzling us all. I’m betting a novel this time, if he meant it when he said “I hope to never write a short story again because they are incredibly difficult.” But he makes it look easy in this latest collection This is How You Lose Her and he’s disappointed no one despite the long wait. Junot has a voice, and a confidence and he’s angry and endearing both. He wants us to know who he is and where he came from and he does it with stories that take us to the world he landed in when he came from the Dominican Republic as a young boy. He’s the voice of the new immigrant, the one who made it; he’s Ivy League educated, he’s won the Pulitzer, he teaches at MIT in blanco New England. He’s outside his early world, remembering, adapting, absorbing, and telling us where he came from.

In This is How You Lose Her, we follow Yunior, who first appeared in Drown. Yunior has a way with the ladies but he’s a cheater, a liar, and his girlfriend, Magdalena, in the first story “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars”, considers him “a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole.” And he proves her and all the others, correct, right up to the last story, the very best, in my opinion, although there’s truly not a sleeper in the bunch. “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” is where the hens come home to roost when our “batshit cuero” spirals into the hell of unrequited love after his email trash can reveals that he’s been with fifty girls during his supposedly committed courtship. The seven stories in between cover family (a dying brother), more women (including Mami) and in “Otravida, Otravez,” the narrator is a woman: “Yasmin, he says. His mustache is against my ear, sawing at me.” Yasmin’s lover has a wife back in Santo Domingo, and when he tells her about a fatal accident at the factory where he works and what would she do if he had been killed, she says nothing: “I set my face against him; he has known the wrong women if he expects more.” Unlike Diaz, who gives us all he’s got.

PW Best Books 2012: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Peter Cannon -- October 24th, 2012

Leading up to the November 5th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2012, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

Soon after PW reviewed Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, I heard from the book’s publicist. Everyone was thrilled with the starred review, but there was concern that it gave too much away—to wit, that the female lead, Amy Elliott, was evil. The freelancer, whom I asked for comment, made what I thought was a good case for the review as it stood. In essence, readers of Flynn’s previous novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, would be expecting a major female character to be suffering from some disturbing psychological damage and capable of, well, just about anything.

Now that I’ve read and enjoyed this impressive thriller for myself, I can better appreciate the publisher’s point. Those new to this author might regard Amy at first as the innocent victim of a husband who reveals himself to be increasingly feckless in the days that follow his wife’s disappearance from their suburban McMansion on the Mississippi on their fifth wedding anniversary, possibly even capable of her murder. On the other hand, I doubt few will be surprised to learn that the husband is not the killer, that in fact (spoiler alert!) Amy faked her own death—a key plot element that it would have been unfair for the PW review to divulge.

Rest assured those of you who haven’t yet read Gone Girl, Flynn maintains the suspense throughout and offers more than one major twist in the final section before reaching the fitting resolution. And while perfectionist Amy can be trying at times, I have to applaud her urge to champion the use of “I” instead of “me” following a preposition: “They say it’s important for Nick and me (correct grammar) to have some time alone…”

Random House Did Not Mean Own, Exactly

Peter Brantley -- October 23rd, 2012

Words have to be put in context. Last week, Skip Dye, Random House’s VP of Library and Academic Sales, was quoted in Library Journal as saying, “Random House’s often repeated, and always consistent position is this: when libraries buy their RH, Inc. ebooks from authorized library wholesalers, it is our position that they own them.” Along with many others, I had many questions about what RH meant by “own.” I wrote Mr. Dye directly, noting that the Internet Archive was able to cut a check as a registered California library to purchase books for Open Library. Mr. Dye returned my message, and yesterday we had a long conversation, running almost an hour. At the end of our discussion, I better understand how much ownership libraries have of Random House titles: Nada. Libraries don’t own anything. Continue reading

PW Best Books 2012: Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan

Sam Slaton -- October 23rd, 2012

Leading up to the November 5th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2012, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

I know nothing about Native Americans. No matter that I grew up next door to what was officially Indian Territory till the incorporation of Oklahoma as the 46th state in 1907 (quite the latecomer considering its central location). Of course I’d learned about Sacagawea and Thanksgiving and maize (which I dismissed back in elementary school in Arkansas as simply the wrong word for corn), but besides that, Indians were merely what my fellow Boy Scouts dressed up as at the end of Scout Camp. They built those mounds for some reason. They owned that casino I wound up at late one night after a wrong turn out of Fort Smith. Tax-free smoke shops for cheap dip and cigarettes.

