Monthly Archives: January 2014

On Amazon’s Christian Imprint

Marcia Z. Nelson -- January 30th, 2014


21172-2Whoa, I thought, on hearing the news that Amazon’s publishing operation was beginning a Christian imprint. Let me check in with my Christian publishing pals and see what they have to say about this.

I’ve already heard some choice words in various publishing and bookselling circles about the Seattle behemoth/innovator/dreamer-of-drones. (Here’s a nicely typical roundup of diverging opinion from a panel at London Book Fair 2013, and this year’s worries expressed at DBW 2014.)  So I was a little surprised when opinionated, intelligent, and articulate publishing executives responded with very loud silence.

On reflection, I shouldn’t have been. I remembered a time when I’d been at a gathering of publishing executives that also included a lawyer who was there to make sure any statements made about Amazon couldn’t be construed as, heaven and DoJ forfend, collusion or antitrustworthy. I had to think about questions I was going to ask. I also had to laugh.

There’s prudence in public and candor in private, always a challenge for a reporter but always negotiable. I’m a big fan of measured public speech; I prefer precision over fightin’ soundbitin’. But after a certain point, if there’s an 800-pound gorilla in the room, you have to wonder (and if you’re a journalist you get paid to wonder): Is somebody going to say something? Or is the gorilla perhaps chilling the conversation? After all, a lot of people do business with the gorilla, even if they don’t like his behavior or how much they must feed him to get help selling their books. Maybe it’s not a good idea to annoy or, worse, argue with the gorilla, since he’s a lot bigger than you.

I’ll stop with the gorilla analogy; those who argue for the adaptability, innovation, and fresh air that has been forced on a trade too enamored of hidebound ways and hardbound editions will find the comparison pejorative or prejudicial. But I won’t back away from my point that this is worth discussing in public.

It’s worth saying, as did Mark Kuyper of ECPA, the Christian publishing trade group: “Amazon’s decision to launch a Christian imprint is not surprising given the expansion of their publishing program over the last few years. Of course, this continues the bifurcation of our publishers’ relationship with them as a key retailer and a publishing competitor.” Kuyper rightly and politely points to tensions this imprint launch exacerbates, and perhaps there are special problems that bear revelation. Aside from competition, exactly what are the publishers afraid of? What dark Amazon plans are afoot?

There are, of course, more benign things to be said about Amazon’s new venture:

  • There’s money to be made in this healthy market segment;
  • The more the merrier; greater competition can benefit some players (authors, for one);
  • Heads up! A major player is gearing up for more activity in a market segment; and
  • It’s complicated.

So no, I’m not complaining about an article I didn’t write because no-comment does not a scintillating story make. I got this blog entry, which allows me to be more candid, and that’s the point to be made here and about countless other matters that rightly ought to prompt lively discussion among stakeholders. Speak up! Is that a gorilla I see, or does he just need a haircut? And please, hold the drones.

Houdini’s Gambit: The Confabulist

Seth Satterlee -- January 29th, 2014
confabulistAt lunch in a dim West Village cellar, Steven Galloway tells a story from his childhood of a favorite uncle, suited and sporting a fedora, who once let him win at a game of checkers. He can remember it vividly; he even remembers knowing what his uncle is doing and not protesting. It’s better than winning! Being someone who he lets win. Though brief, the memory stayed with Galloway as a pivotal moment, an early triumph, until he tried recounting it to a family member only to learn the uncle had died before his birth. “I’d made it up completely, but was convinced—I still kind of am. It’s one of my most important memories.”

Houdini_in_chains_restoredIn The ConfabulistGalloway’s second novel which publishes in May, the protagonist has similar troubles—but with many more memories. Due to a rare neurological condition, his mind is fabricating stories to replace the realily of his past. Never incoherent, these fabrications make up a linear and completely false history, one in which he tells us in the opening pages: “I didn’t just kill Harry Houdini. I killed him twice.”

Thrilling, sly, and filled with dramatic moments behind the curtain, The Confabulist considers counterfeit memory, the nature of assumptions, and the vast trickery of Houdini’s legendary performances. Opening with the unstable narrator, Galloway jumps between his story and the story of Houdini, whose incendiary tactics capitalized on these gaps in human cognition. The Confabulist is both a meditation on the the vagaries of the mind and an adventure ride through the elaborate deceptions Houdini has come to epitomize.

