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Title: Minor Sketches and Reveries (Stories) by Alberto Balengo.

Go here to download the pre-release ebook for free! (It’s also free on Smashwords).

These introspective tales feature animals, allegories and melodramas of everyday life. At the center of the stories are tiny creatures (a sparrow, earthworm or paperclip) struggling to make sense of larger mysterious forces. Human protagonists are equally perplexed by ordinary events – like searching for a lost key, watching late night TV, or eating a taco.

As the author admits in the afterward, these pieces feel more like “sketches” than stories with conventional plot and character. Many end at odd places or don’t end at all. Scattered through the stories are moments of isolation, confusion and foreboding. Some pieces (like the essayistic “Indolence: Notebooks”) investigate a philosophical idea to such absurd lengths that one is almost tempted to take a nap.

As you probably know, I run Personville Press, a small literary press. Up to now Personville Press has been publishing only ebook titles by Jack Matthews, and that has certainly kept me busy. But I’ve been meaning to publish other authors as well (including myself). Here’s the first non-Matthews title by a writer I met at Johns Hopkins. His pen name and blogging name is Alberto Balengo, although that is not his real name. Even though I was a graduate student and Alberto was only a freshman, we shared a love for classic & contemporary European fiction. (Both of us were fans of Turgenev and Hungarian author Geza Csath). We have kept in touch over the years — Balengo has been writing a literary blog almost as long as I have (though recently he changed the privacy settings so that the blog is invite only).

For various reasons, you can download the ebook for free for the rest of 2019. (Official publication date is early 2020). The commercial ebook will have a different (and better) cover. I might do a separate post about Balengo’s fiction later.

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Dear GOOGLE PLAY BOOKS (RANT!)

A few years ago I started using Google Play Books (GPB) as my primary epub reader. I did so after learning that GPB supported epub very well and had an incredibly simple drag-and-drop upload feature.

I quickly uploaded 100s of public domain and self-created and Smashwords titles to it. GPB was cross-platform and cloud-based. Horray! Did you know that there’s an ios GPB ebooks that looks just as good as in Android? Wow, you could upload PDFs as well… Horray! For a while I was in heaven.

But last year, the warts quickly became apparent.

Problem: Searching for Ebooks

The android GPB makes it difficult to search for one of your ebooks. Seriously, it is a pain in the neck. I’m not talking about searching WITHIN one ebook (GPB does it well). You just can’t search THROUGH your ebook inventory. Whenever I try to search for an uploaded epub title I uploaded, GPB will show multiple titles for me to PAY MONEY FOR! I realize that all ebook distributors nudge users to the commercial store, but in GPB’s case, they have two separate apps — the reading app and the store app. It will literally open up a separate app and then keep you trapped there until you switch back to the reading application.

Have I mentioned already that GPB books are expensive?

One thing going for GPB is continuity of look and feel across platforms. That is generally true — except for SEARCH! When I am on a desktop browser and searching for an ebook title I already uploaded, the GPB interface makes it impossible to find. I have tried many times; it is impossible. Instead it will trap you again inside the ebook store. Let me be clear. You can choose to view all uploaded ebooks — you just can’t search for them. (Apparently searching for things Google isn’t very good at).

Collections — where are they?

Lack of searchability wouldn’t be that big a deal if GPB had some way to organize titles into categories or collections. After all, practically every single ebook reading system has implemented this feature. Google decided not to implement it at all. {Perhaps the Google PHBs just thought that if users needed a specific title, they could just search for it?) The only feature implemented is the “Finished” category (which instructs the device to remove the file but to remain in the index). Google has 3 Shelves: START CONTINUE and FINISHED .

But this is insane. I mentioned already how unusable GPB search is both on the device and in the PC browser. Maybe having no collections would work in a library with less than a 100 titles, but I have 1000-1500. One reason it’s unwieldy to rely on the search function to find your ebooks is that I often can’t remember the titles or author names — only the subject or book cover. Even if I know the title, sometimes I can’t find it if the file is a PDF and doesn’t have a descriptive file name. With PDFs, GPB (like other apps) doesn’t typically have good metadata to search for. Collections would solve that problem by letting you browse within a smaller group of ebooks, but alas, GPB hasn’t implemented it yet.

Problem: GPB is a major memory hog

Ballpark-wise, I probably have the same amount of ebooks in GPB as I do in Kindle app, and yet GPB uses 3x as much internal memory as the Kindle app. ( This was true even before I changed the default download setting to the external card). Now, by saving things on my external card, it uses even less storage space.

Right now on my Samsung tablet:

  • Kindle uses 3.62 GB: 185 MB app, 1.25gb Data and 2.19gb SD card data,
  • Google Play Books uses 5.17 GB: 52.88MB app, 5.12 GB Data and 256KB SD card

The type of content I have on both devices isn’t that different. GPB contains somewhat more uploaded PDFs, while the Kindle app contains more ebooks with huge file size.

This leads me to another complaint not specific to GPB but which affects GPB the most. Consumers need a way to identify which ebook files are the biggest, so they can decide to delete them when needed. In Kindle, I created a special collection called “HUGE EBOOKS” containing files which I can easily delete if I need to. Unfortunately consumers can’t do this in GPB because Google never implemented the collections feature.

Seriously, all ebook apps need a way to SORT BY FILE SIZE or at least SHOW ALL FILES > 10 MB.

My 4 year old Samsung tablet has lots of storage space. (32 gigs internal, 64 gigs SD card). This is terrific! But I currently have 660MB free on internal storage and 7 gigs free on the external SD card. It is incredibly hard to figure out what is taking so much space and how to remove it. Google Play Books consumes more storage space than any app on my tablet, especially because it requires that all ebooks be downloaded into internal storage!

Again, that wouldn’t be so bad if I could see which GPB files are using the most space or if the app had better organization tools.

Problem: Easy Upload feature is no longer so Easy

In the last 6 months I have noticed something else wrong. At first guess, you’d think it was related to memory usage, but I’ve cleaned house several times both in GPB and the tablet itself, and the problem persisted. I’ve cleared cache, searched online for solutions and filed trouble tickets. No solution.

The Upload feature on GPB has just stopped working for me. Regardless of file size, I could upload things to GPB via the PC browser. In the Chrome browser on my PC, I can easily see uploaded material in GPB. I can even read the ebook in the browser. In the past, when you upload stuff to GPB on your browser, it could be on your device in a minute. Not anymore. Often it takes days or a week for uploaded content to appear on your device — if you are lucky.

This is clearly egregious behavior; it happens both to GPB on my phone and tablet. Perhaps it is specific to my account or the fact that I uploaded a lot of files in the past. But I have had absolutely no problems sending mobi, docx and PDFs to my cloud-based kindle and viewing them in different places.

You might assume that cloud-based computing is Google’s core competency. I actually have no problems using Google Drive, and in fact paid for a premium subscription.

On my Gdrive I have a folder consisting of epub files I found from public domain sources. I keep the folder on my local machine which is backed up on the cloud. If Google already has the epub file on the Gdrive, why does really Google need me to upload it to GPB?

It is possible to use a third party app on Google Docs to move an epub file to GPB. Several apps claim to be able to do this, but the last time I checked (more than a year ago), none of these apps succeeded in that task. Really, though, why is this so hard?

FBReader: A better network solution for Android

FBReader is a great ebook reading system that has been around forever. There’s a free version, but I quickly upgraded to the premium app.

Recently I used FBReader Network Library on Android. With FBREADER, you can read multiple file formats, and after uploading it, you files are saved in a special folder on your Google Drive (My Drive –> FBReader Network Reader). Simple, and it works! My first reaction was, “Thanks for being so easy!” and second, “If Fbreader can do it, why can’t GPB?”

Fbreader isn’t perfect. It doesn’t have collections either. It offers too many layout and design controls instead of just providing a publisher default. To download an ebook which you uploaded to the Network library, you need to click Open Network Library –> FBReader Book Search on your device. From there, you can sort ebooks by title/author or upload date. FBReader asks you to download ebooks individually (it won’t do it automatically).

Final Thoughts on the GPB Disaster

I keep waiting for Google Play Books to release a more user-friendly version that solves the problems I mentioned. So far I’ve been waiting for two years. In comparison, the Kindle app is light years ahead of competitors. Sure, it has market share and big budgets.

On the other hand, publishers already on GPB are getting better at synchronizing their sales across bookstores. (Maybe services like Draft 2 Digital are making this easy). There’s a market need for an ebook distributor as an alternative to Amazon. But Google Play Books ain’t it.

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Robert’s Raves & Reviews #2 (Books & Ebooks)

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I’m really behind, so I’m just going to hit PUBLISH and move on.

I’ve been reading a tremendous amount recently: Jack Matthews‘ Picture of the Journal Back, Bill McKibben‘s Falter and Alissa Quart‘s Squeezed (author website). All great works — more on them later.

Public Domain

More capsule reviews from Book Review Digest 1910 edition.

Hough, Emerson. Purchase price; or, The cause of compromise.

A story of the anti-slavery agitation with the setting in Kentucky and Washington. A beautiful young Hungarian countess comes to this country in advance of a distinguished delegation in the interests of Kossuth. Our government, fearing her dangerous influence in those troublous times, has her conducted to the western frontier. There in a dramatic way she meets a southern Senator, a man as fearless and dauntless as herself but ranged on the other side. After a series of stirring events in which history and romance are cleverly blended she comes to realize that the results of her high ideals have not been unmixed good, she sees the failure of her scheme to deport the negroes, and hears that the confiscation of her Hungarian estates has left her penniless. At this critical moment when her self confidence is shattered she again meets the Senator. He too has lost faith in his convictions and consequently his party has deserted him as a turn coat. He has lost his slaves through the efforts of her agents, and a stroke of fate destroys all his remaining property. Then it is that they both rise superior to circumstance resolved to do great do great things for the world–together.

I came across a wonderful biographical essay by Carole M. Johnson about Emerson Hough which was published in the 1970s. She wrote, “Traveler, historian, novelist, journalist, and conservationist, he wrote more than thirty-four books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and short stories. While he wrote nothing of consummate literary merit, he made noteworthy contributions in the area of conservation before it was fashionable and in the areas of western history and literature when the West was considered a subject fit only for dime novels and pulp fiction.” (Although this sounds a little harsh, she recommended books like Mississippi Bubble, Covered Wagon, Hearts Desire, (About the last, Johnson writes, The flexibility of short fiction stimulated his real talent for comedy, burlesque, and dialogue, which is reflected in the spontaneity, charm, and genuine literary merit of these tales. )

General Essays/Litcrit

I’ve been reading Faint Praise, this terrific book on book reviewing by Gail Pool (Author website). (M.A. Orthofer raves here, saying, It’s not just — or even primarily — a question of more reviews, or fewer newspapers dropping their book-sections and substituting wire copy. Pool is particularly concerned with the state of reviews themselves: she wants to see better reviews, and an improved culture of reviewing. Her closing chapter offers some suggestions as to what can be done. Among them: she wants book editors — the major decision-makers on everything from what books are selected for review to who is assigned the review — to be less invisible, and offer more editorial commentary. She also suggests that at newspapers columnists (with their expertise in specific areas) be enlisted to help in selecting books for review. And as far as hiring reviewers goes, she’d like to see those with critical competence selected ahead of authors who happen to have published some fiction or a book in an unrelated field. (I may respond later to this book later on).

Anyway, one of the delightful parts of this book are the examples and notorious quotes by authors and reviewers. Here’s a gem of an Orwell quote:

A periodical gets its weekly wad of books and sends off a dozen of them to X, the hack reviewer, who has a wife and family and has got to earn this guinea, not to mention the half-crown per vol. which he gets by selling his review copies. There are two reasons why it is totally impossible for X to tell the truth about the books he gets. To begin with, the chances are that eleven out of the twelve books will fail to rouse in him the faintest spark of interest. They are not more than ordinarily bad, they are merely neutral, lifeless and pointless. If he were not paid to do so he would never read a line of any of them, and in nearly every case the only truthful review he could write would be: ‘this book inspires in me no thoughts whatever.’ But will anyone pay you to write that kind of thing? Obviously not. As a start, therefore, X is in the false position of having to manufacture, say, three hundred words about a book which means nothing to him whatever. Usually he does it by giving a brief résumé of the plot (incidentally betraying to the author the fact that he hasn’t read the book) and handing out a few compliments which for all their fulsomeness are about as valuable as the smile of a prostitute.

Elisa Gabbert on Stupid Classics. In Bradbury’s view of the universe, white men write good and important books, while “the minorities” and “women’s libbers” try to censor them. Except for one manic pixie dream girl who shakes Montag out of his complacency and is swiftly killed off (I missed her when she was gone), all the women in Fahrenheit 451 are zombie harpies. Montag eventually joins a band of men who have memorized the great books, the only way to save them from burning: “We are all bits and pieces of history and literature and international law, Byron, Tom Paine, Machiavelli or Christ, it’s here.” They are the heroes protecting the Western canon from being destroyed by cultural criticism. 

(I agree that F451 probably spells trouble. You can usually tell a book is overrated when it’s taught regularly in high school English classes. IBID for To Kill a Mockingbird, Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men and Handmaid’s Tale).

Interview with Dan Green : Should literary works primarily aim for empathy?

there are a lot of claims that the primary value of fiction lies in its ability to allow readers to “share” other people’s experience and perspective, to see the world from their point of view. On the one hand this seems to me a fairly innocuous notion. If a novel effectively conveys the illusion that you’re inhabiting another subjectivity and you think the experience has been salutary in your sense of “empathy,” then so be it. It is, however, an illusion, so on the other hand in no way are you really sharing another perspective or point of view, since what’re you are in fact experiencing is an effect of the writer’s skillful disposition of language. There are no “people” in fiction, just words and sentences, and therefore when you talk about empathizing or adopting another perspective, at best you are speaking metaphorically—it’s like empathizing with a real person, even though it’s not.

Long listicle of environmental books on climate change. Wow, I consider myself well-versed in nonfiction titles and even cli fi fiction (in a superficial way), and yet I recognize very few of these titles. By the way, I am now reading two wonderful environmental books: Ends of the World by Peter Brannen and Falter by Bill McKibben (the latter is brand-spanking new). I’m in awe in many respects, not only as a researcher and advocate, but as a stylist. If you’re looking for obscure McKibben to read, I recommend Age of Missing Information, an early work he wrote about mass media after recording several days worth of Cable TV and watching every single channel and every single minute.

Robert S. Miola writes a Fivebooks listicle about the literary sources of Shakespeare. Great and erudite. Here’s his take on Ovid’s influence:

Then, Shakespeare comes to Romeo and Juliet and doesn’t forget Ovid. Though Ovid is not traditionally named as a source for Romeo and Juliet, it’s the same deal: a guy killing himself and then his beloved finding him. They reunite briefly, and then he dies. We don’t have any stage directions for it—Romeo has no lines at this point—but many productions and many films have Romeo do exactly what Pyramus does. In the Baz Luhrmann film, the eyes of Leonardo DiCaprio open and lock on those of Claire Danes before he dies. Both texts, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, both reach back to that seminal moment in Ovid. We don’t know if it was staged that way, but there’s certainly the possibility he was thinking of it.

But Ovid is everywhere—even less obviously in The Tempest. In that strange scene, you have these spirits becoming dogs and barking, chasing Stefano, Trinculo, and Caliban. As in all the last plays, Shakespeare is interested in internal transformation—on changes within and motions of forgiveness. Here, the classical mixes with the romantic and the Christian. You have this beautiful internalised drama of metamorphosis. In this case, you have Prospero becoming Prospero—abjuring “this rough magic”. Each character comes to a new self—a new understanding of the self. Ovid is there, inescapably.

