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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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Making money off your litblog: Thoughts

Feb 28 Update: Since I made this post, Amazon dropped me from their Amazon Affiliates program, claiming that I violated the terms of the agreement by offering ads to competitor products (in this case Smashwords). I plead guilty as charged! In retrospect, these reflections on the implications of signing up for an affiliate program were prescient indeed!

(See also: Amazon vs. Smashwords: A comparison).

Ever since I revamped the blog to make it more literary, I have thought about whether it was worthwhile to spend time and effort trying to make money from it. . Every indie blogger faces that question at one time or other: sure, blogging is just a habit or a nasty itch, but getting paid a little would make it easier to justify spending more time and energy on it. Given the stark fluctuations in my finances over the decade, the question of seeking ad revenue always remains relevant. Actually, it brings a series of questions:

  1. How much time would it take to configure and maintain an ad-friendly site?
  2. How much would it alienate my (very meager population of) readers? How distracting would it be?
  3. Is the amount of revenue worth the effort and deterioration of the site’s look?
  4. How much control would I forfeit?
  5. How likely is it that ads are for products I’m personally not comfortable with?
  6. Am I crossing a line from which you can’t go back?
  7. Does keeping the blog noncommercial provide benefits greater than trying to monetize it?
  8. Do I have analytical tools to optimize ad performance?
  9. Is the compensation from monetizing a One Person Blog (OPB) high enough to justify doing it?
  10. Is it good to endorse the company deriving benefit from these ads?
  11. How do you compute the optimal ratio of content vs. ads?
  12. Is the subject matter of my blog conducive to advertising?

I’m not going to answer these questions in a methodical manner. I just want to list them for reference.

Some blog topics are naturally conducive to monetization. If you run a fashion blog or a mommy blog or a vintage car blog or a blog about local events in Houston, you’re in luck; it should be relatively easy to connect to potential advertisers. Many bloggers occupy niches of some sort; some are simply less monetizable than others. I am always amused when a blogger from one of these categories talks about how every blogger should try to monetize. No, every blog is different. Some types of blogs are always going to get more eyeballs and always going to attract people who want to advertise. For the vast majority of bloggers, it does not make sense to try because the amount of potential earnings is so paltry.

Are there ads which don’t drive people crazy?

Many ads are distracting. For a long while I have run ad blockers while surfing the net. I don’t particularly feel guilty about doing this, although I wish that I could help these sites in some ways. For me personally, the problem is not the fact a site has ads but that they are extremely distracting and can dominate the reading space. If any ad on a web page has movement, I simply cannot concentrate on the content. Undoubtedly there must be marketing research demonstrating that multimedia ads work better than static ads, but I can confidently assert that sites with ads that dance or shimmer or shake or flash lights drive me crazy. As a reader, I go to web sites to read, not to engage with a video ad which a site has decided I must endure.

Common Mistakes of One Person Blogs (OPB)

At some point, bloggers have to deal with the niche vs. personal thing. Most bloggers start with a niche, and then diverge from it over time with personal updates, political rants, family things, etc. But One Person Blogs (OPB) are difficult to maintain; to truly do justice to a topic requires a full time personal commitment, and even that is not enough. That is usually why many bloggers burn out; they try to do too much or get overwhelmed with other things. In best case scenario, the OPB turns into a multi-person blog and the workload (and profits) are evenly distributed. These things are not as common as you’d think.

The mistake made by one person blogs (OPB) is assuming that the blog has to be the most important thing in their lives. But blogging shouldn’t be first priority or even second priority, maybe not even third priority. Blogposts should be opportunities to go off on random tangents.

Another OPB mistake is assuming that advertising needs to align perfectly with the content. A personal blog is what it is. It’s never going to stay on-topic, and any blog monetization need to allow for this fact. I’m not going to refrain from making a Trump rant, an awkward personal confession or a link to scatalogical humor just because I’m afraid of what potential advertisers will think.

Another OPB mistake is delegating the choice of ads to a third party. Most bloggers have dabbled in putting third party ads on their blog with disappointing results. Maybe the text-only Google ads are better than most from a readability point of view, but the ads themselves aren’t vetted and are potentially suspicious. Also, they appear once and disappear, reducing their effectiveness. Who’s going to click through a link just on the basis of a single ad impression? If I show an ad on my website, I want to know beforehand what it looks like and what product or service it’s promoting. A while back I was looking into joining an ad network — both to buy ads and also to feature them. Eventually I looked at the ad payouts and how much they were charging and eventually realized that the only books which could afford these ads were the bland blockbusters I wouldn’t want anywhere near my blog.