Galloway is somewhat nervous his book won’t go over well with The Alliance of Magicians, but says he’s confident they can’t pin the unveiling of Houdini tricks on him: “Most of them you can find already, if you Google long enough. Except the the Water Torture Cell. There seems to be a consensus not to reveal that one.”  With breakthroughs in neuroscience rising exponentially as of late, the subject matter feels very much of it’s time. Houdini’s story though—in Galloway’s clever hands—feels almost timeless.

Baker Street Irregulars in Print

Peter Cannon -- January 28th, 2014

One of the benefits of attending the annual Baker Street Irregulars dinner, as I did on January 17, is receiving a packet of dozens of printed materials related to Sherlock Holmes. These range from the evening’s program and scion society journals to such items as bookmarks and postcards produced by individual BSI members. Here’s a small sampling:

A color folder for the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, developed by Exhibits Development Group and Geoffrey M. Curley + Associates in collaboration with the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd., the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and the Museum of London. Currently in Portland, Ore., this interactive exhibition displays more than 300 original artifacts, including manuscript pages from The Hound of the Baskervilles and costumes from the TV show Elementary. It will be traveling to the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, next month. For curatorial questions and future bookings, e-mail

A flyer celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the 1939 film adaptation that introduced Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson. Limited to 221 copies, this comes with compliments from the Curious Collectors of Baker Street and the Los Angeles Sherlock Holmes Society, among others. (In my view, this movie is quite a faithful version of the classic novel, marred only by the Hollywood ending.)

A photocopy of a two-page typed letter addressed to the Priory Scholars from a 10-year-old boy expressing interest in joining this New York City scion organization. “My mom gave me a copy of what she called the Cannon [sic] for Christmas this year,” he writes, “and I have already read most of it!” (An insertion in a different font urges: “Make sure to finish!”) The welcoming response at the bottom of the second page is signed: “Canonically yours, The Faculty of Priory Scholars of NYC.”

The text of a song titled “We Never Mention Aunt Clara,” which opens: “She used to sing hymns in the village church choir.” Some amusingly suggestive lyrics follow. According to the woman sitting next to me, this song is a tradition at meetings of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (aka ASH), for many years the female counterpart to the BSI back in the old days when Irregulars were all male. Members of both sexes rose and gave a hearty rendition of “Aunt Clara” at this year’s dinner.

“H.P.L., Consulting Detective,” a pamphlet written by Leslie S. Klinger, compiler of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Klinger, whose The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft is due from W.W. Norton in October, comments on the many links between horror writer Lovecraft and Conan Doyle’s creation. He concludes by comparing the famous words of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred found in the Necronomicon—“That is not dead which can eternal lie”—to the line about Holmes and Watson from Vincent Starrett’s poem 221b: “Here dwell together still two men of note who never lived and so can never die.” This astute and original observation bodes well for Klinger’s Lovecraft tome.

Mainframe Bookselling and Internet Commerce

Peter Brantley -- January 27th, 2014

dec pdp-11At the American Library Association meeting in Philadelphia this week, I was asked to give a talk with Ginger Clark of Curtis, Brown on the author-library relationship for ALA’s Digital Content Working Group. I enjoyed our panel; after Ginger covered the basics of what agents do for authors, we both wound up discussing the boom in self-publishing, particularly in genres with avid readers such as romance and science-fiction. Continue reading

Been Down So Long

Peter Brantley -- January 25th, 2014

Barnes & Noble store closing
A couple of weeks ago, the science fiction writer Hugh Howey wrote a pair of pugnacious “Here’s what I would do” posts on how to reform “Big 5″ trade publishing. Most of his suggestions are fist-pumping common sense to industry observers: e.g., release formats as soon as they are ready, don’t window e-books or paperbacks; eliminate the returns system for bookstores; ditch “do not compete” clauses in contracts which hinder adjustment of digital royalty rates; and generally speaking, “GIVE READERS WHAT THEY WANT.”