Here’s another listicle by Natasha Lennard on “Non-fascist living.” In addition to her own book, she mentions Wittgenstein and Maggie Nelson‘s Argonauts. (Very interesting! That certainly raises Nelson on my To-read list. I had checked it out of the library a few months ago without ever reading it!). Here’s a book excerpt from Lennard about how to live an anti-fascist life. After noticing that the criticisms of the Antifa protests against Trump were almost louder than the condemnations of pro-Trump white nationalism, she comments:

Meanwhile, magazines and news outlets—only a year ago lousy with warnings against the “normalization” of hate—have published a string of profiles platforming white supremacists and neo-Nazis as if they were now an accepted part of the social fabric (thus interpolating them as such). The “polite” Midwestern Hitler fan with a Twin Peaks tattoo whose manners “would please anyone’s mother.” The “dapper” white nationalist. The description of right extremist rallies drenched in dog whistle and foghorn neo-Nazi symbolism as mere “pro-Trump” gatherings—or worse, as “free speech” rallies.

What changed? In truth, nothing. We are observing a phenomenon that Martin Luther King Jr. noted well in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” We are dealing with “the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’” There is no shortage of irony in the invocation of MLK by today’s white moderates in order to decry Antifa tactics as violent; in fact, I believe (if one can so speculate) that these same commentators would have been critical of his radical nonviolence, predicated as it was on the provocation of violent spectacle. It is a great liberal tradition to stand on the wrong side of history until that history is comfortably in the past.

Darn, I can’t find my blogpost containing the hilarious review of the book, but I was elated to learn that David Todd Roy finished his 5 volume translation of the Chinese classic Plum in the Golden Vase. (Here’s his obituary )– it took 20 years for him to finish it. It’s available in ebook, but I would be hard pressed to recommend reading anything but the print edition — because of the copious footnotes. (I’ve read volume 1 only though). Here’s a NYT feature story and a LARB review by Stephen Marchee:

Chin Ping Mei is a mean-spirited page-turner, built for cruel speed. The plot concerns Hsi-men Ch’ing, a corrupt merchant in a rural district who, through a series of sexual and political intrigues, develops and indulges stranger and stranger tastes until he dies of “sexual excess” at the age of 33. The book is most famous for being pornographic, and the word most often attached to it is notorious. But the sex, while it is what makes the book original, is by no means the most interesting part of the novel, at least to a contemporary reader. The Chin Ping Mei’s true subject is everything. It inhabits the local whorehouse as intimately as dinners with Imperial officials and is wonderfully fleshly in many ways, not just the erotic. The author is just as good writing about a man warming his hands at a brazier as he is at extreme sexual acts.

Texas

House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (reviewed by Michelle Newby Lancaster). Tshuma presents us with a history lesson in the form of these individual lives, demonstrating the folly of denying that the personal is political. Following personal revolutions into political corruptions, Tshuma juxtaposes war narratives with the real thing, warning of the vile, dangerous mixture of religion and nationalism, as well as the risks of nostalgia, that siren song of a glorious, illusory past (“Make Rhodesia Great Again!”) which claims the powers of myth when a people cannot imagine any future they could want for themselves.(Tschuma is a Zimbabwean author in the UH Creative Writing program). Her website is here. See also her memoir about getting her mother to speak about a genocidal event in 1980.

Tschuma described the writing process: I went through seventeen drafts because the act of writing the novel was a very exploratory process for me; what shape or structure could best capture the House of Stone, Zimbabwe? How could I bend such a shape or structure to suit the kind of book I was trying to write? The novel even had footnotes at one point in time. So, I was very free, and messy, and willing and happy to wallow in this messiness. And this is a process I garnered from some books I love because of their peculiarity —  works like Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum, Carlo Emilio Gadda’s That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana and Dambudzo Marechera’s House of Hunger, among others. The first two are translations from German and Italian. I loved how peculiar they felt to me and how playful they were.

Interview with TX poet Naomi Shihab Nye on LoneStar: You don’t have to travel far to hear others. Experiment with writing in other voices. It’s okay to do this. We need to do this to extend our imaginations and perspective. I remember being very small and trying to imagine what the old lady who never came out of her house would say if she wrote down her thoughts. Then I realized, Hey, I need to go knock on her door and visit with her! She gave me the best piece of pie I ever ate in my whole childhood. And she was lonely, of course, and talked a lot, freely, any time I visited her. We need to take a little more time. Nye is a Palestinian poet based in San Antonio who attended my alma mater Trinity University. (author website) Here’s a book review by Natalia Trevino about Nye’s latest book: Reminding the reader that all Palestinians are “also Semites” and that being “pro-justice for Palestinians is never an anti-Semitic position,” this poet delivers news-worthy journalistic headlines of her own about those who have lived through the occupation, recounting that “we had to become heroes to survive at all.” If only we knew all of those stories.

Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. All the titles are discounted on Smashwords for less that price — and usually under $1.50. Pay attention to any 100% coupon codes which I occasionally list below — they can be redeemed only a small number of times, so first come, first serve. Smashwords only sells epub versions of these titles, but you can easily convert them to Amazon’s mobi format by using Kindle Previewer or Calibre.

  • Interview with the Sphinx. By Jack Matthews.  ($1.10 until 5/18/2019). no coupon code required) Hyperintellectual Tom Stoppard-like play which reads like a novel about a strange interview  with the ancient Sphinx character. Freud and Florence Nightingale show up too.   I loved this play and even produced an audio version of it (3.99 on cdbabyand itunes), but the script  reads well too.
  • A Worker’s Writebook by Jack Matthews . Free for the month of April on Smashwords! Matthews distributed a photocopied version of this writing guide to his Ohio U. creative writing students over the decades.
  • Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War by Jack Matthews. $1.50 Philosophical Stories Taking place during the US Civil War. 
  • Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind by Jack Matthews. Flash Fiction. $1.30  
  • Hanger Stout, Awake (50th Anniversary Edition). by Jack Matthews. Coming of age novel. $1.50
  • Three Times Time Story Sampler by Jack Matthews (Always Free!) US Amazon customers can sometimes get it for free, but to make things easier, you can down these files directly without having to register: EpubMobi.
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Robert’s Roundup #10 (May 2019) of Ebooks

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Preface

Ok, apparently there’s another Kindle Unlimited 2 month trial offer. From now on Kindle titles won’t receive hyperlinks, but I’ll include links to author website. But “KU” will indicate Kindle Unlimited ebook.

Sorry to whine, but one reason this column is so late (among many!) is that I have this crappy mouse which keeps double clicking instead of single clicking, deleting random things and closing browser tabs. Just my luck to be saddled with a defective mouse!

A reminder: after being kicked out of Amazon’s affiliate program, I decided it would be better NOT to link to Amazon and instead link to author websites.

Deals published by Amazon imprints

Here are things 99 cents for the month of May. I may add titles to my list over the month.

  • Two scifi/ cyber works by Anne Charnock: A Calculated Life and Dreams Before the Start of Time. (the latter of which won the Arthur C. Clarke award ). (Author website).
  • Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens (Author) (I recommended this in a previous month, but its price fell again).
  • Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom by Ken Lluganas. Lluganas writes meandering tales of traveling on the cheap around the country. He has several volumes, with this one specifically about homeless people who live in vans. (His website looks engaging as well).
  • Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirsten Chen (author website). Great blurbs, plus great writing (the first chapter at least).
  • Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed. (Author website). Lots of impressive blurbs
  • Winter Men by Jesper Bugge Kold (what a name!). Another one about WW2 Soldiers, but with a somewhat interesting take. Civilized soldiers away from the atrocities fleeing Germany after WW2.
  • (There’s a few titles I’m still previewing — haven’t decided whether to mention here)

Here are some titles from Amazon imprints which reverted from 99 cents to regular price, but still worth catching:

Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia

All the Lasting Things by David Hopson.

Practice House by Laura McNeal. No longer on sale, but an amiable tale about 2 Scottish girls who fall in love with 2 Mormon missionaries in 1929 and –what the heck! they might as well move back to the USA with them! Not something I’d normally want to read, the sample chapters were great. I’ll be keeping an eye on this author now. (author website)

Under the Radar

Process: Writing Lives of Great Authors by Sarah Stodola. KU. ON sale for 1.99. Well-written literary profile of several well-known authors and how they work. I got it on KU, read a chapter, then decided, I want to have the whole thing!

Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent by Peter Friedrich (Author site). (Free! Warning: big file!). History of the Sikh people. Book might have an agenda though — unsure, but looks like a legit scholar.

Portal by Alan Zendell. (free!) World in decline sees salvation in space travel. Zendell is a retired engineer who writes well-regarded hard science fiction (author website).

Little Prince Returns by Yoram Selbst. Alleged sequel to the Little Prince with similar kinds of illustrations.

Mania: Story of the Outraged and Outrageous Lives that Launched a Cultural Revolution by Ronald K.L. Collins and David Skover. (99 cents). 2 law professors write a cultural history book about the beat poets. I read the first 2 chapters and loved it!

Reckless Beginnings by Tina Hogan Grant (author website). 99 cents on Amazon. (Great first 2 chapters about 3 daughters of a divorced couple and one who disappears).

Call me Pomeroy: A novel of satire and political dissent by James Hanna (author website). KU. FREE! Humorous tale about a musician who tries to make it big.

Chips of Red Paint by K. Martin Beckner.

Going Home in Chains. By Glenville Obrian Lovell. (author website). Free! for a second.

Strategic Argumentation in Parliamentary Debate by Eric Robertson, FREE! KU. I love all argumentation/debate books. This one cost only 99 cents!

Panayotis Cacoyannis, Finger of an Angel (99 cents) is an earlier work by this Cypus author. His other works have been lauded and remain moderately priced. (author website).

Man who Counted Infinity and other short stories from Science, History and Philosophy by Saso Dolenc. (temporarily free) (website). KU Dolenc has several similar ebooks. (I just scooped another another freebie! I really like all his popular science books — it makes learning science very fun!

Practice House by Laura McNeal. Light-hearted tale of two Scottish sisters who marry some Mormon missionaries in 1929. I missed the sale price, but it’s on KU and I would pay for this when the price falls again.

Incomplete Works: A Novel by Noah Goats. Satirical story about a snobbish boy sent to a vocational college. BERTHOLD GAMBREL reviews it, writing that it has “all sorts of humorous episodes and memorably over-the-top characters, most of which feel distinctly Wodehousian, from a zealously vegan love interest to a drunken ride on a mechanical bull. One dream sequence in the novel-within-a-novel, wherein Larry attempts to sell his soul to a demonic car salesman, felt like something from a Russian satire.”

Broken Shells by Deena Bouknight

Duck and Cover: 11 Stories by Rich Elliott. (FREE today, KU). tales of growing up in the 60s. Says Kirkus, “sometimes-luminous, sometimes-mordant collection that undercuts its nostalgia with complex ironies.”  (Author website).

Baseball Dreams, Fishing Magic: One Man’s Trip Through This Crazy Thing Called Life by Mike Reuther

Drinking until Morning by Justin Grimbol. Also, Children of Arnhem’s Kaleidoscope and Just Visiting.

Sorrows of Young Mike by John Zelazny. A tragic tale of one young man’s journey to find meaning in his life and come to terms with his loves, himself and his libido.

Her Majesty’s Will: A Will & Kit Adventure by David Blixt. (author website). A light-hearted literary biography of Shakespeare, with certain embellishments about incident and enough wit and historical knowledge to keep us interested. The price went up again, but I’m going to look for other titles of historical fiction by this fellow.

Rehab For One-Hit Wonders by George Traikovich. YA tale of guitarist

Man in the Moon Has Something Important to Say by Jaymes Shore. Quirky post-apocalyptic Twilight Zone like stories.

Blink and it’s Gone sales

Collected Stories by Theodore Sturgeon. $1.20 (all stores).

Girl with the Faraway Dress (Stories). by Michelle Raymond. This award-winning story collection is free this May 4-5 weekend, possibly longer.

Man who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirannk. $2 for only a day, but I enjoyed the description of it as a “runaway Estonian bestseller.” My critic friend Michael Barrett read it and enjoyed it

How Not to be Wrong by Jordan Elllenberg. 2.99. I love popular books on math and science, and this one finally went on sale.

Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe by Steven Novella et al. Extremely perceptive book about logical fallacies and critical thinking. 2.99, get it while you can! No longer on sale, but well worth waiting for (My fave read from 2018).

Essential Chomsky. 1.99 500 pages. A nice collection, with emphasis upon his later essays about politics and society.

David Foster Wallace Reader. 2.99 discounted only for a day. 900 pages! Admittedly Wallace is hard to do an anthology for.

(No longer here!) Amazon has Read the World week for their Amazon Crossing Books. Free ebooks for a week. As it happens, I had already bought two books which are excellent: The Passion According to Carmela by Marcos Aguinis (Cuban) and This Life or the Next by Demian Vitanza (Syrian). Speaking of Aguinas, I read and loved Against the Inquisition (not on sale at the moment, but gets discounted often).

†Titles from Smashwords and other places

I bought a lot of terrific stuff from Unsolicited Press earlier this month, so I may be taking a little break from them. Later, all the UP titles on Amazon were also 99 cents. Note: I found some formatting issues on the poetry titles at Smashwords even though they looked perfectly fine on Amazon.

Lance Manion (author website) writes a lot of short tales with off-color humor. A lot of these things were written for his blog. In an interview, he mentions being influenced by Heller, Robbins and Adams. I see that the titles on Smashwords are free while they cost in the 1-4$ range on Amazon.

1001 Lightyears Entertainment by David Loeff (author website) is a “1001 Arabian Nights in Outer Space.” FREE! with Public coupon. Description: While the worlds of the Commonwealth have access to superior technology, its literature has become formulaic and tame. Much of the folklore told on the known barbarian worlds, and by the starfarers who travel between them, has roots in an ancient Earth literature, once known as the Arabian Nights Entertainments. A sampling of the coarse and unsophisticated, yet less predictable and bland, literature and folklore of the barbarian worlds is presented here.

Creative Commons – Academic -Public Domain

At times I will be linking to fadedpages (Canada’s Project Gutenberg) especially for Canadian works and works not easily available in USA (digital or otherwise). One important difference between the two organizations (aside from different copyright laws) is that the Canadian downloads don’t have helpful file names — you should rename everything when saving. Check out its helpful list of prize winners for the Governor General’s Literary Award.

Bad Child Book’s of Beasts by Hilaire Belloc

A.G. MacDonell, England, Their England, How to Like an Angel and Autobiography of a Cad. Free droll English humor from the 1930s. (FREE!)

Doomington Wanderer by Louis Golding. Short Stories. Left-wing English author.

George Deeping, Short Stories and Old Wine and New. Prolific English novelist who wrote about soldiers after WW1 after among things.

Master-Girl by Ashton Hilliers. From Book Review Digest 1910: A story of prehistoric times with a young savage for a hero who fares forth to appropriate a wife from a neighboring tribe and is generously blessed by the gods of his Sun-*men race. The master girl his wife, “stands a primitive human document,” a heroic specimen of cave woman thru whose elemental passions gleams something of the fine unselfishness and loyalty of her later generations. The author draws vivid pictures of the fight these people made for existence against the ravages of beasts, enemies and cold.