Third party ad networks are convenient and provide better analytics. But they generally don’t provide good value to advertisers or a good payout to website owners. Sure, maybe niche advertising can find the appropriate niche blog, but I generally think both sides are paying too much for those analytical tools at the reader’s expense.

There is a more practical problem with using third party ad networks. Most users were using ad blockers, and third party ads were extremely easy to block. In today’s web, you have to figure out the nuances of persuading people to turn off their ad blocker. Or you can try something more obvious: serve your own ads! (Adblockers rarely block ads from your own website).

The dilemmas of participating in affiliate marketing programs

My makeshift solution is to serve simple book cover ads on the sidebar with links to my Smashwords affiliate links. Then whenever I link to Amazon products in the main text, I embed my affiliate code in the URL.

I somewhat endorse the books featured on the sidebar. I haven’t read most of them, but I’m familiar enough with the content and authors to feel comfortable recommending them. Would I like some paid book ads? Sure! (and hey, if you’re interested, email me!) But for the time being, it’s more important to provide a space for indie authors to get noticed. I’m fine with running free ads indefinitely — most for at least a month.

One overlooked thing about Smashwords is that authors can raise the payout percentage to affiliates. Default payout for Smashwords affiliates is 11%, but when I correspond with authors, I generally ask them to double the payout to 25% (I explain more here).

So far, these affiliate ads have earned me next-to-nothing. Maybe that will change over time as this blog attracts more visitors. Because of the random nature of web surfing, web visitors might not use the affiliate links or possibly not follow my ebook recommendations at all. Oh, well, them’s the breaks!

Which ebook distributors should a blog prefer?

Previously I discussed the pros and cons of Amazon and Smashwords. Is it right for a blogger to prefer links to one of them because of the potential revenue from affiliate marketing programs?

First, let me say that I actually prefer Smashwords as a store for multiple reasons, not just for affiliate payouts. (See my last post).

Second, Amazon not only has more market share and reader reviews, it also has reading applications on all the major platforms. Despite its lack of support for epub, I still prefer the Kindle reading app to the others. Perhaps Google Play Books matches Kindle in platform independence, but they’ve been around for — I don’t know, 6 years — and they still haven’t figured out how to create collections or bookshelves!

Third, I don’t know of third party price alerts for ebook stores other than Amazon. For Pete’s sake, I don’t know how to visit a book page on itunes website without the browser warning me that I need to install iTunes!

Fourth, it is unrealistic for a consumer to keep track of different reading systems. Let me talk about the ebook distributors I have patronized before, in chronological order.

  • ebookwise — (2004-5) I bought a handful of (DRM-free) ebooks from them, all now lost.
  • Sony Reader. (2006?) I bought a handful of well-known titles (Bill Bryson, Andrew Weil, etc) after being given a store credit. DRM. All now lost.
  • Barnes and Noble Nook (2008-2012). I bought about 12 titles and acquired hundreds of free titles. Through some major account screwup, BN lost all my ebook records. I should be mad, but frankly, it was evident for a long while that BN was not managing their records correctly. DRM titles, all now lost.
  • iTunes on iPad 1. I bought about a half dozen titles for the iPad, including several innovative multimedia titles (some as ebooks, some as apps). DRM. After I finally parted with my ipad 1 in 2016, those titles are now lost. (I haven’t had an Apple device since that time — though I recently came to own an iPad 2, so these ebooks might be available to me again.
  • O’reilly Store. 2012-2015 I bought a handful of DRM free technical ebooks available as PDF/EPUB/MOBI which I put on my Google Drive. It’s been a while since I’ve visited the O’reilly store, but I’m pretty sure I could download these titles anytime I want.
  • Packt Press 2011-4? Technical publishers, drm-free. I think I bought a few titles from one of their sales.
  • Humble Bundle 2011-now. I have bought maybe 3 or 4 different DRM-free ebook bundles from them. I downloaded the files onto my Google drive and put some on Google Play Books. I’m pretty sure I could re-download them anytime I want. Strangely, the big problem with Humble Bundle stuff has been file size (some of their files have been gigantic!) Interestingly, some Packt Press and Oreilly titles were included in the last Humble book bundle I bought.
  • Verso Books. (2018), I bought a ton of drm free titles from this leftist press during their Summer Blowout sale. They have really incredible titles (especially on climate change), and I’m sure that as long as the publisher is still alive, I can redownload them anytime I want.
  • Google Play Books (2017-2018). I purchased about 5-10 DRM titles from GPB, mainly because of coupons and sales not present on Amazon. (Octavia Butler, Stephen Hawking, etc). I upload lots of PDF and epubs to GPB, but as I said before, there is no way to organize anything!
  • Tor (2016-present). I have bought 1 title and downloaded several DRM-free titles from these guys.
  • Amazon (2009 to present). I have purchased 1000s of DRM titles (about 80% free) and uploaded many DRM-free purchases from Verso, Smashwords and review copies. (I upload only mobi files. I never upload PDFs to them).
  • Smashwords (2012 to present). I have acquired about 1000+ DRM-free titles. Pre-2017, most of my acquisitions were freebies, but starting in about 2017 onward, I have paid money for an increasing number of titles (especially during their seasonal sales). I try to download multiple formats (when available) and stick on my Google Drive. If mobi files are available, I upload to my Kindle cloud reader. Otherwise, I stick them onto Google Play Books.