These blog pieces are terrific reads and highly recommended, though there are impediments to adopting some of these changes. And there’s one presumption that seems like a real doozy: Knowing that a large portion of book sales are still in paper, Howey assumes the continued existence of bookstores. Continue reading

A Personal Top 10 List

Jessamine Chan -- January 24th, 2014

Back in December, there was a Facebook prompt going around that asked users to: “List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be ‘right’ or ‘great’ books, just the ones that have touched you.” This flurry of tagging and posting meant that my news feed happily contained book recommendations for a solid week. Here’s my list, an inspiration for all you PWxyz readers to post your chosen titles in the comments below, or at the very least, find some great winter reads.

w heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: I like my love stories filled with foundling children, stormy weather, ghosts, late-night head-banging against trees, and yearning. No one does yearning better than the Brontës.


wide sargassoWide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: A “pre-quel” to Jane Eyre, this is the story of Bertha Mason and her marriage to Mr. Rochester. Add to my above preferences: fire.



Continue reading

The 11 Most Anticipated Book Adaptations of 2014

Gabe Habash -- January 22nd, 2014

Allright, allright, last year’s top 10 book to film adaptations picks came out 50-50: a few picks flopped (The Host–remember? That was a movie! And it came out less than a year ago!), a few brought in billions and billions as expected (Catching Fire), one offended everyone (The Wolf of Wall Street), and we’re still waiting on two movies that were supposed to come out in 2013 (Winter’s Tale and A Most Wanted Man). Hey, at least the list didn’t turn out as bad as The Counselor.

2014 will be better, I promise. And to make up for last year’s 10, there’s a bonus pick below. Here are 11 surefire winners.

Just missed the cut: Under the Skin, the moody alien movie where Scarlett Johansson is the alien; Black Mass, the Whitey Bulger movie that may or may not star Johnny Depp but likely won’t be out this year; Divergent, the biggest YA adaptation that’s not below; The Body Artist, the adaptation of DeLillo’s novella, starring Sigourney Weaver.

11. A Most Wanted Man (TBA 2014)

I know I’m breaking my rule of no repeats by putting A Most Wanted Man on 2013 and 2014, but I’m just going to let the trailer make the case. And if it’s anywhere near as good as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it deserves a place in the top 10 of 2014.

A Most Wanted Man is still based on the book by John le Carré and still stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, and Daniel Brühl.

10. The Two Faces of January (Spring 2014)


If you’re a Patricia Highsmith fan, 2014 brings not only an adaptation of her novel Carol (starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara), but of The Two Faces of January, starring Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst.

The film takes place in 1962 with an American couple (Mortensen and Dunst) visiting Greece and meeting a scam artist (Isaac). Highsmithian intrigue follows. January is the directorial debut of Hossein Amini, probably best known for doing the Drive screenplay.

9. Far from the Madding Crowd (Spring 2014)


The fourth screen version of Thomas Hardy’s classic stars Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts/Michael Sheen/Tom Sturridge as the three males who are romantically interested in her. Drama ensues. What makes this version particularly interesting is director Thomas Vinterberg, who just put out one of 2013′s best movies, The Hunt. Continue reading

6 Famously Banned Books: Enemies of the State

Seth Satterlee -- January 16th, 2014

Authorities find lots of reasons to suppress books that don’t follow the right politics. Blasphemous! Amoral! Obscene! This has been going on a long time, and happens to the best of us. Although it’s never really a good idea to openly question the state, usually they can find a reason to come for you and your book anyway.  In fact, it can be especially brutal if you try to make the critique subtle or subversive, as opposed to rushing for the front gate. Authorities can go to bizarre lengths to remove the bad apples. Here are some particularly rotten examples.

V.S. Naipaul

An Area of Darkness was published in 1964, less than 20 years into Indian independence. The fledgling nation despised the social critique offered by the Trinidadian writer and, with the fragile economy struggling, such detailed critiques frightened officials. Although Naipaul eventually found his calling with fiction, it’s this early work that set the tone for his controversial career.


Graham Greene

The lesser the power, the more creative the retribution.  After publication of Greene’s 1966 novel set in Haiti, The Comedians, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier denounced the book as propaganda and declared Greene Haiti’s Public Enemy Number 1. Running out of ideas, Duvalier commissioned his Ministry of Foreign Affairs to print a repudiation: “Graham Greene Finally Exposed.” Suffice it to say, the pamphlet wasn’t nearly as convincing as The Comedians.

Isaac Babel


Many fell victim to Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930′s. Babel’s slight to the Red Tsar was two-fold however. His gory and bleak Red Cavalry is a masterful war narrative of atrocities committed by Cossack armies during the Polish-Soviet War. But it was Babel’s affair with the wife of a secret police chief that sealed his fate. He was shot in 1940.


