[Night Bazaar] My essay about Readings and Signings — What They Mean to Novelists at The Night Bazaar: http://night-bazaar.com/readings-and-signings.html
This past weekend, a post by Scott James in the Bay Citizen tipped me off to the rumor that San Francisco’s venerable LGBT bookstore, A Different Light, will likely be closing down this spring. It’s one of the only LGBT bookstores left in the U.S., so its closing, in addition to being significant for many in the San Francisco community, is a hallmark of the collapse of independent and specialty bookstores nationwide.
Modern Times, a great independent and progressive but general-interest bookstore not far away in the Mission, has lost their lease and is closing, albeit, they say, only temporarily. In a widely repeated story that never fails to bring LOLZ among my friends, a Modern Times staffer supposedly once told a customer they didn’t stock Ayn Rand books “on political grounds.”
I won’t claim the Modern Times story about not stocking the right-wing Cato Institute’s spiritual godmommy Ayn Rand isn’t apocryphal, because at this point I can’t remember who said it. But if it is apocryphal, it’s by accident, not by design. Modern Times is an explicitly progressive and aggressively opinionated bookstore with a robust selection of left-wing political treatises, race and class deconstructions and prison literature — in addition to plenty of radical queer texts.
While I imagine some of Rand’s more clueless followers might howl and sob against liberal “censorship” at a store like MT or claim that it’s a “slippery slope” from not stocking Rand to burning Korans, they’d be full of it. Bookstores with agendas choose what to stock. They reflect not just their clientele, but the world they wish to build. In selecting what texts to stock, they create a worldview that attracts the like-minded and helps educate the not-yet-like-minded. All bookstores are political; most of them just don’t know it.
What do we make, then, of A Different Light, a gay bookstore unable to survive on the Gayest Block in the Universe?
If you write fiction, presumably you’re doing it because you like fiction. Presumably your readers like fiction, too, or they’d spend their time doing something productive like raking a compost heap or shaving their eyebrows.
Therefore, connect with your readers as simply that: readers. The rarest of all endangered species, and precious beyond measure. The happiest outcome in book marketing will be if you take the view that your readers want to talk to you as a person, not as some kind of culture god. You only get to be a culture god if you’re British and have improbable hair.
Therefore, as an admitted “reader chauvinist,” I believe the most significant thing I have to contribute to the discussion about marketing is not as a writer. There, I’ve certainly been far less successful than others have. But where I’ve been incredibly successful is in finding awesome books to read throughout my life. So I’m going to give my advice from the perspective of an absolutely obsessive and voracious reader with some of the most phenomenally weird reading tastes of anyone you will ever meet.
Here’s how I’ve found books over the years, and what I think writers, readers, publishers, booksellers, and librarians can learn from it. Ultimately, I’m only one largely irrelevant data point, but if the world wasn’t basically a whole mess of data points, there wouldn’t be a world, right?
When I heard we were expected to make Hugo recommendations in this week’s columns, I thought, “Ummmm…okay. I wonder how I’m going to handle that? I’m reasonably smart. I’m sure I’ll come up with something.”
Well, I’m only unreasonably smart, and this is what I came up with: SQUAT. I just don’t read much contemporary fantasy, science fiction or horror. Since I passionately believe that people should only comment on books they’ve read — and I’ve expressed exactly that sentiment in a histrionic scream on more than one occasion — I can’t give you the name of a single Hugo-worthy book this year. The Graveyard Book, which I read this year and loved, already won last year. Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues, a magnificent book that would have been eligible in the nonfiction category before 1998, was published in 2009 and in any event is not a “Related Work,” the category that replaced “Nonfiction Book.” READ THE REST OF THIS POST ON THE NIGHT BAZAAR.
A kerfuffle has erupted recently among authors of erotica who have published Kindle titles on Amazon.com. It turns out that those featuring content that violates Amazon’s notoriously vague “content guidelines” have been removed not only from Amazon’s catalog but from the Kindles of customers that have already bought that title.
…As a writer, I frankly don’t give a damn.
But I read a hell of a lot more than I write. From a consumer’s perspective, this trend is completely new, and is phenomenally dangerous. It must not be allowed.
In fact I would say that, as a buyer of books, Amazon’s trend of retroactively canceling sales and removing work from your virtual bookshelf is absolutely catastrophic. It renders Amazon completely unacceptable as a retailer. In the case, for instance, of a CD that I buy, then legally rip, then illegally distribute as a set of MP3s, it takes legal action to hold me liable for that.
If Amazon’s position is that their sale to you can be rescinded at any time without notifying you, it has ceased to be a retailer. It can’t even claim to be a library, because libraries are (nowadays, usually) free. It is, at best, the on-demand equivalent of a radio station, except most radio stations are free, too. Why would one pay for the temporary use of a piece of text that they might have snatched from their computer at any time, when in the vast majority of cases they could obtain the same text for the same price from a company that doesn’t have a history of changing its mind and taking its purchase back?
Again, I will deliver my opinion explicitly, in case anyone missed it: Amazon must not remove from customers’ Kindles books they have already sold to them.
Amazon, either lock down your content at the starting gate, or take your lumps when you profit from the sale of something you’re uncomfortable profiting from.
The Rare Coin Score is the ninth of Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels, written under the name Richard Stark. The Rare Coin Score is, to my mind, the absolute pinnacle of a heist novel.
It represents what Donald E. Westlake did exceedingly well: it aspires to be nothing more than it is, merely the tightest, nastiest crime novel possible, with enough rich detail and unexpected twists to just plain blast off the page. In doing so, it thoroughly transcends the genre and becomes one of the existential touchstones of 20th America. And yes, I’m saying that with a straight face.
As Luc Sante said of Westlake’s Parker books: “These books practically read themselves.”
This is one of the best damn heist novels you’ll ever read. Period, end of story.
Near the end, I finally had to abandon this too-long, too-slow, too-discursive “biography” of Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein, the guy who — as the subtitle (and The Godfather II, and every damn book and article about Rothstein) tells us, fixed the 1919 World Series
Rothstein is a fascinating figure and the times he lived in are amazing, and there are a lot of great anecdotes in this book. But I’m afraid the overall information is too random and all over the place; I have no sense of the bigger picture.
I have read over 100 books on organized crime, so when I read a new one I should have at least a vague sense from the first few chapters where this guy fits into the overall history of organized crime in the US.
I didn’t get that sense, here, and I got the distinct impression that it was because the author doesn’t really know.
In the early parts of this book, there are some great stories and discursive histories of other figures of the time. But it is RARE that I make it 3/4 of the way through a book and then not decide to finish it. There’s too little information about Rothstein, and too many detours along the way. I didn’t even get to his murder, and I’m not sure I care to even look that crap up on Wikipedia, I’m so disgusted by the whole experience.
My next option to learn about Rothstein is The Big Bankroll by Leo Katcher, which is something of a classic, or at least old. But my suspicion is that — as with many of the organized crime figures from early this century — there just isn’t enough info about Rothstein to warrant a full biography. He’s one of those figures who is incredibly important, but nobody’s 100% sure just why he’s important, except maybe the guys sleeping with the fishes.
Or, perhaps, why Rothstein’s important can’t be cooked down into a 3 or 400 page book. Maybe Rothstein’he’s just a force that weaves through the rest of the organized crime histories, especially of Jewish gangsters.
Anyway, a reasonably noble effort, but not much good for me either for entertainment or research.