To summarize: Except for Amazon, most purchased titles with DRM have eventually become inaccessible. Here are the ebook reading systems I am now using:

  1. Kindle Reader (for most of my purchases). I read on a Samsung 12 tablet and a small android phone.
  2. Google Play Books (for epub uploads, and sometimes PDFs).
  3. Adobe Digital Editions (mobile android edition). For PDFs with DRM (which I use rarely).

So from my perspective as a reader, I am basically blind to sales on iTunes or Kobo or Barnes and Noble store. If more sales become available from these stores, they would have to be pretty huge for me to want to add that reading system — especially since Amazon.com pretty much inherits the low prices from most sales. Maybe at some point a Kobo-Walmart collaboration could persuade me, who knows? Why should I spend extra time making links to ebook stores likely to have the same prices on Amazon?

A kind of solution for affiliate marketing

One way for a blogger to be more agnostic about ebook distributors is to carry affiliate links for everybody. To my knowledge, Amazon hasn’t required exclusivity to participate in their affiliate program. (If they did, I would quickly head to the exits!) WordPress has several plugins which allow you to convert Amazon links to ones with your affiliate codes, so it is convenient to use their program.

If the same ebook is available for the same price on both Smashwords and Amazon, I will buy the version on Smashwords (even if I later end up uploading it to the Kindle app). For this reason, I generally provide links to the Smashwords store if the price is the same. Generally, all the Smashwords titles are available on Amazon.

If the ebook is not on Smashwords, or if the Amazon price is significantly lower (or free), then I’ll mention the Amazon price. Buying through Smashwords pays me 275% of what Amazon pays in affiliate fees, so that’s why I provide as many Smashwords links as I can. On the other hand, Amazon has sales on many titles not on Smashwords. Because the bigger publishers have tools which allow them to price products across bookstores simultaneously, seeing it on sale at Amazon means that it will probably be on sale at other bookstores.

If something is really cheap (and I mean, REALLY cheap!) at another ebook store, I’ll certainly mention it (especially if it’s DRM-free).

To make it easier for you, I will try to provide links to the author’s website and some book descriptions. Like it or not, Amazon’s book page contains the most book information and reviews, so that’s why I link to Amazon’s book page. Even so, you should still check the author’s page when possible. Book pages on the author site not only gives buying information but also direct URLs to book reviews and possibly other supplemental material (interviews, video trailers, excerpts). Also, it can be fun to learn extra things about an author from his bio or his blog.

Goodreads and Book Communities

I actually like Goodreads (despite privacy concerns!), and Amazon’s backing of it has generally helped book communities (although at the expense of the equally impressive Librarything). Let us dream for a moment of an independent book community site which links to all the ebookstores and provided metadata and reader reviews of all kinds. It is not really a good thing that Amazon essentially controls this information. If this consumer/user-generated book information resides at one bookstore, it reinforces the monopoly. Librarything should really do a better job at making their book information available to ebook distributors; perhaps they are already doing this, I don’t know. Capitalism doesn’t always work efficiently, but if it were easy for all ebook sellers to tap into this information, everybody would benefit, and no vendor would derive a special advantage. Then again, it’s hard to imagine such a book community thriving without a big financial backer.

At the same time, my participation in Amazon’s affiliate marketing program does put me in bed with the biggest ebook player (Amazon). For the time being, I’m fine with that — because Amazon book pages have lots of information and Amazon’s affiliate program offers the possibility of blog monetization. But I will keep an eye about whether my implicit partnership with a single bookseller is undermining my commitment to inform you of ebook deals. This blog is NOT MARRIED to Amazon. Instead, it is DATING Amazon simply out of convenience — and if a more attractive suitor comes along, I’m certainly be happy to start playing the field.