Salman Rushdie

Rushdie is possibly the most famous exile alive. Since his publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988 and the issuing of a fatwa by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Rushdie has lived with the vitriol that comes with insulting the Islamic prophet.  He might not be welcome in half the world, but seems to get along well with America.



James Joyce

Maybe he didn’t receive death threats like the others, but Joyce suffered persecution from an international authority: US censorship.  In the land of the free, his iconic work Ulysses had been pirated for years before the book finally went on trial for the obscenity charges that kept it from publication. Joyce’s success was a deep crack in the growing wall of US authority over creative work.


Allen Ginsburg

Like Ulysses, Howl came at just the right time to force the censor’s hand. Riddled with anti-America rhetoric, street drugs, and eroticism–homo-eroticism in particular–Ginsberg’s poem was a salvo in the Fifties culture wars.  And like everything else in the US, the question of whether Howl should be considered ‘art’ fell to the courts.

Speaking of Orson

Everett Jones -- January 15th, 2014


orson welles and roger hill

Last year saw the publication of two entries in a very (to my knowledge) small genre: book-length conversations with Orson Welles. My Lunches with Orson, from Metropolitan Books, captures Welles during lunches in Hollywood in the 1980s with fellow filmmaker Henry Jaglom. As edited by veteran showbiz journalist Peter Biskind (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls) their talks give full rein to Welles’s famous ego and temper. He blithely badmouths his Hollywood peers (with Hitchcock and Chaplin coming in for much of the abuse), indulges in the semi-facetious character assassination of entire ethnic groups and sexual orientations, and generally acts like the world’s oldest enfant terrible. Caustic but compulsively readable, this infectiously quotable book found plenty of readers, and media attention, on its release, but I’d like to also speak up for Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts by Todd Tarbox, from BearManor Media.

Released with far less fanfare, this book shows the great man at around the same period of his life: near the end of it, in the early 1980s, when he was still taking journeyman acting jobs and pursuing never-to-be-realized projects like the autobiographical The Cradle Will Rock (eventually filmed after Welles’s death). His conversation partner, Hill, is not another Hollywood pro like Jaglom, however, but a longtime friend, from long before he was “Orson Welles,” and his onetime teacher, at the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Ill. The author is Hill’s grandson, and his project is clearly personal; he gives equal attention to the world-famous Orson Welles and the accomplishments of his non-celebrity grandfather, who went on to serve as the Todd School’s headmaster for three decades. A bigger-profile book, like My Lunches with Orson, would likely have kept the reader’s attention narrowly focused on its famous subject. By comparison with Biskind’s book, Orson Welles and Roger Hill is free of any sensational, viral-ready quotes. It has its own value, though: in Welles’s conversations with Hill (whom he remained in touch with and friends with over the course of a life spent burning through friendships and relationships with the famous likes of John Houseman and Rita Hayworth), you get the sense of a brilliant person who doesn’t feel any need to be “on.”


Simon Singh’s The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets: Homer Simpson Does the Math

Peter Cannon -- January 14th, 2014

simpsonsLast month, while browsing in the shop of Manhattan’s National Museum of Mathematics, I discovered Simon Singh’s The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, recently published by Bloomsbury. As both a Simpsons and a math fan, I suddenly knew what book I wanted for Christmas. Happily, I found it under the family tree on December 25.

Singh, author of a number of popular science books, surveys the many mathematical in-jokes that have appeared over the years in The Simpsons as well as its sister show, Futurama. For example, in one episode, “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,” an equation appears on Homer’s blackboard that shows the sum of two distinct four-digit numbers, each raised to the 12th power, equal to a third four-digit number also raised to the 12th power. If true, this would violate Fermat’s famous last theorem, the subject of Singh’s 1997 book, Fermat’s Enigma. In 1995, Andrew Wiles of Princeton University proved Fermat’s centuries-old conjecture that no equation of this form exists for any exponent greater than two. But the left-hand and right-hand sides of Homer’s equation are close, so close that if you do the math on a standard calculator you get equality.

I was pleased, if not surprised, to learn that David S. Cohen, the writer who contributed the blackboard math to “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,” and other writers for The Simpsons were fans from an early age of Martin Gardner, whose autobiography, Undiluted Hocus-Pocus, I covered in my blog of November 26, 2013. This isn’t a book for kids, but they may enjoy the easier “joke” exams it contains (e.g., Q: What did the number 0 say to the number 8?; A: Nice belt!).