Fanny Fern is an influential 19th century American writer known for Ruth Hall but also for her caustic/satirical newspaper columns about social issues and woman’s issues. Ruth Hall is a roman a clef about struggle for financial independence. Wow, Ruth Hall has a gigantic wiki page and apparently is very well known in feminist circles. That’s a name I’ll be sure to drop in order to prove my feminist bona fides. Nat Hawthorne was quoted on wiki saying this:

In my last, I recollect, I bestowed some vituperation on female authors. I have since been reading “Ruth Hall”; and I must say I enjoyed it a good deal. The woman writes as if the Devil was in her; and that is the only condition under which a woman ever writes anything worth reading. Generally women write like emasculated men, and are only distinguished from male authors by a greater feebleness and folly; but when they throw off the restraints of decency, and come before the public stark naked, as it were—then their books are sure to possess character and value. Can you tell me anything about this Fanny Fern? If you meet her, I wish you would let her know how much I admire her. (Letters to Ticknor, 1:78)

Speaking of impressing feminists, a decade ago I impressed a feminist scholar by my knowledge of Violet Hunt’s literary works. Hunt hung around the preRaphaelites, John Ruskin, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, probably Arnold Bennett. She coedited a literary journal with FM Ford and even co-wrote a book with him. — fyi, even though all of her workers were written prior to 1923, her most acclaimed books, Tales of the Uneasy and White Rose of Weary Leaf, still aren’t on Gutenberg.

William John Hopkins is the author of several novellas about life in a New England seaport town. About Old Harbor, NYT (via 1910 Book Review Digest) says, This is a story of a seaport town whose quiet gentlefolk revel in the atmosphere of lavender and old lace with now and then a mild remonstrance against such customs, for instance, as that of keeping the grandmother’s china well behind doors of glass. The characters include “Colonel Catherwood, making a weak pretense of attending to business in his hereditary office, with the clerk, Heywood, who has grown old and deaf, down there by the water side; Eben Joyce, come home, almost a wreck, from a long troublous experience of life; Dr. Olcott, a racy type of the old-time physician; Jack Catherwood, the hero of a pretty love story, and several others who are by no means lay figures.” (note, this novel hasn’t yet been digitalized, but you can read PDFs on archive.org and read a few story collections on the link above).

Imaginary Interviews by William Dean Howells (another discovery from proofreading the 1910 issue of Book Review Digest). ” It is a wide range of subjects upon which Mr. Howells philosophizes in this volume, but the reader will enjoy it because it is his philosophy whether the veteran author discusses vaudeville, women, New York, the luxuries of travel, dressing for a hotel dinner, a day at Bronx Park or any of the delightful assortment of things to which he treats us in these thirty-five varied chapters…”The papers are all in Mr. Howells’s inimitable style, even the substance is somewhat attenuated.” (independent).

ALSO: A vein of irony, never profound but always whimsical, coupled with a tender fancy and mellow philosophizing, ensures a wide reading for the book by those who enjoy a harmless play-acting with life and ideas.” (Nation Magazine).

I rely on neglectedbooks.com for many priceless finds although frankly most of them are still in copyright but out of print.

Poetry

Flashes & Verses … Becoming Attractions. (Free!) Adrian Ernesto Cepeda (author website).

Wingback Chair by Joan Colby (Poetry). (author website). FREE!

Myth of the Eternal Return by Jerome Brooke. Got this as freebie, but only 1.29 on Amazon.

Texas

to be done

Multimedia

Susan Sontag. 1992 KCRW Bookworm Podcast. Talking about Volcano Lover.

Lydia Davis. 2014 KCRW Podcast. Fave writer I discovered in grad school in 1989.

Diane Williams, 2019 KCRW Podcast. I’d never heard about her before, but apparently she writes short bursts of fiction similar to Lydia Davis.

Ron Chernow’s talk at 2019 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Chernow is a famous historian, and this was one of the wittiest and most erudite things I’d heard in a long time.

Literary Trends Spotted

none

Miscellaneous (Used Books, Library Titles, etc)

to do later

Review Books Received

Ten Seconds by Lucian Lupescu

Closing Thoughts

I know everyone wants to write a “serious” literary novel, but it should still be possible to do so without writing about Nazis or child abuse or a parent dying of Alzheimer’s, or a child who was kidnapped or a character who cheats on his or her spouse, or a quirky behavior of a single parent (or worse — an abusive single parent) or a virtual universe that bears a resemblance to a creepy videogame. Speaking of sci fi, enough with interplanetary migration or time travel anything! (And I’ll say nothing of thrillers, or medical mysteries or love stories between American and Europeans, or Asian immigrants to USA). I mentioned in my book review guidelines that as a rule I never like books where the US president is one of the characters,

I guess every plot variation has to potential to turn into a cliche, and sometimes — gosh darnit, you just have to have a Nazi. Another pet peeve is novels where the first chapter is in all italics – and refers to some flashback event where one detail turns out to have some significance.

I’ve seen several great books using most of these tropes and techniques. But I’ve seen 10x that number write mediocre books. So it’s not impossible to write great stories. I just wish that authors would stop confusing “serious literature” with “stories full of social and psychological traumas.” I mean, sure, Shakespeare, Poe, etc.. Literature has to be fun and quirky and occasionally terrifying.

Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. [Update: Oh, what the heck, I updated all the prices to be below $1.50 Enjoy!]You can buy these titles at the main ebook stores (Amazon, Kobo, BN, Apple, etc.), but the same titles usually sell on Smashwords for half the price that you see them on Amazon. Pay attention to any 100% coupon codes which I occasionally list below — they can be redeemed only a small number of times, so first come, first serve. Smashwords only sells epub versions of these titles, but you can easily convert them to Amazon’s mobi format by using Kindle Previewer or Calibre.

  • A Worker’s Writebook by Jack Matthews . $1.00 Matthews distributed a photocopied version of this writing guide to his Ohio U. creative writing students over the decades.
  • Interview with the Sphinx. By Jack Matthews.  ($1.10 until 5/18/2019). no coupon code required) Hyperintellectual Tom Stoppard-like play which reads like a novel about a strange interview  with the ancient Sphinx character. Freud and Florence Nightingale show up too.   I loved this play and even produced an audio version of it (3.99 on cdbabyand itunes), but the script  reads well too.
  • Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War by Jack Matthews. $1.00 Philosophical Stories Taking place during the US Civil War.  (FREE coupon — use code: KD45Y.  maximum: 2 uses).   
  • Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind by Jack Matthews. Flash Fiction. $1.00  (FREE coupon — use code: LQ42XK.  maximum: 2 uses). 
  • Hanger Stout, Awake (50th Anniversary Edition). by Jack Matthews. Coming of age novel. $1.00
  • Three Times Time Story Sampler by Jack Matthews (Always Free!) US Amazon customers can sometimes get it for free, but to make things easier, you can down these files directly without having to register: EpubMobi.

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Ok, the journey back..

I’ve been busy with various things over the weeks. Last week I attended the destination wedding of my sister Maureen in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Fun, but exhausting!

It’s always a challenge trying to decide the reading material to bring on the trip. Eventually I settled on an early novel by Jack Matthews which I had still not read. It looked fast and easy to read. I also bought at the library a special issue devoted to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Of course, I also had my Samsung tablet. While waiting at airports and inside airplanes, I ended up doing a LOT of reading… I finished the Rolling Stone mag en route to Mexico and read several books about Confucius (more later).

I brought Pictures of the Journey Back to the hotel swimming pool, which was the perfect setting. The novel was a fast read with many short characters and lots of dramatic incident. It was also very funny. Then it hit me — this was the perfect book to bring on a journey — and the journey back…

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Like my Robert’s Roundup series, I want to write a regular series about cool book reviews I’ve been finding. On occasion I will post my own reviews, but most of the column will be be links to reviews by other people.

Amazon has another Kindle Unlimited 2 month trial offer. From now on Kindle titles won’t receive hyperlinks, but I’ll include website links for authors/reviewers. FYI: “KU” will indicate Kindle Unlimited ebook.

View the Raves & Reviews series || View Robert’s Roundups || Read background for Raves & Reviews ||

View Next Raves & Reviews

Fiction

“The only proper way to read the fiction of Kathryn Davis is in a state of happy, profound, and irreducible uncertainty. Here is the place where the membrane between the mundane and the mystical becomes so thin as to be transparent. No answers will be supplied, and the metaphors will bend your imagination to its breaking point.” (Laura Miller (Twitter) on the fiction of Kathryn Davis. (author website). Specifically she recommends starting out with Thin Place which she read with “baffled wonder”. (Aside, it’s always a delight to come across Miller’s columns on Salon, Slate, etc.).

About Susan Choi‘s novel Trust Exercise, Laura Miller writes, Each of the novel’s three parts (the third is a relatively short coda) concerns a woman who feels betrayed, her trust violated—but the locus of that betrayal, the truly guilty party, looks different to the reader than it does to the women themselves. The first time around, though, how can the reader know any better? Like the unanalyzed souls Karen pities for their lack of self-knowledge, the reader of Sarah’s “novel” is blind. What choice is there but to fall into her version of what happened? And what choice can there be, once we’ve heard another, if equally blinkered, version, than to recognize just how easily trust can be misplaced or abused—often right under our noses, and with nobody any the wiser? [FUN FACT: Susan Choi grew up in Houston, and according to Miller, attended HSPVA]

Lord, I can never keep up with M.L. Orthofer‘s blog or book reviews, but I’ll be quoting a number of the reviews — with the caveat that I prefer to cover US -born authors. Still it’s nice browsing through the index. It’s nice seeing his reviews of prize-winners and books with erotic themes. Oh, so much!

I’m happy to discover the great book review section of Cleaver Magazine. I’ll be digging through their archives over the weeks.

YOU’LL ENJOY IT WHEN YOU GET THERE The Stories of Elizabeth Taylor: (review by Claire Rudy Foster). QUOTE:  In the States, where “sympathetic” characters are considered evocative and powerful, where we’re taught to see ourselves in every paragraph and written across every landscape, this type of description will not do. And yet, Taylor’s fiction pushes us beyond the boundaries of ourselves; if anything, she’s doing the reader a favor. Without the distraction of the ego, the chronic me me me that American fiction encourages through its unrelenting “relatability,” the story is stripped bare. It’s telling that, in most of these stories, the main characters hide under awnings and umbrellas, holding a book—not to read, but as a barrier. A means of escape.

From Foster, here’s a nice piece about why kinky writing is also tight writing: Short-short fiction is not about being clever. It is about the essential parts of story. The bones. The steel rods and rings. The skin that goes white with tension. Tolerating that kind of discomfort takes practice, yes, but it is exhilarating. It is a pleasure. The closer I draw the words around me, the more I feel my power. I feel everything until I am numb. Then, I can squeeze my way into the story. It makes a shape that is tight, and smooth, and takes your breath away. (Wow, apparently rumpus.net has a semi-regular column, (K)ink: Writing While Deviant — i.e., ” a series about how looking at the world through the lens of an alternative sexual orientation influences the modes and strategies with which one approaches one’s creative work. “

TYPEWRITERS, BOMBS, JELLYFISH: ESSAYS by Tom McCarthy (reviewed by William Morris) This collection itself is “a complex, spring-like structure” filled with literary and cultural references that recur throughout, often becoming “embedded one within the other.” How else to explain McCarthy’s transitions between Thomas Pynchon and MC Hammer, Don DeLillo and Zinedine Zidane? And stretched throughout the book, an almost constant stream of Mallarmé. There are essays on the weather in London, Kafka’s letters, David Lynch, and J.G. Ballard, making Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish an unceasingly eclectic collection. (Morris also recommends the McCarthy novel Satin Island). QUOTE: For writers in the nouveau roman style, and for McCarthy, reality is the collision of the will and the world. Toussaint’s heroes enact their will through refusal. They reject the tedium of inauthentic daily life. “The only escape route,” McCarthy writes, “from this [present moment], from its simultaneity, its loops and repetitions, would be violence.” The “irremediably inauthentic” must be punctured with violence to escape life’s ennui.

TRYSTING by Emmanuelle Pagano (reviewed by Rachel Taube).
Though they lose some nuances of expression and must forfeit some of the clarity of the French, Higgins and Lewis successfully reimagine the poetry and intensity of the original…. At the same time, because each piece is in the first person, the narrators begin to blur together from one story to the next. The female point of view in one story bleeds into the next. The narrator’s gender is rarely clear, so that we don’t know if the relationships are heterosexual or homosexual or meant to represent something else. This effect seems intentional, and as I got farther into the book, I began to see it as an exercise in exploring queerness. We can’t identify a gender, and it doesn’t matter. Interestingly, though, this doesn’t quite align with the reading of the book in its original French. In French, gender is more visible in the language.

TROMPE L’OEIL by Nancy Reisman (reviewed by Michelle Fost) Reisman can sound like Virginia Woolf, but her experimentation also places her in the company of contemporary film directors like Terence Malick and Richard Linklater. If she has written a love letter to cinema, it’s not a traditional or straightforward letter. I don’t think anyone in the Murphy family ever so much as steps a foot in a movie theater in the many decades that we follow them. We hear about great painters, but no filmmakers, no directors, no actors. Instead, we can understand the Murphy family itself as a stand-in for a film being made. Moments accumulate to form their story, and we read of these moments sequentially.

White Dancing Elephants. Stories by Chaya Bhuvaneswar. (Reviewed by K.C. Mead-Brewer). Gods, myths, stories within stories—Bhuvaneswar’s quiet, magical real style reveals a beauty that is constant and unflinching, found even in the face of D/death. Throughout this collection, her fascination with Indian myths and poetic traditions is folded into the everyday lives of her characters. In many ways, these stories almost read like modern-day fairytales—timely and timeless, magical even as they haunt. See also the reviews of an Alfred Doblin story collection and Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt. ( In Aidt’s writing, we’re made to see the ugliness in love and the beauty in monsters. We’re called to empathize with those we would rather discard and deny. We’re called to openness and curiosity. Don’t look away, she seems to say. Don’t look away, this is important. This is where it gets good).

Nonfiction/Special Interest

Texas Stuff

” Washington’s subtle, dynamic and flexible stories play out across the city’s sprawling and multiethnic neighborhoods. His characters move through streets named so often — Richmond and Waugh, Rusk and Fairview — that they come to have talismanic power, like the street names in Springsteen songs. ” Dwight Garner reviews Bryan Washington’s Lot (author site) Washington is a Houston author, and by the way, I know all of these neighborhoods very well. Here’s an interview on Lone Star. Asked to name his fave short story writers, he said, “Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Victor Lodato, Xuan Juliana Wang, Jamel Brinkley, Yukiko Motoya, Osama Alomar, Amelia Gray, ZZ Packer, Sandra Cisneros, Alejandro Zambra, Ha Jin, and Patricia Engel are doing work that I admire deeply. ” (A nice bunch of unfamiliar names!)