It’s a shame, really, and I’ve lamented it often—Why didn’t we learn anything in high school? How could they, like, not teach us about INDIANS? Always with a pitiful mix of indignation and a tacit refusal to do anything about it. An education involving Indians was something I felt had been owed me as a child, and I didn’t get it, and now I was old enough and smart enough to bemoan my ignorance. (Thanks, college!) I knew there were books out there, but I never sought them out.

That is, until I picked up Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, the newest from Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winner Timothy Egan. From the first sentence, I was hooked like I’ve never been before:

The last Indian of Seattle lived in a shack down among the greased piers and coal bunkers of the new city, on what was then called West Street, her hovel in the grip of Puget Sound, off plumb in a rise above the tidal flats.

The prose practically drips with the sibilance of the wet Pacific Northwest, angled here and there with fricative rumors of the clash between city and soil, new and old. Like his subject, the renowned yet largely forgotten photographer Edward R. Curtis—self-made man, friend of President Teddy Roosevelt, beneficiary of J.P. Morgan, visionary and driving force behind the 30-year, 20-volume The North American Indian, a stunning work of anthropology, history, and ethnology which the art critic Delores Tarzan Ament esteems as being to photography “what Wagner’s Ring Cycle is to opera”—Egan is a master of his medium. His prose expertly mimics Curtis’ personal and professional development (and the slow coming together of his life’s work), just as Joyce did with his artist—from the ease of “a moocow coming down along the road” to the turmoil of “INTER UBERA MEA COMMORABITUR,” and on into the final stretch of numbered days. The writing is ebullient and vivacious as Curtis undertakes his enormous project (to photographically and textually document every native tribe of the United States and Alaska before their traditions and customs were lost forever), and as he enters into the third decade of work—financially ruined, his marriage in shambles, the First World War come and gone—the sentences put their heads down and get to work in a desperate bid to finish what they started. That might seem high praise for a work of nonfiction, but once again subject and scribe have something in common: a belief that a story must be told accurately, honestly, and beautifully—even if it’s true.


I still don’t know much about Indians—how could I after reading just one book about a rare 20-volume tome that covers less than a quarter of the hundreds of federally recognized tribal entities? Native American history remains, for me, primarily terra incognita. But the same went for Curtis back in 1896 when he took that first, gripping picture of Princess Angeline, “the last Indian of Seattle.” That portrait, and Egan’s tale of the man who made it, are mere glimpses—however brilliant in their own right—of much greater vistas.

PW Best Books 2012: Broken Harbor by Tana French

Mike Harvkey -- October 22nd, 2012

Leading up to the November 5th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2012, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post: 

Over the course of Tana French’s four Dublin Murder Squad novels, a lot has happened. For one, French has become a very good writer. Her last two in the series, Faithful Place and Broken Harbor, are great books; moody, enthralling, truly mysterious, and well-written, with only rare moments of laziness when French leans on too-familiar metaphors. A lot has happened to Ireland too since French wrote her first novel, In the Woods. Published in 2007 in the U.S., that novel mixed a mysterious murder and a decades-old disappearance with economics and politics in the guise of a planned motorway project. Dublin was booming then, the Celtic Tiger at full roar. By Faithful Place, French’s third novel, Dubliners were starting to worry, a bit, about the increasingly unstable real estate market. 

In the Ireland of Broken Harbor, the Tiger is dead, its corpse carpeted by maggots. And the way that the Irish economy, as seen primarily in its boom-bust real estate market, figures in French’s books has also evolved. In Broken Harbor, the failed economy isn’t simply a shady backdrop—it’s motivation for murder. When three of a family of four are killed in their home in a depressingly under-populated seaside housing estate, Detective Mick Kennedy (from Faithful Place) is assigned to solve the case that left only the mother alive, maimed and unable (or is it unwilling?) to speak when the police first visit her in hospital. French saddles Kennedy with a lot of obstacles to create tension: a former workplace screw-up that puts pressure on him to solve this increasingly dark and complicated case; a rookie partner who may not be up to the task; an unstable sister who needs constant care; and a haunted past that connects Kennedy (and his sister) to Broken Harbor—a site now whitewashed into the generic, real estate-friendly “Brianstown” development. Like Jo Nesbo, who grounds his latest tale in Oslo’s economic issues, which have led to a heroin epidemic, French makes expert use of the very real and serious economic problems that her adopted country has faced in recent years.