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Smashwords vs. Amazon: An ebook comparison

The next two days will feature posts about ebook distribution and affiliate marketing for blogs. Today’s post will compare two leading ebook distributors (Amazon and Smashwords). Tomorrow’s post (which is here) will explore the dilemmas faced by a blogger in promoting purchases from one distributor over another.

Amazon and Smashwords both sell ebooks, and lately I’ve been keeping a list of the pluses and minus of both distributors. Comparing the two is slightly absurd because ebooks are Smashword’s core competency (perhaps its only competency), while for Amazon, ebooks are just one part of its commercial empire. Amazon sells not only dedicated devices but creates apps for major mobile platforms. It sells digital content which you can own or stream or rent. It’s tempting to say that because Amazon is bigger, it’s also better. That’s not necessarily true. As a smaller (and more nimble) ebook provider, Smashwords offers several advantages over Amazon’s.

Author-Friendliness

  • Author royalties for low cost books? Smashwords wins. (Below 2.99, amazon pays 30% to author, while Smashwords pays 50-70%).
  • Buyer has full access and use of the purchased ebook file (without drm)? Smashwords wins.
  • Supports epub — the international standard for ebooks? Smashwords wins. Amazon’s ebook readers and reading systems lets you import pdf, mobi and MS Word, but it plays dumb when it comes to epub files.
  • Allows free and pay-what-you-want ebooks? Smashwords wins.
  • Author can make coupons to distribute to fans? Smashwords wins. Coupon manager is one of their best features.
  • Offers ebook creation tools? Both suck, but amazon has more tools and Kindle Previewer for testing. Also, smashwords allows direct epub upload (but not mobi upload).
  • Author can put videos on book page? Smashwords wins. Amazon only lets you do it on Author Central book page
  • Affiliate marketing features? Smashwords has better rates and features, but a smaller customer base.
  • Author giveaways. Amazon requires authors to buy their own ebooks to give them away. Smashwords lets you make unlimited number of freebie coupons.
  • Provide ways to produce printed books? Only Amazon does this. To be fair, smashwords lets you add urls for the printed book page (even if it’s on amazon).

Consumer Side of Ebooks

  • Has a nice cloud-based solution for multiple devices? Amazon wins. Smashwords doesn’t have a cloud-based ereader, but the consumer has the freedom to import purchases into whatever reading system can read DRM-free ebook files. Smashwords also can serve files to Dropbox.
  • Offers ebook samples? Amazon wins. Smashwords occasionally offers samples, but it’s clumsy.
  • Is easier to get ebooks on a preferred device? Amazon wins. Amazon has built reading systems for almost any device. It will automatically forward purchased items to your device. Smashwords requires that you choose a third party reading system which you will manually upload the file to your preferred device and reading system.
  • Has price-alert tools? Amazon wins by a long shot. Ereaderiq and others.
  • More freebies? Smashwords wins. Amazon has lots of freebies too, but often they are temporary or made through special arrangement between a publisher and amazon.
  • User-friendly shopping cart? Amazon is better, but Smashwords paypal shopping cart has gotten somewhat better over the years
  • Offers a monthly all you-can-eat option? Amazon wins with Kindle Unlimited (KU). On the other hand, most authors on KU are promising to let amazon be exclusive distributor, which is wrong.
  • Lets you view word count? Smashwords gives exact word counts of ebooks it sells. With Amazon, it’s less clear how much content is in an individual ebook.
  • Easier for non-us audiences? Smashwords has one store for everybody; Amazon has different stores for each region. This sounds easier, but it also means that consumers are not eligible for certain promotions.
  • Resolves customer service issues? Amazon wins slightly. You can ask for an ebook refund within a week, which is extremely generous. Smashwords customer support tickets are handled very promptly (and I have never had issues with them).
  • Which ebooks are better formatted? Varies widely, but generally because amazon has a higher percentage of ebooks by professional publishers, their ebooks look better.
  • Which has better ebook management/font options/annotation? Amazon wins simply because Smashwords doesn’t have a cloud-based reading system; you must choose your own solution. That said, Amazon’s reading system is powerful; it lets you organize by bookshelves and collections. You assign ebooks into one or more collections either from within the Kindle itself or the Amazon site.
  • Which website is easier to browse? Smashwords has many different ways to browse through and filter results. Often it’s easier to view ebook descriptions. Amazon used to be good, but they disabled audience-created lists. Amazon search results show a definite favoritism towards bigger publishers and those who have paid to advertise. On the plus side, amazon has autogenerated “also boughts” which show up on the ebook page; this occasionally can lead you to interesting titles.
  • Which let you browse by publisher? Smashwords is much better. On Smashwords, it’s relatively easy to view titles by one publisher (such as Fomite Press) You could search on Amazon, but often the results are harder to browse through.
  • Which allows lending? Tie. Amazon has a nifty lending feature, but most big publishers have disabled this feature. Because Smashwords sell everything without drm, lending is always permitted, though it must be done manually.
  • Can you keep your ebooks if the distributor goes bankrupt? Presumably Amazon is big enough not to be in danger of going bankrupt anytime soon. But unless Amazon makes alternate arrangements, it’s not likely that books bought there will transfer to another ebook platform. Smashwords lets you keep the ebook files and import them into another reading system later.