Public Domain

Book Review Digests. For the past two years I have been volunteering to proof various annual editions of Book Review Digest for Project Gutenberg. These volumes are incredible. As I write this post, only two volumes have been released. I can promise you there are about 15 more volumes still being worked on (I’ve worked on about half of them). It conveys firsthand what kinds of books were being released and talked about. Most of the “reviews” are 1-4 sentences long, but good enough to get a sense of whether a book is worth reading. It’s also clear that book reviewing standards in the 1900s and 1910s were very high (I even recognized some of the reviewer’s names. One was F.M. Ford!) To my astonishment, about half of the literary books have bio pages on wikipedia or elsewhere, but a surprising number of books reviewed from that time period have never been digitalized. For example, because PG already has 89 ebooks by Henry James, you’d assume that it’s pretty complete. Yet one of the Book Review Digests revealed two other works by James which still haven’t been digitalized (travel books, I think). Here for example is every page of the 1917 edition on a single HTML page (long!) I would guess 80-90% of these books haven’t been digitalized except in image form. For this edition, links to PG ebooks were included, making it even more useful. Some day, these reviews will be parsed and appear on the download page and reveal more masterpieces. The good news is that the 1921 edition is currently being processed by PG and that it’s only a matter of time before it gets to the 1923 scans. From now on, when I stumble upon an interesting review which has been digitalized, I’ll mention it on this section of the reviews.

Eddy: A novel of To-day . By Clarence Louis Cullen (bio) . Tells of the regeneration of an immoral woman by a strong, loyal-hearted daughter who after finishing school goes to live in her mother’s home. “In spite of vagaries of diction Mr. Cullen has written a really good novel. It scores a triumph in that, despite its subject, it leaves a clean and wholesome impression.” + – N. Y. Times. 15: 213. Ap. 16, ’10. 300w.

Cavanagh–forest ranger; a romance of the mountain west by Hamlin Garland. This story, one of the best things Mr. Garland has ever done, portrays the passing of the old west–the west of the miner, the cattle man, the wolf and the eagle–and the establishment of the dominion which compels the ranger to transfer his allegiance to Uncle Sam and his conservation policies. The old order is symbolized by a coarse, slovenly, boarding-house keeper in a “little fly-bit cow town,” under whose uncouth, even repulsive exterior can often be detected a strain of fairness and honesty; and the new dominion finds its parallel in the woman’s daughter, who, after ten years of training in the east, returns to her mother, and, obnoxious as the process is, puts filth and dirt to route and institutes a cleanly régime. In Cavanagh, the hero, we find a faithful portrayal of the fight which the strong young men of the Forest service are called upon to put up against rangers opposed to law and innovations. It is an interesting story, but with a certain vitality, much realistic detail, and often beauty of line and color.” Margaret Sherwood. The Atlantic, 1910., (Garland later won the Pulitzer Prize for his memoir, Daughter of the Middle Border).

Ashton Hilliers Master-girl: a romance. (1910) Aha, it’s a pseudonym for British zoologist Henry Marriage Wallis.A story of prehistoric times with a young savage for a hero who fares forth to appropriate a wife from a neighboring tribe and is generously blessed by the gods of his Sun-*men race. The master girl his wife, “stands a primitive human document,” a heroic specimen of cave woman thru whose elemental passions gleams something of the fine unselfishness and loyalty of her later generations. The author draws vivid pictures of the fight these people made for existence against the ravages of beasts, enemies and cold.The story furnishes an argument in favor of woman’s rights, and its archeology is unimpeachable.” A. L. A. Bkl. 7: 36. S. ’10.

“It is an entertaining tale, written with a good deal of imaginative power, and held in its descriptions fairly close to the accepted scientific accounts of the way in which the cave men are supposed to have lived.” N. Y. Times. 15: 247. Ap. 30, ’10. 210w.

A Public Domain Mystery

To my astonishment, I discovered a 1910 praised novel, Odd Man by a certain Arnold Holcombe, for which there is practically no information! (and no scans!)

A story of the petty persecutions and insolence which some villagers heap upon a peculiar, hermit-like man who dwells in their midst. “The odd man is a village recluse, half gipsy, half student–a carpenter when he chooses to work–who lives alone in a ramshackle cottage on a patch of land much coveted by speculators when the village becomes a rising suburb.” (Sat. R.)

“The author’s chief fault is that he overaccentuates. The book has unusual originality, its thoughts are clearly put, and it is worth reading. If it has fallen short of its intention, it is, nevertheless, a well-constructed bit of fiction.”- N. Y. Times. 14: 806. D. 18. ’09. 200w.

This certainly sounds worth investigating. A clue is found on an Italian book page which lists Holcombe as a pseudonym for Arnold Golsworthy (1865-1939). Here’s a long description of this author but note that this is a rare books site. Apparently he came from a London literary background, published a few mysteries and did a lot of random things. Hathiway Trust has a few things and Google Books has 2 things.

General Literary Essays

My dirty secret is that Arnold Bennett’s Old Wives’ Tale is one of the favorite novels — and one of the first I ever read on an ebook reader. Later, I read the Riceyman Steps (also good, but not great) and How to Live on 24 Hours a Day . I was delighted to discover an essay by one of my favorite essayists Wendy Lesser has written about Bennett’s Old Wives’ Tale (in response to Virginia Woolf’s castigating essay about his fiction).
Yet Woolf is absolutely wrong about the nature of the excess information. The part of the book that is about rents and houses is all fascinating, as are the parts about stenography (a fledgling career for young women), newspaper advertising, the travails of lodging-house management, and the general ugliness of life in the industrial Five Towns, the famous Staffordshire Potteries where Bennett set so many of his novels. Occasionally in ”Hilda Lessways” and much more often in ”Clayhanger,” Arnold Bennett writes marvelously on the stuff of life. He makes you understand what it must have been like to sit at a Victorian deathbed, to give in to an autocratic father, to work in a print shop, to belong to a local political club and to live out one’s time in a smoky little provincial town, longing all the while for a cleaner, larger, more satisfying existence. When he’s in top form, Bennett manages to suggest how all these material things help to mold, defeat or in some cases enrich the individual soul or spirit — what Woolf, I imagine, would call character.

(Lesser runs the great Threepenny Review but also been blogging about the nonliterary arts. I’ve loved two books by her: Why I read and Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering (which I got discounted on ebook).

Simon Heffer wrote a similar pro-Bennett/anti-Woolf essay.

Christian Lorentzen’s Like This or Die, a long thing .

In some ways, mainstream book coverage is coming down from its historically lofty perch to join the rest of arts coverage, catering less to the intelligentsia and more to the casual reader, who may not be interested in literary fiction or nonfiction. With so much to watch and read and listen to—and so many people chiming in on what to watch and read and listen to—it’s no surprise readers are hungering for a trusted source who can point them in the direction of books tailored to their interests. And those same readers may be looking for the kind of full-court, blogosphere press typically reserved for watercooler shows like Sharp Objects and meme machines like A Star Is Born.

Here a consumerist vision of reading is presented as a form of anti-­elitism. The quaint use of “intelligentsia” suggests a suspect class of self-regarding intellectuals with an echo of Cold War red-baiting. And then a fantastic fictional character: the casual reader who disdains literary books but is eager for, say, the New York Times to tell her which nonliterary books to read when she isn’t busy watching HBO or listening to podcasts. And what does “full-court, blogosphere press” describe but hastily written, barely edited, cheap, and utterly disposable online jetsam? Such is the nature of the new “books coverage.” I was aware of the trend. Two months before Eichner’s story ran, my contract to review books at New York magazine was dropped. I had been told that although its books coverage would be expanding, what I did—book reviews—had “little value.”

Liking Books is Not a Personality. by Hannah MacGregor. Ouch, this is a good long historical look at how book collecting has changed, but ultimately, I don’t like the essay because it doesn’t recommend any books!

I just wanted to rave about the Novel: A Survival Skill (The Literary Agenda) by Tim Parks. (author website).

Our Personal Libraries: A symposium. by Richard Brookhiser. Kind of a puff piece even for National Review, but at least it mentions titles.

Where to Begin by Michael Overa. (an author talks about first lines).

Ron Rosenbaum wrote a compelling historical piece about the travails of the Munich Post during Hitler’s rise. Hitler’s clownish behavior threw his enemies offguard, and how lying became “normalized.”

Hitler’s method was to lie until he got what he wanted, by which point it was too late. At first, he pledged no territorial demands. Then he quietly rolled his tanks into the Rhineland. He had no designs on Czechoslovakia — just the Sudetenland, because so many of its German-born citizens were begging him to help shelter them from persecution. But soon came the absorption of the rest of Czechoslovakia. After Czechoslovakia, he’d be satisfied. Europe could return to normal. Lie! There is, of course, no comparison with Trump in terms of scale. His biggest policy decisions so far have been to name reprehensible figures to various cabinet posts and to enact dreadful executive orders. But this, too, is a form of destruction. While marchers and the courts have put up a fight after the Muslim ban, each new act, each new lie, accepted by default, seems less outrageous. Let’s call it what it is: defining mendacity down.

Rosenbaum has written Explaining Hitler and more interestingly, the Shakespeare Wars. Wow, I just realized that I’ve already read several of his New Yorker pieces and his piece about ditching grad school to become a literary journalist.

Dan Green published a 80+ page PDF about experimental fiction. He has several ebook compilations of his essays. I used to read his blogs a while back. I’ll be catching up on his older book reviews, and I’ll do a quick review of some of his literary criticism on Amazon. (most is available under KU).

As it happens, Green wrote a long book review essay about Jonathan Baumbach who died recently (NYT obituary). About Baumbach’s most lauded work, Green writes, “ Finally the truest subject of Chez Charlotte and Emily is the marriage of Joshua and Genevieve, but unlike Baumbach’s other, later examinations of marital discord and romantic incompetence, this novel is able to realize the subject with the kind of formal ingenuity that fully confirms Baumbach’s reputation as an experimental writer whose efforts contributed to an enlargement of the conceptual possibilities available to adventurous writers. “ About his 2004 novel B, Green writes, “B is the Baumbach protagonist most transparently a stand-in for the author, so we should of course respect the metafictional distance B’s lowering of the “metaphorical disguise” paradoxically imposes, but B is finally such a familiar figure in Baumbach’s work, resembling so many of the other apparent surrogates in behavior and attitude, while the circumstances and events recounted in B so often echo the particulars found across Baumbach’s fiction, that the self-reflexive references to the protagonist’s vocation become more the essentially realistic details underpinning a work that itself never strays too far from its own kind of episodic realism. [Dzanc Books is selling some of Baumbach’s works as ebooks, Amazingly, there’s been almost no reader reviews on Amazon.com, which just goes to show you….]

Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. All the titles are discounted on Smashwords for less that price — and usually under $1.50. Pay attention to any 100% coupon codes which I occasionally list below — they can be redeemed only a small number of times, so first come, first serve. Smashwords only sells epub versions of these titles, but you can easily convert them to Amazon’s mobi format by using Kindle Previewer or Calibre.

  • Interview with the Sphinx. By Jack Matthews.  ($1.10 until 5/18/2019). no coupon code required) Hyperintellectual Tom Stoppard-like play which reads like a novel about a strange interview  with the ancient Sphinx character. Freud and Florence Nightingale show up too.   I loved this play and even produced an audio version of it (3.99 on cdbabyand itunes), but the script  reads well too.
  • A Worker’s Writebook by Jack Matthews . Free for the month of April on Smashwords! Matthews distributed a photocopied version of this writing guide to his Ohio U. creative writing students over the decades.
  • Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War by Jack Matthews. $1.50 Philosophical Stories Taking place during the US Civil War. 
  • Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind by Jack Matthews. Flash Fiction. $1.30  
  • Hanger Stout, Awake (50th Anniversary Edition). by Jack Matthews. Coming of age novel. $1.50
  • Three Times Time Story Sampler by Jack Matthews (Always Free!) US Amazon customers can sometimes get it for free, but to make things easier, you can down these files directly without having to register: EpubMobi.

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Here’s my 2007 interview with Texas novelist Robert Flynn. All this information is at archive.org, but here’s a complete description:

0:00 Introduction
1:12 Current projects
2:55 Writing Habits
4:33 Writing For Practice?
6:10 Writing nonfiction vs. Fiction
7:18 Hardest Book To Write? Easiest?
8:30 Tie Fast Country: TV & Getting Inspiration From Rural Life
12:10 Rereading Old stuff
13:00 Thoughts on Audio Books
16:00 Is it harder to write as you get older?
16:40 Thoughts about genre & collaboration working with editors
21:44 Writer and Family Life
23:15 Reactions to “Wanderer Springs”
23:40 Is it important that fiction be accessible to an audience?
26:50 Books that Influenced Me while growing up. Small town libraries
28:00 Developing as a young writer. Father’s influence.
31:20 Characteristics of Texas writing and writers
33:45 Traveling and seeing the world
34:20 Thoughts about teaching students and how it changed my writing
35:20 Principles/Secrets of Writing
36:10 Tips for New Writers
37:30 Identifying with my characters; small town stories
40:00 Writers that Influence Me

Robert Flynn is a Texas author born in Chillicothe, Texas in 1932. In his novels he writes about Texas traditions and myths, the clash between rural and city life, God and Christianity in a forlorn (and often violent) world. With his first book “North to Yesterday” he tackled the legends of the Texas cowboy and in his later works (Jade & Jade the Law, both set in early Texas) he continues writing in the Western genre, but with an eye towards understanding the nature of violence, justice, redemption and reconciliation. Robert Flynn is the author of 17 books, including Jade: Outlaw, The Last Klick, and North to Yesterday, and a two-part documentary for ABC-TV as well as a fellow at the Texas Institute of Letters. He is the recipient of a Lon Tinkle Lifetime Achievement Award, two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America, and two Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. He lives in San Antonio, Texas.

QUOTE: “You can read any book on writing fiction for example, and they will tell you the same thing. Someone may say it in a different way that gives you better insight, but there are no secrets in writing; it’s just a matter of doing it.”

Wikipedia page and author website

Remarks.

At college I took creative writing classes with Flynn. In the classroom he seemed laid back and didn’t analyze stories too deeply; on the other hand, he had an intuitive sense of what a story wanted to do. After graduating from Trinity, I participated in fiction workshops with 3 seasoned authors (John Barth, J.M. Coetzee and Stephen Dixon) at graduate school. Don’t get me wrong, it was a thrill to work with accomplished authors (and read their fiction). On the other hand, I have ended up reading several works by Flynn for various reasons (possibly out of personal loyalty more than anything else). I have come to appreciate the understated artistry of his stories and his embrace of the Western genre which almost grates at my postmodern sensibility. (I reviewed one of his works for a college literary magazine and reviewed two other titles: Tie-Fast Country and Jade: The Outlaw).

Reading these works made me realize that Flynn was a lot more contemporary and politically engaged than I’d imagined. To my surprise I learned that Flynn wrote a lot of political stuff (mainly nonfiction) on Facebook and his blog.

Flynn belongs to the same generation as my other literary idol Jack Matthews. There are parallels. Both had slight successes in the national publishing world, but continued to churn out quality fiction for decades while teaching at universities and remaining “best kept literary secrets” in their respective regions. I must confess feeling envy that the two of them found career paths in academia; (these opportunities seemed to have disappeared after I graduated). On the other hand, my generation did pretty well during the Internet boom and New Media; plus we had access to blogs and self-publishing, so I guess it all evens out (sort of).

Both fiction writers transcend place in their fiction; on the other hand, both seemed to embrace provincialism and find inspiration in the past. Also, there is something to be said for longevity in the writing world. I’ve seen many remarkable writers write one or two great things and then disappear from the book world. It’s as though they were disappointed by the lack of attention and praise, and just decided not to do it anymore. Just writing one great thing (regardless of commercial success) is a major accomplishment. But if you can sustain a lifelong commitment to storytelling, that also is a remarkable thing. Often it means experimenting with different genres and characters and themes. Even if everything isn’t original or transcendentally beautiful, at least you can say that you have covered a lot of ground.