No one in Ireland is talking about recovery right now, not yet. While this is bad news for the Irish on a daily basis, every year or two, when Tana French turns her mind to Ireland’s troubles, it’s great news for everyone else. 

Random Words of Ownership

Peter Brantley -- October 21st, 2012

readz0r by Flickr user termie
This past week, Michael Kelley, the Editor in Chief of Library Journal, called attention to statements from Random House that suggest that libraries own the books they acquire from distributors such as Overdrive or 3M. Evidently, as far as Random is concerned, distributors are not compelled to enforce license agreements with libraries for Random House titles. Michael quotes Skip Dye, head of library relations at Random, “Random House’s often repeated, and always consistent position is this: when libraries buy their RH, Inc. ebooks from authorized library wholesalers, it is our position that they own them.” Skip goes on to say, “This is our business model: we sell copies of our ebooks to an approved list of library wholesalers, and those wholesalers are supposed to resell them to libraries. In our view, this purchase constitutes ownership of the book by the library. It is not a license.”

Continue reading

Bookshout: Managing Bookshelves, Not Books

Peter Brantley -- October 17th, 2012

books in a stackIn programming languages, there is a crucial concept called a “pointer.” A pointer is a reference to a location in memory where the value of an object, such as a variable or constant, is stored. One often chooses to perform operations on memory locations rather than on objects directly; one can even manipulate pointers to arrays of pointers. I struggled to grasp this concept when I was introduced to programming languages that relied on pointer logic, such as C. Working with older Fortran compilers, I didn’t understand why one might want to reference a variable’s contents instead of operating directly on it. Eventually, I intuited how insanely powerful this tool was, and I never questioned it again.

In the world of e-books, we are still living in the age of Fortran 77. We’re fixated on directly handling ebooks on our dedicated readers or mobile devices – irrespective of whether they are truly owned or only licensed – and we wrestle with the novel control the retailer exerts over digital books even after we purchase them. That’s understandable, given the basis of our prior experience with print books; it certainly suits ebook retailers, who want to continue to own the online relationship with the user. For libraries as well as individuals, having the option of putting one’s hands on the object – even if it is digital – reflects the emotional priorities of ownership as well as the presumably concomitant ability for libraries to preserve content as part of their mission.

The genesis of new companies like Bookshout point us in a new direction. Bookshout provides users with a vendor-neutral bookshelf where a reader can aggregate their content from different retailers onto a common platform. While there remain a lot of questions about how Bookshout will work at scale, it has the support of many publishers who endorse the ability of readers to move their books to a location of their choosing. The retailers – Amazon, Apple, and others – may be less thrilled at the potential circumvention of their heretofore proprietary relationship with purchasers of e-books. Continue reading

Apple Sends Out Invites to Rumored iPad-Mini Event

Craig Morgan Teicher -- October 16th, 2012

If you’ve been following recent tech rumors, then you’ve heard Apple has a roughly 7″ version of its iPad tablet in the works. Rumors say the company is planning to unveil the device, which will compete with smaller tablets like the Kindle Fire and Google Nexus 7, on October 23rd.  Today, Apple sent out invites to the tech media featuring the graphic above (via Engadget) for an event to be held next Tuesday, the 23rd.  Most likely, Apple will be making a strong push into the textbook market with this new device and hoping to lure new iPad users with a lower-priced device.  We’ll keep you posted as we know more.

HathiTrust: A Landmark Copyright Ruling

James Grimmelmann -- October 13th, 2012

The Authors Guild’s lawsuit against Google over book scanning is grinding on into its eighth year. After a settlement, an amended settlement, a rejection of the settlement, and a protracted procedural fight over certifying the case as a class action, it has made almost no substantive progress in front of Judge Chin.  Meanwhile, the Authors Guild’s lawsuit against Google’s HathiTrust library partners has produced a definitive ruling from Judge Baer in little more than a year. What started as a sideshow has become the main event.

And what an event it is! The mainstream media were all over last week’s ho-hum settlement between Google and the AAP but have mostly kept quiet about yesterday’s ruling.  In contrast, the Twitterverse exploded with news of the HathiTrust opinion and hasn’t quieted down yet. The Twitterers have it right: this decision is a big deal.  There are so many winners from the decision, it’s hard to count them all: Continue reading