I had fun interviewing Mr. Flynn (he’s an old friend). I also had fun recording some audio interviews with Jack Matthews (and links to the published videos will appear soon). I’ve heard a lot of literary interviews in my life, so I have high standards. Although the final product is great, I realize that I was a lousy interviewer. I wanted to think of challenging and profound questions of art and craft. But even the most brilliant of people can’t think of brilliant answers on the spot, and even if they do, it’s punctuated by umms and ahhs. (I removed them all for this interview, you’re welcome). Also, I realized that I forgot to ask a lot of obvious questions. Like:

  1. Tell me about your first book (and second). etc.
  2. If you remember, tell me about how you wrote book 1, book 2, etc. What was the hardest part? What are you most proud of?
  3. Why did you write Book 1, Book 2? Was anything going on in your life?

If you get a degree in literature, you learn that these biographical questions are not supposed to be that interesting or important. On the other hand, if you have the writer in front of a microphone, why not ask these questions? The worst that can happen is that they refuse to answer!

Through careful editing I can shorten my questions and editorial asides. Frankly I really tried to steer the interview to things which mattered to me. But frankly, who cares about my opinion about how the question should be answered?

One of my most challenging interviews was also one of my best. (It was written, not audio). I interviewed my best friend — the brilliant San Antonio literary critic Michael Barrett. He was only half-motivated to participate — and only after a lot of prodding. In fact, he refused to answer a certain percent of my questions and intentionally gave boring answers sometimes. We played a game where I would ask one or two questions a day and then give a follow up question on the next day.

I asked long-winded questions on the assumption that it would give him different ways to answer. Often he responded in the opposite manner I anticipated. Keep in mind that on his movie criticism and facebook posts, he gives all sorts of witty and comprehensive answers. Eventually I figured out that while Barrett is adept at addressing aesthetic questions, it’s futile to ask them in the abstract. It’s much better to ask questions that tap into his encyclopedic knowledge of movies. Just a few weeks ago, I asked them to recommend some Irish movies, and he gave me an exhaustive annotated list. (His lists are famous — and in fact I have put them in a text file which I am not providing a hyperlink for:
https://www.personvillepress.com/private8/mike-list.txt )

Literary interviews are hard to do — although an entertaining writer can make anything interesting. The written Paris Review interviews are the gold standard of course, and I think you can say that the Bill Moyers interviews are outstanding as well — even though he usually comes to them with a political or cultural agenda (and that’s not really a bad thing). Don Swaim used to do a 5-7 minute Bookbeat interview segment for CBS Radio, but a decade ago, he released many of the full unexpurgated interviews online (they were taken offline, but direct links are still available on the right sidebar of this page). These uncensored interviews are extraordinarily fun and revealing.

I don’t keep up with literary podcasting as much as I should, but when I was following these things, the best interviewer was Michael Silverblatt of KCRW Bookworm. What an extremely high-brow interviewer! That said, I had two complaints with Bookworm: 1)Silverblatt asked unnecessarily cerebral questions and 2)he was interviewing only authors from the big publishing houses.

At one time I would find Silverblatt’s challenging questions to be interesting. But authors aren’t especially known for their critical pronouncements. You wouldn’t expect Don Swaim’s interviews with Ray Bradbury or P.D. James or James Michener to uncover profound insights about literature; on the other hand, you’d expect to have a lot of fun. Even though Silberblatt is a fascinating person and critic, I find that the conversations drift away from the author and towards Silverblatt’s verbalizing of his readerly responses.

Let me be clear. Silverblatt is a great reader and critic (and interviewer). Also, he is responding to the fact that many writers are reticent or reluctant to talk about their own works. But his critical perspective often overshadows the author’s voice even if it is what gives his podcast a personal touch. Let’s say you were an author invited on a show hosted by a feminist or Marxist critic. You would not exactly be shocked to find that the discussion is being directed in a certain way even though you might not have given a second thought about social classes or Hegelian dialectic.

On the other hand, an author is trying to speak to a variety of readers — not merely one perceptive critic. As great as it can be to face a perceptive/enthusiastic reader, an author also is trying to reach many different kinds of readers (and nonreaders!)

Audio interviews are a convenient necessity — a painless way to learn how authors sound and talk. (Perhaps it’s important; perhaps it’s not). While listening to the Flynn interview, I was struck by how soft-spoken Flynn is — even in a profession known for soft-spoken people. That is interesting information to me — and perhaps to a listener as well.

Here are some great Bookworm interviews: Otessa Moshfegh , Susan Sontag, Lydia Davis.

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You might already know that my Personville Press publishes various fiction titles by Jack Matthews (1925-2013). A year before he died, I went to Ohio and interviewed him about various things. I shot some video footage as well as audio footage about his books and life as an author.

Here’s one audio slideshow I put together of excerpts where he talks about a Worker’s Writebook . I recently published a second edition of it and even included a 2019 afterward.

In the last 4 minutes, Jack Matthews reads a chapter from his ebook titled “The Pointedness of the Tale.”

0:00 CAN A BOOK EVER TEACH A PERSON TO WRITE WELL?
1:38 ARCHETYPAL THEMES IN LITERATURE
4:04 HABITS OF GOOD WRITERS
4:44 WHAT I READ AS A COLLEGE STUDENT
5:33 MATTHEWS READ A CHAPTER FROM “A WORKER’S WRITEBOOK,” “POINTEDNESS OF THE TALE”

I plan to produce several different slideshows/videos to accompany Jack Matthews ebooks. Some people are not into “video trailers,” but I generally enjoy hearing the author describe a book project in his own words. (I might produce a shorter version for Amazon, haven’t decided).

As my last post indicates, the ebook is now free on Smashwords: Here is that information again: A worker’s Writebook by Jack Matthews. Ebook. (More about the ebook).

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I don’t know when I’ll be doing my next Robert’s Roundup, but I just noticed that all the titles from Unsolicited Press are priced at 99 cents on Smashwords. Note that even though this link might list the full price, if you click to the ebook page, you will see the discounted price of 99 cents.

Unsolicited Press has a lot of fiction and poetry titles. Definitely not mainstream — here’s the blog. There’s a lot of good stuff, but I can tell you some winners in the pack:

  • (I’ll post some more authors tomorrow).

One final thing. In my last roundup, I promised to provide a Smashwords 100% off coupon to obtain the Jack Matthews’ writing guide for free. (By the way, I did the preface and afterward for it!) Here’s the coupon you need to get it for free. Expires May 22, 2019. (Note: The coupon is not automatically applied; you have to manually apply it).

A worker’s Writebook by Jack Matthews. Ebook. (More about the ebook).

Promotional price: $0.00
Coupon Code: TA97D
Expires: May 22, 2019

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Introducing Robert’s Raves and Reviews

Although it’s fun to link to lots of ebook deals (especially if I end up obtaining the ebook myself), I recognize that reviews are more useful to readers than deal announcements. So I’ll alternate my ebook deal posts with a column with links to many reviews (with a few I have personally written).

Book reviewers are saints, I tell you. Reviewing books can be a thankless task — especially if you are busy with your own writing projects. With the explosion in indie titles over the past decade, it’s become clear how many indie titles are being ignored by national book reviews. Amazon.com and other places have provided a platform for overlooked authors to receive reviews. Horray! At the same time, these amateur reviewers (much as people may castigate them) are in short supply –especially as the number of books released each year continues to grow.

Although I’ve written competent book reviews, I’ve never considered book reviewing to be my forte. To write book reviews, you have to do them regularly and with consistent standards. Also you have to get inside what the book is supposed to do — and sometimes that is a challenge.

You also have to finish books — something I’m bad about — even for fiction. I read a lot, but mostly for a specific purpose (i.e., research for something I’m working on). I am constantly interrupting my reading to read other things. Short story collections mitigate the problem somewhat because all you have to do is get to the end of one story before leaping onto another book. I like reading novels, but do it so rarely (hey, I’m working on that, I promise!)

Even when I get into some book, with all the interruptions it can take months to finish. I started Babbitt months ago and still haven’t finished it — though this is not the book’s fault. Should I review it? Committing to review something only adds to the burden of reading. Sometimes this burden is an acceptable one — especially for book titles which have been overlooked. On the other hand, does anyone really care about my opinions on Babbitt?

I grow weary of longish reviews by the professional book reviewer. Sure, it’s good to have some cultural context or background about the author’s previous works, but not every book requires a review essay worth being published on New York Review of Books. Reading reviews shouldn’t be an intellectual burden. Also, you don’t really need analysis until you’ve finished reading something. These sorts of reviews aren’t particularly helpful for the initial “Should I or Shouldn’t I read this?” decision. From a promotional and informational perspective, sometimes a 1 or 2 sentence summary of the book’s premise and style is all you really need to decide whether to go for it.

So I’ll try to write brief reviews when I can, longer things when I have more to say. But I’ll spend more time linking to book reviews by others — especially for overlooked/indie ebooks. I’ll also give a slight preference for Smashwords titles. (read my commercial disclosures here).

Book reviews are much less time-sensitive, so I’m not worried whether the review or the title reviewed is new. Here are some categories that suggest itself.

  • Book(s) of the Month
  • Genre
  • Public Domain
  • Texas
  • Poetry
  • Creative Nonfiction
  • others?

I’ve noticed that nonfiction books or topical books are easier to review; hence, I’ll avoid reviewing them (unless I can’t help myself).

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LIF (“Life” minus the letter “E”)

To my dismay, for six days or so, I found that typing a particular button on my PC wouldn’t work. I had to push this button again and again until it (finally!) did its job. That nonfunctioning button was (obviously) my “e” button. How long could humans last without it?

Upon making a visit to Walmart and purchasing a new keyboard, I feel delighted to write fearlessly about life: eager to describe deer and antelopes and beekeepers. Life seems easier, even more gentle.

If you don’t have the letter “e“, what happens?

Instead of “love“, you have only “attractions”.

Instead of “friends”, you have only “companions.”

Instead of “hope” you can only “grasp at straws.”

When humankind starts subtracting from what is sayable, many things will go unsaid.

Humans can only do one thing —

weep.

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View the post series | Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup

[This sale ended on March 9 Saturday 11:59 PM, so now lots of things are more expensive. A good number of things were permafree, so it’s still worth perusing. Also I’m posting some Amazon monthly deals near the bottom).

Preface

This post is mainly about the incredible deals from this year’s Read an Ebook sale on Smashwords. I try to list the free stuff near the top of each category if possible — though I rarely list any titles costing more than $2. For this particular column, I listed a lot of high quality poetry ebooks, which made me realize that I need to have a multimedia section containing audio/video of some of the authors (that’s on the bottom). BTW, the letter “e” on my keyboard is failing, and it is a struggle to correct myself each time it fails. March 7 Update: I’ve been adding stuff, plus I’ve noticed that some of the ads I’ve been running are now free (Filiad, Don Q Public, Woodland Poems, Other Shore, etc). Get them while you can!

Titles from Smashwords & other places

First, you should check out the previous Robert’s Roundup columns on Smashwords deals. Here, here, here and here.

101 Tips on How to be A Bouncer by Darren Lee. (Set your own price). Such an odd topic, but it’s very well-written. The author is a lawyer who used to be a security professional at nightclub and events for several years.

Yas Niger is a prolific Nigerian author (website) who is a trained activist. teacher and commentator. Lots are free on Smashwords, but the rest are discounted to free as well.

Irrevocable Acts by Jonnie Hyde (website) is a tale of a New Mexico grandmother, a landscaper and a professor are thrown together to become environmental activists. FREE!

Where the What If Romans and the Moon is Louis Armstrong by Esther Krivda (website) is a FREE! gigantic fairy tale type novel with a girl named Sophia Oomla who lives in a magical world where she is speechless during the day and can communicate only after midnight with fairies and other kinds of creatures. It sounds like a children’s book written for adults.

Tamara Merrill (website) has written a trilogy (all free!) of the Agustus Family Trilogy starting with Family Lies, In her interview, she mentions writing a lot of stuff early in her career, then getting sidetracked. (Hey, know the feeling!) . Each of the 3 books covers a different time period starting pre-World War 2 with the last one Family Myths coming in the 1960s.

Fiction and Poetry by Paul Hina (website). I raved about one of Hina’s novellas earlier this year, and I notice that all of his titles are now free during this week. Grab them while you can!

Terrance Bramblett (website) is a prolific Georgia author of stories, essays and memoirs with a quirky, humorous touch. He has published lots of mini-ebooks. He’s a late addition to this column, so I wasn’t able to buy his ebooks, but I downloaded about 5 free mini-ebooks in the 10,000-30,000 word range which are free this week. After listing some of his favorite books (Joseph Heller, Hunter Thompson, Mark Twain, etc), he notes, ” All these have one thing in common: a zany, twisted slant on life and the events that happen to people as they go through it. These authors write the way I wish I could.” Among his works is a two volume historical novel, Rebel Gold (1.25 for each volume) about Lucas Stone who after the Civil War, seeks adventure with the Confederate gold he stole.

Non-Sense Boy and his somewhat unusual sister by Saul Marmot (FREE!) is a British sci fi comedy. It’s a far-fetched tale about a scientist who stumbles upon an invention that could save the world! This feels like Arthur Dent/Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fun.

Two FREE! books by Laura Rae Amos (website) : Exactly where they’d fall and the Fish and the Bird. Both are “serious” books about relationships, somewhat from a female perspective. The first is about how three people handle a romantic liaison from long ago. Actually the second book is a similar subject (kind of).

Last December I was raving about the offerings from Fomite Press. All titles were in the 1.25-1.50 range — you can see what I bought lost time — look under the Discounted titles section). All the titles I bought were terrific-looking, and in fact, my only regret is not buying more. Here are some more Fomite gems I missed last time:

  • Kafka’s Roach: Life and Tims of Gregor Samsa by Marc Estrin. Estrin is a founder of Fomite Press, frequent author of political tracts on Smashwords (most free). But he also wrote the acclaimed Insect Dreams which I already had a copy of, thanks to Mary Whipple’s recommendation. Update: Wow, apparently there are 3 books based on the 900 page novel Estrin submitted in 2000. I missed it the first time, definitely grabbed it this go around.
  • Here is Ware by Michael Cocchairale (website). Short story collection set in Ohio, Pennsylvania, NY which features characters baffled where they are in their lives. From this interview, Cocchairale described the relationship between the title novella and the other stories: ” (It) started out as a single flash fiction. However, it wasn’t long before I wanted to find out more about Samantha Wayne and her dysfunctional family. I wanted to see her grow up—to see how, through both luck and savvy, she was able to avoid the pitfalls that claimed other family members. Then I became keen on exploring the tensions that arose when she moved away from her hometown.”  published another book this month None of the Above with the also excellent Unsolicited Press.
  • Rising Tide Of People Swept Away by Scott Archer Jones (website). (both titles are 1.25) Jones is a New Mexico novelist who has two novels with Fomite. This title is about a boy who flees a toxic family and lives with various drinkers and losers. (Here’s an audio interview). Just a few days ago Fomite released And Throw Away the Skins about a broke breast cancer survivor named Bec who lives in a rundown cabin in northern New Mexico.

David Vernon is the founder and editor of the Australian publisher, Stringybark which publishes various books (fiction and nonfiction). It is particularly known for hosting story competitions 2x a year on certain topics. Several are on erotic themes, but most are on more conventional topics. Most are discounted from $4 to $2 (boo!) but about 1/3 are at $1. It’s all mystery meat to me (especially since the ebooks don’t appear on Amazon), but the story collections have good previews, plus the publisher has motivated some insightful reviews on the Smashwords book pages. I grabbed Cocktails (erotica -0.99) Between the Sheets (erotica.99), Valentine’s Day and Very End of the Affair (humor — .99)

From the above publisher here’s Reflections in a Hubcap ($1) by Steve Atkinson. Atkinson is a retired London reporter who dabbles in fiction. Some of the tales are described as ” whimsically autobiographical while others visit the dark and murky places of the human mind.” 

Albert Low is a Canadian Zen master and writer who passed away a few years ago. (For a while he wrote a blog). His titles (mostly 1.25 each, but some freebies) synthesize Western and Eastern. Judging by word length and topic, I ended up purchasing Zen and the Sutras, Iron Cow of Zen, Creating Consciousness and Zen: Talks, Stories and Commentaries.

What Confucius Really Said: Complete Analects in Skopos-Centric Translation by Chris Wen-chao Li. (99 cents) This is a well-researched translation that attempts to translate both the text and the cultural references so that they refer to English idioms and aspects of American culture. It’s disconcerting and even comic to read, but it’s a very sophisticated and clever translation…. There’s a lot of footnotes with bad formatting, but what you get is a still very interesting 120 page text — recommended! FYI, last year I bought David Hinton’s translation of the Four Chinese classics for $2 (probably the best translation out there) and a literary biography of Confucius by Annping Chin for 99 cents. (I know, I got both at ultralow prices, but I predict that the Hinton book will be discounted again eventually).

Avenging Cartography by Ken Poyner (website). 1.50. Poyner is a highly regarded author and storyteller who publishes tales of the fantastic — which might also be classified as science fiction. fairy tales, whatever. The book descriptions and titles are hilarious. One unnamed reader (the author himself?) described his stories as ”  unruly and: quirky, witty, slightly askew, off-kilter. . . . Also, they’re short, you can pop them in your mouth and gobble them up in small bites. Poyner’s work is the weird marriage of science fiction to speculative with a soupçon of magical realism thrown in. A little bit raunchy, a little bit R rated, these are not tales for the timid. Sharp political satire, these curious fables of lust and greed are perfect for our own age of avarice. ” All the books are $1.50, and I went with this one and his latest, Revenge of the House Hurlers. I am prepared to be disappointed; on the other hand, if the books are half as wild as the descriptions, I’m going to like them a lot!

I couldn’t afford it during this purchasing expedition, but Read by Strangers: Stories by Phillip Dean Walker (website) (1.75) sounds interesting. According to the description, it is ” sixteen queer stories exploring the complexities of the human experience. From weary men seeking a ride back from a club but find themselves trapped to a woman addicted to a virtual reality game who is neglecting her child to a man whose fantasies about of his neighbor’s wife have begun to take over his life. “

Erotic Stories on Smashwords. From time to time I like to explore unfamiliar categories to see what they’re like. This column’s unfamiliar category is Erotica — unfortunately many of these titles are overpriced — even during Smashwords sales. I’m going to take a stab at a few. I don’t have the time or desire to explore them all, but I wanted to point out the one which seem like deals or well put together.

Speaking of erotica, Bradley Stoke (website) writes a variety of novellas and stories with an erotic theme — though they are more plotted than the typical stroke stories. Everything is FREE! There’s an erotically-charged sci fi series Anomaly trilogy, Alif (sexual utopia at a brothel), as well as short story collections: Cyberwhore (sci fi), No Future a dystopian futuristic novel about UK, Crystal Passion (adventures of a a lesbian British rock band). Reviews are mixed/nonexistent, but I get the impression from the descriptions that while sexual elements are an important part of these stories, there are social, cultural and political themes as well. Among non-erotica there’s Omega, a tale about childhood imagination with fantastic, improbably things, a kind of refuge from adult concerns and a journey to truth. The description is really vague (the author compares it to a Johnathan Swift thought-piece), Also, there’s the long Glade and Ivory about shamans in prehistoric times.

Gail Pool(website) is a distinguished book critic and author who wrote a respected book, Faint Praise: Plight of Book Reviewing in America. (2.00 with discount). She also wrote Lost Among the Baining: Adventure, Marriage and other Fieldwork, (99 cents) a nice memoir of doing anthropology fieldwork in Papau New Guinea. Also, she has a wonderful Travelit blog which reviews all kinds of travel books.

Whitepoint Press (website) is another small indie press publishing on Smashwords (and discounting for Read an Ebook week). Founded by Lisa De Niscia. Generally with this week’s discount, fiction is $2 and poetry is $1.50.

  • How they Spend their Sundays by Courtney McDermott (website). 2.00 Stories about Lesotho and South Africa by a former Peace Corps volunteer (Hey, I am a PCV myself — Albania, 1995-7).
  • Off Somewhere by Z.Z. Boone (website). This short story collection is $2 this week. Fun fact: Boone has written 20 plays under the name Bill Bozzone.
  • Things we Do for Women by Seth Johnson. $2. Linked stories taking place in Kentucky. From a blogpost: “I began writing stories about a gunman or a potential gunman. Many of these stories are in The Things We Do for Women. As the characters began to move and live, I realized that for the work to project the angst and uncertainty, the ilk of disconnection perhaps felt by a gunman, I needed to write anti-stories—that is, stories with no definitive resolutions, no way out, no money shots. Most of the stories written in the main protagonist’s POV are anti-stories. The intent is to leave the reader mired in the character’s emotion, yet unsettled.Publishers’ Weekly give a lukewarm review, but clearly they don’t get what Johnson is doing.
  • Lighting the Word by Merle Drown (website – what a name!) is a family drama about a high school student who decides to run away from his mother and entrusts this secret. Sale $2. One reviewer writes, “Merle Drown provides unique insight into a small-town tragedy. His storytelling never asks the reader to sympathize with or forgive Wade, although at times they may feel compelled to do so. “

Bad Faith by Jesse Tandler (FREE!) is a tale of twenty-something grad students dealing with life’s realities. In reviewing the novel, Paul Samael wrote that the novel is “about this problematic obsession with authenticity – but it’s more concerned with its impact in the domestic sphere than the political arena…. this is not just a good story – it also made me think quite hard about the slipperiness of “authenticity” as a guiding principle for what we value in life. “

Inelegant Universe by Charles Hibbard (Free!) is a story collection much admired by Paul Samael, saying that he” particularly liked the way that many of the stories manage to combine fairly everyday incidents (e.g. dinner parties, two friends on a hike, visiting an elderly parent in a nursing home) with larger, more abstract ideas – ranging from string theory through to evolution and the conflict between order and chaos.” Samael also enjoyed the free Garrison Keillorish Burned-Over District and Retirement Projects.

Paul Samael  is In the future this will not be Necessary. Also, 99 cents on Amazon. “A thought-provoking novel about a technology-obsessed cult and the disillusioned narrator’s obsession with the cult leader’s wife. “Fluent [and] witty”, “Well written and teeming with interesting ideas”… Samael has reviewed lots of titles on his blog — including a number on Smashwords. (go to the bottom of the page). I look forward to reading his reviews and discovering all the titles that Samael already did.

Julie Russell Pedalling Backwards  (FREE!) Here’s a review by Samael.

Creative Commons/Free/Academic/Public Domain titles

Petrarch’s Letters to Classical Authors. To my astonishment I realized that I downloaded a 1910 Gutenberg text which was translated with commentary by Mario Emilio Cosenza. Even though the translation is somewhat out of date, this edition was beautifully done — with ample footnotes and explanations. It contains imaginary letters written to Virgil, Cicero and others. What a great idea — I’m inspired. By the way, if you’re interested in reading Petrarch’s magnum opus Canzoniere, you absolutely need to check out Mark Musa’s great translation and edition. I recommend the print edition though I’m surprised that the ebook is available for $8.

Poetry

Smashwords is actually a good source for competent and low-priced poetry. One reason is that SW has a higher percent of indie presses; also it’s possible to discount titles below 2.99 and not forfeit all your profits to the Amazon megamonster. Also, look in the multimedia section because I’ll usually try to find an audio/video link to a recitation of the poems.

Douglas Thornton (website) has two poetry titles free this week. Woodland Poems is a collection of poems inspired by Native American themes Seasons of Mind is a collection of observations about the mind and nature. (Audio links of his poems are in the Multimedia section). A book review of it admires Thornton’s attention to classical forms (and indeed, Thornton has published some translations of Catullus).

Beyond the Gray Leaf: Life and Poems of J.P. Irvine by Dustin Renwick wrote a (FREE!) biography of the Civil War era poet with a sampler of his poetry included. I am happy to report that Renwick has also released a FREE sampler Pens, Plows, & Gunpowder: The Collected Works of J.P. Irvine. It’s neither here nor there, but a while back I prepared a kickass annotated bibliography of Civil War fiction. I distinctly remember loving the poetry anthology Words for the Hour: a New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry, 2005 edited by Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller.

Treasures that Prevail by Jen Karetnick (website) $1.50 Karetnick is an acclaimed poem now living in Miami; the subject of these poems is the effect of climate change on Miami. Let me say at the onset that I am an absolute sucker about climate change. (I’ve written widely about it, but check my piece here).

Various ecopoems by Scott T. Starbuck (website) Starbuck has published several poetry volumes about ecological subjects. Among them, Carbonfish Blues stands out because it is beautifully illustrated by Guy Denning. (Watch out — the ebook file is huge!). Other ecopoem titles include Hawk on a Wire , and Industrial Oz (here’s a review of it)

Among the Lost (1.25) by Seth Steinzor (website). Steinzor is a distinguished poet who wrote a two volume modern verse retelling of Dante’s Inferno I bought volume one last Christmas, and this is part 2.

Lessons of the Dead: Poems. ($1.50) by Brett Ortler (website). This new release consists of several poems, whose titles start with “What the Dead Tell Us about….” and then use a variety of phrases to finish it with (War, Magic, Cupid in Old Age, etc.). Surprisingly, Ortler has written a lot of frivolous-sounding nonfiction about mosquitos, fireflies and Minnesota. Hey, if it pays the bills!

Imperfect Tense By Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor. $1.50 Cahnmann-Taylor is a TESOL teacher, poet and linguist. Her poems are about her profession as a linguist and teacher (see audio in the multimedia section)

Texas Titles

Dreams of Desire by Vala Kaye (personal website). 2.99 (not on sale, but I got it when it was on sale previously). Kaye writes fantasies for adults (paranormal romance). This Faustian tale is about a a frustrated writer who meets a beautiful and mysterious female Satan worshipper who offers Zach the creativity he longs for in exchange for …..? It’s marked as “for mature readers only.” I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing there will be sex… Kaye lives in North Houston — so conceivably our paths could cross..

To Squeeze a Prairie Dogby Scott Semegran. Regular 2.99, discounted today to 99 cents. I have an ad for this book on the sidebar to buy on Smashwords…. I’ve read the first chapter. A strong work…

Under the Radar /Blink and it’s Gone Sales

This post is mainly about Smashwords deals, not so much other authors on Amazon. I’ll add a few of the Amazon deals here if I find any.

Half-Angel by Raphael Sanzio. Very informal poetry about commuting to work in NYC. Intermittently free.

Quartet in Love by Judy Stanigan. (FREE!) A humorous and satirical take on the pitfalls of romance….

Beyond Biocentrism: Rethinking Time, Space, Consciousness, and the Illusion of Death. By Robert Lanza 99 cents. Lanza is a doctor, medical researcher and well-known scientist who has written several general science books such as this one.

Deals on stuff published by Amazon.com

Generally these are titles published by the Amazon imprints. I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. these remain 99 cents or 1.99 until the end of the month. Everything below is 99 cents unless otherwise stated.

  • Listen to Me by Shashi Deshpande. Writer’s memoir by prolific English language author from India. I’m doing doing alerts on her fiction alerts, so hopefully I’ll announce them in future columns. This is a great buy!
  • Edward Adrift by Craig Lancaster. (website) 2nd of series about a 42 year old autistic man growing up in Montana . From his author page: “”It’s all too easy to turn people into caricatures, but the truth is, we humans are pretty damned fascinating,” Lancaster says. “For me, fiction is a way at getting at truth. I use it to examine the world around me, the things that disturb me, the questions I have about life–whether my own or someone else’s. My hope is that someone reading my work will have their own emotional experience and bring their own thoughts to what they read on the page.”
  • Sky Below by Scott Parazynski (astronaut memoir and adventure story). Man, Amazon is going out to promote this one!
  • Hannah Arendt: Life in Dark Times (Icons). by Anne C. Heller. I’ve been enjoying these micro-biographies, even though they aren’t full treatments of the subject. (Every month, another in the series is discounted).

Multimedia

KCRW Bookworm Interview with Marc Estrin (audio).

Poet Scott T. Starbuck (mentioned above) gives a 20 minutes reading and presentation about his Ecopoems.

Short Audio excerpts of the poetry books by Douglas Thornton can be heard on Soundcloud. More like poetic meditations than poetry.

Here’s Misha Cahnmann-Taylor at a poetry reading (video- 12 minutes). Also, here’s a 26 minute video from a 2018 reading.

(Here’s an audio interview with novelist Scott Archer Jones ).

I have several audio interviews I made with authors which I’ll be publishing here soon!

Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. [Update: Oh, what the heck, for this week only I discounted all my titles to $1 and left Interview with the Sphinx at free until next week. Enjoy!]You can buy these titles at the main ebook stores (Amazon, Kobo, BN, Apple, etc.), but I regularly run promotions on Smashwords, so the same titles usually sell on Smashwords for half the price that you see them on Amazon. Pay attention to any 100% coupon codes which I occasionally list below — they can be redeemed only a small number of times, so first come, first serve. Smashwords only sells epub versions of these titles, but you can easily convert them to Amazon’s mobi format by using Kindle Previewer or Calibre.

  • Interview with the Sphinx. By Jack Matthews.  ($1.10 until 5/18/2019). no coupon code required) Hyperintellectual Tom Stoppard-like play which reads like a novel about a strange interview  with the ancient Sphinx character. Freud and Florence Nightingale show up too.   I loved this play and even produced an audio version of it (3.99 on cdbabyand itunes), but the script  reads well too.
  • A Worker’s Writebook by Jack Matthews . $1.00. Matthews distributed a photocopied version of this writing guide to his Ohio U. creative writing students over the decades.
  • Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War by Jack Matthews. $1.00 Philosophical Stories Taking place during the US Civil War.  (FREE coupon — use code: KD45Y.  maximum: 2 uses).   
  • Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind by Jack Matthews. Flash Fiction. $1.00  (FREE coupon — use code: LQ42XK.  maximum: 2 uses). 
  • Hanger Stout, Awake (50th Anniversary Edition). by Jack Matthews. Coming of age novel. $1.00
  • Three Times Time Story Sampler by Jack Matthews (Always Free!) US Amazon customers can sometimes get it for free, but to make things easier, you can down these files directly without having to register: EpubMobi.

Literary Trends Spotted

This is not so much a trend as it is a recent penchant for stories from states and regions unfamiliar to me. I am so much a sucker for books from distant lands. Even in the USA, I know there are fascinating books coming from West Virginia, South Carolina, Utah, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming and probably other places as well. That’s just the USA. I must admit I get excited when I discover an author comes from a land I don’t know really well. I remember my recent excitement at discovering that Donald Harington came from Arkansas or that Ron Rash came from South Carolina or that (in today’s post) we have Scott Archer Jones from New Mexico or Seth Johnson is from Kentucky. About Texas, well, don’t get me started!

Miscellaneous (Used Books. Library Titles, Book-related Articles)

to fill in later.

Interesting Reviews Everywhere

None this time!

Review Copies Received

to fill in later.

Closing Thoughts

Egad I must have over 200 browser tabs open. Now that I’ve published, I’m going to shut my browser down (temporarily). A long post. I’m taking next week off, to give me time to recover! The deals never stop coming!

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Amazon, affiliate program, goodbye!

To my surprise and chagrin, I see that Amazon cancelled my participation in the Amazon Affiliate program (which I started a month ago). The email announcing the cancellation did not mention the reason, but after reading the terms, I see something:

z) You will not display on your Site, or otherwise use, any Program Content to advertise or promote any products that are offered on any site that is not an Amazon Site (e.g., products offered by other retailers). You will not display on your Site or otherwise use any data, images, text, or other information or content you may obtain from us that relates to Excluded Products.


It might be obvious that I have affiliate ads for Smashwords ebooks. I totally get that a company can insist on exclusivity (and in fact I have written extensively about how a litblogger can run ads and affiliate programs ethically).

Amazon has really crossed a line here. Do they really think literary bloggers are going to agree to exclusive arrangements on ebook ads?

So to summarize: a multibillion dollar company with a near monopoly on ebook sales has demanded exclusivity for advertising on a personal blog of an impoverished writer linking to ebook pages of an store whose direct sales volume is probably less than 1 or 2 percent of Amazon’s.

Aside from the fact that Amazon has more sales volume, I believe that Smashwords’ affiliate program is better, fairer and far more profitable to third party websites than Amazon’s own. By default, Smashwords gives a 11% payout on direct ebook sales while for Amazon, it’s 4% or less. If they choose, authors can choose to increase the affiliate payouts to a higher percent, something I have chosen to make SW authors aware of.

As Smashwords CEO/flamethrower Mark Coker said in his end-of-year blogpost:


The entire publishing community is now living in fear.

Large traditional publishers are worried about making their next quarter’s numbers, and are terrified Amazon will take away their preorder buttons if they so much as look at Amazon cross eyed.  Indies are terrified of Amazon’s next price-matching email or KU nastygram, which reminds them that repeated offenses could lead to cancellation of their publishing privileges.  Indies are terrified of seeing their legit reviews disappearing without explanation or recourse. Or, like the NY Times bestseller who contacted me this morning, why should an author fear being kicked out of KU because Amazon might notice that a pirated version of her book was just listed for sale at another major retailer?

What kind of life is this, living in fear that your business partner who’s supposed to have your back is browbeating you, and threatening to drop the axe on you at any moment?

All too often, succumbing to Amazon’s offers of quick fixes like KDP Select can feel safer, but this decision can also lead to long term pain, bondage and servitude.

Exclusivity is a form of censorship.  It says you can express yourself here, but not there.

Algorithms that give preference to exclusive books are a form of censorship too.  This struggle for free expression predates Amazon, and will continue long after Amazon is gone. ….

The good news is that Amazon’s practices can’t last.  They’re unsustainable for the creators of books.  Like all forms of oppression, the people will eventually rise up and take back their independence.

As I mentioned previously, even though I have always been uncomfortable with Amazon’s tactics, first and foremost I want to provide good information for consumers. I will continue to provide links to Amazon exclusive deals and ebooks from their imprints (Little A, Amazon Crossing), but generally I will prefer to link to the author’s personal website than the Amazon page. Also, I will continue running links and ads to Smashwords and other ebook stores. FYI, my next Robert’s Roundup will be on Tuesday March 5 ( 2 days after the annual Smashwords Read-an-Book week has started). I’ll be reporting on the great things I’ve found from that sale.

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Silly me, I realized that I forgot to link to an annotated bibliography (AB) I made of US Civil War fiction a few years ago. I did this as an appendix to a story collection ebook by Jack Matthews I edited a few years ago. This ebook sells for $3 on Amazon and $1.50 on Smashwords. Actually though I had so much fun compiling this AB that I ended up writing a post about it on Teleread. Here is a verbatim reproduction of that same essay. Enjoy.

Map to the stars: The secret delights of annotated bibliographies

The older I become, the more I seem to enjoy reading about books than actually reading them. Why do people read about books?

Books are plentiful, and our time on this earth is limited. People need some method for picking and prioritizing what they read (or in general what they do with free time). The youthful reader is inclined to read indiscriminately, favoring whatever was unavailable at libraries or forbidden by parents.

By early adulthood it dawns on people that reading time (or time in general)  is a precious commodity. Even if you are lucky enough to find a career that requires a significant amount of reading, there never seems to be enough time to read what  you really want. If you spend too much time on books that are crap (a highly significant amount) there is less time to read great and powerful stuff.

Some degree of serendipity is crucial for discovering good reading material¹, but at some point you have to  find some method that will keep exposing you to  great reading material.

I’ll devote a series of blogposts to such methods. For this one, I shall discuss an overlooked resource when  trying to decide what to read:  the annotated bibliography (abbreviated as AB for this essay).

Annotated Bibliographies (ABs)

Despite my love for reading, I could never imagine reading an AB —much less writing one – except under duress in high school English class.

A year ago, though, I decided to make an annotated bibliography (AB) about Civil War fiction as an afterward for a Jack Matthewsebook my company was publishing.  It turned out to be an all-consuming project; truthfully just proofreading everything turned out to be a nightmare.  Nonetheless, I think the result was an admirable (and useful) contribution to the genre.

It’s important to distinguish between a bibliography (which is a mere listing of titles in alphabetical order) and an AB (which not only lists the items, but also describes  why each source is interesting or important). A good AB (and honestly, most of them are good!) is usually worth reading on its own.  A few days ago I read two print  annotated bibliographies of Texas history. Delightful and fascinating!  Frankly, these two books revealed new books that I never could have found by looking in library catalogs or checking   bibliographies of other history  books.

Perhaps print bibliographies don’t translate well  to web browsing, but AB’s have been on the web for over 20 years. Starting from the 1990s, you would find them everywhere as Description Lists  or (DL) in HTML. That was back when Internet search was iffier and you relied on links pages maintained by human editors to help you find what you wanted. These pages were usually static HTML and more focused on creating paths to other helpful resources. (Alas, nowadays, it seems that most websites aim to trap you or force you to sign up for a newletter or give them  your credit card).

Even today, the sort of bibliographies which you find on Wikipedia just list book titles and possibly web resources. Nothing is wrong with that of course, but in an age of excessive information, we don’t need to know every work on a topic; we would just like to know which works contain the best information or are ideal for beginners or have the best photographs (etc.) Let’s use  my Civil War bibliography to illustrate how ABs  work and what they offer for readers.

Why annotated bibliographies are awesome

First, ABs don’t try to cover everything in a field — just the most interesting things (or the most interesting things that the preparer has encountered). My Civil War fiction AB tried to hit the big landmarks, but there is no doubt that this list overlooks many worthy works. Often the selectivity of these resources make it more helpful to the reader.

Second, I tried to subdivide the huge list into several smaller categories(containing no more than 20 titles). Also,  I ordered the categories in a way to give certain works more prominence (i.e., Critical Overview and Classics).

Third, in addition to arranging works by category, I decided against listing them alphabetically.  For the most part, I arranged works by date of publication — although this perhaps can be somewhat disorienting. But it isn’t hard to search for the name of an author or a title in a web browser.

Fourth, this may not be obvious, but I don’t have any special expertisein the area of Civil War fiction. In fact, I have read surprisingly little Civil War fiction (though I will be correcting this deficiency soon).  Mostly I just did background reading, found some useful bibliographies (both in print and online) and then combined everything.  I found several notable critical studies of Civil War fiction and just listed most of the fiction titles discussed in them. In the 1990s there was a special award specifically for Civil War fiction, and so I list all those titles. By reading book reviews and comments on Amazon, I tried to include a fair summary as well as context (i.e., was this first of a series? Is there anything notable or unique about the author or the narrative angle? Did it win any awards? Was it made into a movie? )

Fifth, I listed data about the books which might be useful for certain readers. I tried to identify which works were already in the public domain. I also indicated lexile scores for books geared toward younger readers. (Lexile is a method of measuring the relative difficulty of a text and is used by teachers).

Sixth, online bibliographic resources can remain flexible in format. (This is something that the Wikihow article on ABs acknowledges).  I looked at various style guides  before making my AB. Then I realized that there was no need to give complete citations as required by MLA or Chicago Style Guide. (Besides, it would increase the prep time.) Generally, publication  data is reasonably easy to locate from Amazon.com and other places.

Date of publication is relevant because it indicates which works are in the public domain (and can be downloaded for free). I debated whether to include links to Project Gutenberg (PG) or archive.org or Amazon.com or Wikipedia, but in the end I decided to keep  hyperlinks to a minimum. I did this mainly because I was making this bibliography for an ebook and worried that putting links here would just create  linkrot. It’s hard to predict how long Project Gutenberg or other web projects  will be able to maintain its URLs.

This bibliography is (relatively) noncommercial. I stuck a small ad for a Jack Matthews title published by my company, but aside from that, it’s a static page unlikely to change (unless I forget to pay my hosting charges!) In contrast, you can find lots of listicles about Civil War fictionand Civil War books. All are interesting and helpful and written by people with interest or expertise on the subject.

But listicles are a form of abbreviated journalism and  rarely  systematic. A good features writer can sniff out enough notable books in a field to make  a listicle, but often they are skewed towards newer books and books which are in the public eye (rather than books which are actually interesting or important). Sometimes publications can go offline or migrate to a different software platform — thus disrupting the continuity of URL addresses. Biblio-listicles  reside in an online world subject to various pressures (technical and commercial).

It would be easy for a wiki site to facilitate the production of ABs. But such bibliographies are better produced by individuals (or small groups of like-minded individuals). I doubt that you can set  criteria for group editing  which are reasonably fair or neutral to all contributors. Wiki software helps in producing the ABs, but the neutral point of view (NPOV) philosophy  and notability criteria  used by Wikipedia isn’t really  compatible with the individual quirkiness which make annotated bibliographies so special and interesting.

You would think that the proliferation of citation tools and content management systems would mean that ABs would be everywhere online. That is definitely not the case. Maybe in the 1990s when human editors cataloged web resources, this might have been true. Since then, Google Search and Wikipedia articles have taken over, worthy tools, but skewed in their own ways. Google Search can be gamed fairly easilywhile Wikipedia seems dedicated to  listing resources without trying to assess their value. (If you don’t believe me, try browsing through this top level category of Wiki bibliographies and try to find anything actually useful.)

ABs are not easy to find using search engines. Every time I try Google to find a good annotated bibliography, the search results consist mainly of commercial products (some of whom are not even available for individuals!) When I try googling a more specific topic for an annotated bibliography, the pickings are usually slim.  Interestingly, it’s not as hard to locate ABs on abstract philosophical topics. Check out this   Chinese philosophy  AB or the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to see what I mean.

chinese-book

Online bibliographies have other problems. First, they tend to be database-driven, which means that the view in the browser is often truncated or chunked in an unusable way. Database-driven bibliographies offer advanced sorting and filtering capabilities and occasionally annotations, but their selection criteria might not match your own. For example, which resource in a list of 50 or 100  should you check first? Second, many of these tools cater to institutional customers and not  open to public surfing.

Take for example the Oxford Bibliographies Online. Sounds and looks promising, but wait! You have to log in, and your institution has to subscribe. If your institution doesn’t subscribe to such a service or if you don’t even belong to an institution, you’re out of luck.

Many of the best AB’s are in book appendices (i.e., not online).  Again, there is a lot of segregation between users who have institutional accounts (and better access to bibliographies and ebooks) and users who don’t.

While I compiled material for my Civil War AB,  not having access to most of these academic services severely limited what I could find online.

On the other hand, print versions of academic books from my city library often had ample  bibliographies in their appendices. (Perhaps they were not ABs, but they were still very useful.)

This leads to my final question: If many academic books contain ample and carefully crafted  ABs in the appendix, why don’t more authors simply repost the appendix online?

NOTES

1  I actually think contemporary readers need to be more adventurous about what they read, even if it means having to struggle through crap once in a while. Indie publishing is flooded with perfectly interesting books which don’t win awards or get reviewed in notable places. This tendency to seek only books by award winners or books  have been widely praised  is perfectly understandable (and results in a higher probability that you will read a  winner),  but it also eliminates the thrill of discovery and also keeps hidden many remarkable literary works. It also lets you read with auto-pilot turned on; you are not really trusting your own judgment but instead simply trying to validate whether your opinions match what the critics have said.  My solution is to  download  and read a lot of first chapters and later abandon a lot of books after that. Sure, you can’t judge every book by a single  chapter, but at least I’m giving a lot of unknown authors a chance to enter my brain.

(If you know of any annotated bibliographies online to recommend, feel free to list them in the comments). 

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View the post series | Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup

Preface

I’m changing the format and frequency of Robert’s Roundup. Basically I’ll post roundups every 2-3 weeks, make posts longer and most of the time combine Amazon deals and Smashwords deals in the same post. I’m posting this Friday, but will add stuff over the next three days or so. Note: Smashwords’ Seasonal Sale will go live March 3 — so I’ll do a big SW roundup on the day or two after.

Blue Moon Deals

The Collected Novels: Lie Down in Darkness, Set This House on Fire, The Confessions of Nat Turner, and Sophie’s Choice   by William Styron, $2.40

Robert Bolano’s 2666. (1.99 on Amazon AND Google Play Books). I’m pretty amazed that this modern classic is at this price.

Under the Radar

Various novels by Dennis Ruane. Many have been discounted to free. The common thread through these 4 novels seems to be modern men who retreat from professional obligations to retreat into nature. All sound fascinating!

Christopher Walker is a UK author teaching English in Poland. He has published several promising literary works which are a bargain on Amazon. Sara the Writer (stories), The Amnesiac and other Stories, Hit the Bottom and Escape (Novel set in Ghana) and Stars too can die of Sadness. I’ve also greatly enjoyed the First 49, a collection of travel essays about the countries he has visited. That last work is free while the others are 99 cents, making it an incredible bargain.

Trouble Found Me: 11 Tales of Life. by Christopher Sewell.

Becoming Carlotta: Biographical Novel by Brenda Murphy.

Dick Quigby’s Guide to the Afterlife by E.E. King.

Chris Angelis: Dreamflakes and Soulcrumbs.

These Islands Here: Short Stories of the South Pacific by Brownyn Elsmore. Elsmore is a New Zealand author who has written in many genres: plays, short fiction, nonfiction (mainly about Maori culture). (Here’s her book page and her blog. Amazingly, on the same site she runs Flaxflower, a group book review blog about Kiwi authors.

Tiny Shoes Dancer (99 cents) by Audrey Kalman (website) is a fine short story collection by a fine California author. A few months ago at another sale I bought a novel about a mother being held at gunpoint by her son, What Remains Unsaid. Her website describes her fiction as “fiction with a dark edge” and that sounds about right.

Fat Lady’s Low Sad Song by Brian Kaufman (99 cents). I took a chance on this baseball novel written by a former comedian/restaurateur/rodeo rider. It’s about two down-on-their luck baseball players (one female, one male). Lots of good reviews, and a great first chapter. 2018 Kirkus Best book

Blink and it’s gone sales

Bomb: The Author Interviews 1.99 Thirty years of interviews that offer “a window into the minds and the writing processes of some of the world’s best practitioners of poetry and prose”

Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction by Mary Ellen Hannibal. Bargain price of 1.20.

Sexual Intelligence by Marty Klein. 1.99. This is available on Unlimited This is a book of psychology. Klein has written other non-discounted books about porn, conservatism, sexual politics…

Short History of Decay by E.M. Cioran. I had never heard of this Romanian philosopher, but this is his famous work, Susan Sontag loves him and his ebooks are being discounted.

Deals on stuff published by Amazon.com

Generally these remain 99 cents or 1.99 until the end of the month.

  • Make Art Making Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens. Very thoughtful discussion about art, business and life. The first chapter referenced another book, Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde which is very famous and widely acclaimed. I found a copy about a year ago at a library sale, and this ebook inspired me to read Gift first. (Could she be his daughter?) Stevens studied semiotics at Brown and her author bio page lists lots of literary credits (including a longish piece, Weekend at Kermie’s — which I assume is in the ebook).
  • College Unbound: Future of Higher Education and what it means for Students by Jeffrey Selingo. Thoughtpiece about how the university is changing, and what students need to do about it.
  • Some Fine Day by Kat Ross. Exciting futuristic tale about what happens when a member of an underground society gets to the flooded surface. Definitely YA fiction, but I’m ready to read the whole thing!
  • Wall Between by Jesper Bugge Kold (from Danish). Mystery story about a man who delves into the death of his E. German grandfather. Kold has another title Winter Men (2.99) which is about how two brothers act during WW2 and how they deal with the guilt after.
  • Midair by Kodi Scheer. This YA book about teenage girls going to Paris doesn’t sound ambitious, but I’ve read several of Scheer’s stories in her previous collection, Incendiary Girls  (which I thought were terrific). So this is a safe bet. Here’s an interview about MidAir and another interview with Scheer about that first collection.
  • Upside of Falling Down by Rebekah Crane. I usually am immune to YA novels with amnesia and plane crashes as plot elements, but the first two chapters aroused my interested and was fun too. Still haven’t decided whether to buy her other 99 cent YA novel Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland. (compassionate look at summer camp with disturbed teens). A lot of older readers say good things about it!

I found two ebooks by Amazon imprints definitely worth checking out. Slightly more expensive, but on Kindle Unlimited (which I’ll be canceling in the next 3 days).

  • One Match by J.Y. Chung. 2.99 This started out as an eerie sci fi thing about online dating and then transmogrified into a long exploration of high tech, professional life, getting older, etc. I wish I bought it when it was still 99 cents, but I’ll probably finish it before my KU expires. UPDATE: Wow, I have a change in heart about this one. It seems like a conventional yuppie romance book. Don’t recommend.
  • Everyone Knows You go Home by Natalia Sylvester. 1.99 story by a Latin American author about a dead father who mysteriously appears at a woman’s wedding. Magic realism, funny, I’m going to get to this eventually (I bought another title by Sylvester before). PS, she has a Texas connection?
  • Without a Country by Ayse Kulin. 1.99 Kulin writes sprawling Turkish tales that seem like sagas/family histories. One of her ebooks was in the World freebie bundle that Amazon did last summer, but Kulin has several other titles out as well. The first chapter is about a a woman who is about to leave her country out of fear of being arrested.

Creative Commons/Free/Academic/Public Domain titles

Life on a Mediaeval Barony: Picture of a Typical Feudal Community in the 13th Century by William Stearns Davis (1922).

2 free film history titles from Univ of California Luminosa Press. Always free from the Luminos website, but the first title is also free on Amazon Divo and the Duce: Promoting Film Stardom and Political Leadership in 1920s America by Giorgio Bertellini. Hokum! Early Sound slapstick Short and Depression-Era Mass Culture by Rob King.

Texas Titles

Various works by Cornelia Amiri: Back to the One I love, (0.99). I met this prolific multigenre author at a local author event. She has written tons, most priced at 99 cents. This one is time travel romance (?) while she’s written fantasy adventure about selkies (Scottish mythical beast that changes from seal to human form). Her most recent novel is an YA fantasy romance also costing 99 cents.

To Squeeze a Prairie Dog by Scott Semegran. Regular 2.99, discounted today to 99 cents. (won’t last). I have an ad for this book on the sidebar to buy on Smashwords…. I’ve read the first chapter. A strong work…

Where Gossamer Wings Fly Free by J. Ariel Aguayo. Young Texas poet.

Hold Autumn in Your Hand by George Sessions Perry. (Texas classic novel which won National Book Award. Not on ebook!)

Titles from Smashwords & other places

Nick Stokes recently published a FREE maze story called You Choose. (alas, without hyperlinks; it’s adapted from a printed version). Also: An Affair Here’s his website. Apparently Stokes is a playwright who releases a lot of things under creative commons license. His fiction has an experimental/metafiction bent. Here’s an interview: Part 1, Part 2.

Mark Beyer: What Beauty (Free!) Also, Village Wit (2.99) and Max, The Blind Guy (300K words for 6.99!).

Paul Samael  is In the future this will not be Necessary. Also, 99 cents on Amazon. “A thought-provoking novel about a technology-obsessed cult and the disillusioned narrator’s obsession with the cult leader’s wife. “Fluent [and] witty”, “Well written and teeming with interesting ideas”… Samael has reviewed lots of titles on his blog — including a number on Smashwords. (go to the bottom of the page). I look forward to reading his reviews and discovering all the titles that Samael already did.

Julie Russell Pedalling Backwards Here’s a review by Samael.

Author/editor Alan Good recently published War on Xmas and Derelict Volume 1( both are Pay what you want). On his malarkybooks website he has published a lot of essays about literary and humor topics. (I enjoyed the publishing manifesto “Fuck Oblivion” and his updated dictionary in great Ambrose Bierce style. He also runs the Derelict website which is a ” magazine of fiction and poetry that has been republished after the original publishers disappeared.” Well worth browsing through repeatedly.

Rejected Essays and Buried Thoughts by Farah Mendelsohn is a collection of literary essays about scifi and children’s literature. (website).

Interesting Reviews Everywhere

Author Christopher Walker (whose fiction titles are listed above) wrote a nice review of a post-WW2 Polish author named Slawomir Mrozek.

Several nice review essays by Chris Angelis (listed above). Ismail Kadare’s Girl in Exile, and ??

Alan Good on A Theory of the Drone By Grégoire Chamayou. QUOTE:
The drone is a cowardly weapon that expands the scope and territory of war. ” (Sounds like something I wrote a few years back).

Tim Parks on Why Finish Books?

To put a novel down before the end, then, is simply to acknowledge that for me its shape, its aesthetic quality, is in the weave of the plot and, with the best novels, in the meshing of the writing style with that weave. Style and plot, overall vision and local detail, fascinate together, in a perfect tangle. Once the structure has been set up and the narrative ball is rolling, the need for an end is just an unfortunate burden, an embarrassment, a deplorable closure of so much possibility. Sometimes I have experienced the fifty pages of suspense that so many writers feel condemned to close with as a stretch of psychological torture, obliging me to think of life as a machine for manufacturing pathos and tragedy, since the only endings we half-way believe in, of course, are the unhappy ones.

New York Review of Books, 2012

I have one book by Parks (Adultery and Other Diversions –not an ebook), but Parks has a lot of ebooks available (fiction and nonfiction). He’s done a lot of Italian translations by very important people. I’ll be watching out and reporting on sales. Here’s a very wonderful LARB interview. My library has a few of his fiction titles, and Novel: A Survival Skill is a highly regarded book of literary criticism.

Alan Good reviews A Life on Paper: Stories (6.15 ebook)by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud. “Châteaureynaud’s stories are disorienting, bizarre, mythical. The stories don’t end with epiphanies or a tidy wrapping-up. Some of the endings are abrupt, even unsatisfying; they feel more like a beginning. So what?”

Poetry

Frank Prem’s Small Town Kid (3.49). Website is here . Also I had a lot of fun listening to Frank Prem’s audio pages.

Poems for a Winter Afternoon by Patrick Meighan.

Where Gossamer Wings Fly Free by J. Ariel Aguayo. Young Texas poet.

Miscellaneous (Used Books. Library Titles, Book-related Articles)

Can’t remember if I already posted so, but Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli is a very fine book about logical thinking. Also highly recommended are Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking by Richard Nisbet and Skeptics Guide to the Universe by Bob Novella et others. Words cannot express my anger at missing the 1 day 2.99 ebook sale, although I now realize that my library owns 5 hard copies. Dobelli is an easy read. Nisbet is pretty intense, and I expect Skeptics Guide to be almost as intense. UPDATE: I started the Novella book. Accessible book on logical thinking.

One of my fave authors from childhood was Norton Juster (author of Phantom Tollbooth). Here’s some Youtube interviews he gave about books and reading. A few years ago they released a beautiful Annotated Phantom Tollbooth which gives the book the respectful attention it deserves. (I bought it for next to nothing; now it costs $15!).

Random Library Checkouts. Generally whenever I visit a library, I will make it a point to browse through the stacks and pick one random book that struck my fancy. The library has many works from abroad and in translation. Before I had to return it, I was getting into This is Memorial Device by David Keenan, a great novel about the punk music scene in Scotland in the 1980s. Had to return it, but I’ll definitely be checking out again! (ebook is 8.99 ugh!). Am rechecking out for the gazillionth time Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick — a great fat book from NYROB.

Literature And The Latin Middle Ages: European literature and the Latin Middle Ages by Ernst Robert Curtius; Willard R. Trask; Colin Burrow . Harold Bloom recommended this as one of the alltime best books of literary criticism. I requested it on Interlibrary Loan and then skimmed it, but it’s clearly an interesting and penetrating book. I’ll find me a copy!

The paradox of Ukrainian Lviv : a borderland city between Stalinists, Nazis, and nationalists by Tarik Amar. It’s an outrageously priced academic book from Cornell U., but overall a fine overview of Lviv before during and after WW2. (Thousands of Jews died there, and Polish were expelled at several different times, both during and after Nazi control). I visited this beautiful city often and gave a lecture there at one of the universities. I didn’t realize that Stanislaw Lem grew up there and was later expelled after World War 2 during one of the Polish purges. The academic book was sometimes dry but thorough and about what you’d expect. It’s hard for Americans to imagine the turbulence of this city, and how it was both a melting pot and a dangerously balkanized city.

Review Copies Received

Literary Trends Spotted

Lately I’ve noticed that multi-volume omnibus editions are selling very well. (The first that I truly got excited about was Nearly Complete Works of Donald Harington ). Here’s what’s going on here. Amazon is setting a price floor at 2.99 for indie authors, and because offering ebooks under 2.99 on Amazon severely reduces royalties, people are getting around the system by offering bigger ebooks! It’s easier to persuade people to buy a 3 volume omnibus edition at 3.99 than trying to sell individual titles for 2.99 or $1. This is sort of a good thing; on the other hand, readers and publishers are again falling into the “Bigger is Better” trap. Eventually these gigantic ebooks will take up too much memory or impair device performance, but ultimately the source of the problem is Amazon’s price floor. For the time being, the 3-5$ price range for omnibus editions is worth watching very closely. Many amazing deals are to be had.

Multimedia

(VIDEO 16 min) Mark Beyer talks about the meaning and value of art with respect to his novel WHAT BEAUTY ebook

Frank Prem’s audio pages.

Norton Juster gave some Youtube interviews he gave about books and reading.

I have several audio interviews I made with authors which I’ll be publishing here soon!

Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy these titles at the main ebook stores (Amazon, Kobo, BN, Apple, etc.), but I regularly run promotions on Smashwords, so the same titles usually sell on Smashwords for half the price that you see them on Amazon. Pay attention to any 100% coupon codes which I occasionally list below — they can be redeemed only a small number of times, so first come, first serve. Smashwords only sells epub versions of these titles, but you can easily convert them to Amazon’s mobi format by using Kindle Previewer or Calibre.

  • Interview with the Sphinx. By Jack Matthews.  (FREE until 3/16/2019, no coupon code required) Hyperintellectual Tom Stoppard-like play which reads like a novel about a strange interview  with the ancient Sphinx character. Freud and Florence Nightingale show up too.   I loved this play and even produced an audio version of it (3.99 on cdbabyand itunes), but the script  reads well too.
  • Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War by Jack Matthews. $1.50 Philosophical Stories Taking place during the US Civil War.  (FREE coupon — use code: KD45Y.  maximum: 2 uses).   
  • Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind by Jack Matthews. Flash Fiction. $1.30  (FREE coupon — use code: LQ42XK.  maximum: 2 uses). 
  • Hanger Stout, Awake (50th Anniversary Edition). by Jack Matthews. Coming of age novel. $1.50
  • Three Times Time Story Sampler by Jack Matthews (Always Free!) US Amazon customers can sometimes get it for free, but to make things easier, you can down these files directly without having to register: EpubMobi.

Closing Thoughts

I first published this on Friday, but I have about a dozen other things to include. The deals never stop coming!

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New Strategy: Longer and Less Often

Over the last month I’ve had several pressing personal matters arise, but (as far as I can tell), they are behind me. I still have been acquiring interesting titles and authors and will continue to share what I can. My next Robert’s Roundup column should drop in the next 24 hours.

Even though it’s kind of a time-suck, I enjoy doing these columns. I prefer making them longer and less often rather than short and frequent.

Deals which I find on Amazon quickly expire, so by the time people read this, many are gone. Why mention them at all? I do so mainly because sales on Amazon recur often, and if you have a price alert system, you can be notified when the price goes down again.

You should pay closely to my recommendations from the monthly sales of Amazon imprints (i.e., 99 cent deals which last until the end of the month). I spend a lot of time reading through this month’s picks and figuring out which are worth buying. When I publish the Roundup, these sales are still up to date and will remain so until the end of the month.

The goal of this column is to make you aware of more under-the-radar authors whose prices stay low to begin with. So while is moderately interesting that I was able to buy an omnibus edition of William Styron’s novels for $2.40 during a spot sale, it probably is not that interesting because Styron is already well known, comes from a major publisher and that sale is likely to pop up again later. Let me pick a better example. I was REALLY tempted to mention and buy the debut story collection White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar for a one day sale of 1.99. This title is probably unfamiliar to many, but apparently last year, it was reviewed EVERYWHERE and was on many people’s Best list. Also, the ebook was found in multiple copies (digital + print) at my library. So I felt no special urgency to buy it even though it was probably great. At the same time, I discovered a story collection by New Zealand author Bronwyn Elsmore for 99 cents. Besides being kind of exotic, Elsmore has several other titles which will be probably be discounted later. Also, it’s highly unlikely to find her stories from my public library. That is why I spent my money on the Elsmore title.

I want to post reviews (capsule or full length), so probably a good schedule would be to post a Robert’s Roundup every 2 weeks and then on the alternate week run some kind of review or book essay. Given the vagaries of schedule, 2 weeks can sometimes turn into 3 weeks. The urgency of the column depends on 1)reporting on my picks for the 99 cent sales before the month is over and 2)reporting on Smashwords seasonal sales in time for readers to take advantage of it.

I mentioned before why I prefer Smashwords even though it is a smaller store and doesn’t have most of the big publishers. Instead of doing a separate column about deals on Smashwords, I’m just going to make it a separate section on my Robert’s Roundups. Most of the time, Smashwords titles are available on Amazon, but I’m NOT going to link to the Amazon book page for multiple reasons.

Finally, I want to add sections for Multimedia, Poetry and Outside Readings on my Roundup. Multimedia is one way to get into authors, and so are essays/book reviews. (Also, I have some audio interviews with authors which I’ll be releasing). Poetry is always neglected

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