Overall mindshare in the reading world

I define mindshare as the benefits that accrue from a product having a bigger audience. How does the size of the audience enhance the service for customers?

  • Which has more reviews? Amazon wins by a long shot (but Smashwords customers can simply look at Amazon reviews too!)
  • More technical/professional ebooks? Amazon is the market leader, smashwords doesn’t even come close, mainly because until recently publishers had to use the company’s ebook creation tool. (Now, you can upload an epub file directly).
  • which has more ebooks and authors? Amazon has probably 10x the number, but prices on Smashwords are generally cheaper and quality freebies are easier to find.
  • Which have more name brand authors and publishers? Definitely Amazon. Smashwords has very few major publishers or authors. (Major publishers avoid distributors which lack drm)
  • Which has cheaper prices? Smashwords has more seasonal sales and deep discount sales. Amazon has more tools (inhouse-and third party) to manage pricing and promotions.
  • Which is publishing/promoting individual authors? Definitely Amazon wins. A few years ago, amazon started various ebook imprints — Amazon Crossing, little a, etc which has delivered many incredible low-cost exclusive ebooks to consumers. One week in 2018 they offered a dozen freebie titles of extremely talented international authors. Amazon has the big bucks and the inhouse expertise to pull off stunts like this. Smashwords has stayed out of the review/recommendation game altogether
  • which have more sexually explicit titles? Smashwords is much better. It has more liberal policies towards sexually explicit content while letting consumers filter what they want. Amazon has a lot of explicit content too, but I’ve heard some authors complain about Amazon blocking their ebook (or at least a ebook with a racy title or cover).
  • Which has the better book community? Amazon runs GoodReads which is an extremely active and book-friendly community (and not too centered around loving Amazon). On the other hand, Amazon is marketed towards everybody while Smashwords is marketed specifically at rabid ebook fans who are more willing to take a chance with an unfamiliar author, less likely to read the next bestseller. Amazon definitely has a long tail, but they also offer a lot of books by celebrities and right-wing pundits and self-help gurus. Amazon reflects the priorities of big publishers and bestseller lists, while Smashwords just offers a collection of random self-published authors who are trying to thrive outside of Amazon’s reach. On Smashwords you get a lot more amateurish stuff, but also edgier, less commercial stuff.

Have I forgotten any key features for this comparison matrix? Feel free to add in the comments below.

Feb 19 Update. I just noticed that Smashwords is making tweaks to customer-facing interfaces: wishlists, libraries, etc. This is a very good sign.

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At the risk of trying people’s patience, life events have prevented me from doing a Robert’s Roundup. I expect to do a column combining Smashwords + Amazon deals later this week.

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A few weeks ago I was watching a great interview on Colbert with Bernie Sanders. I love Sanders and find all his ideas to be interesting. Yet when Colbert revealed that Sanders had a new book out, I remember thinking, there is zero chance I’ll be reading this book.

Even though I’m a book reader, news junkie and liberal, I rarely pick up or buy a book by someone running for political office. At best I may read a sample chapter in Time or Newsweek, but I generally don’t go out of my way to do so. Why not?

First, I wouldn’t expect to enjoy it. I’ve been told that politicians are not terrible authors. I’ve been told that Barack Obama’s memoir is well-written, and generally I have enjoyed reading opinion pieces by Hilary Clinton or John Kerry. Professional politicians probably spend a lot of time writing speeches which are moving or insightful. But a book?

I would expect that books by politicians would consist of a series of political speeches put together in chapters, plus a few introductory chapters about growing up. The problem is, I already know the gist of their backstory and political positions. Most politicians lack deep knowledge about a subject; they are more keyed into the political process and which bullet points are most persuasive. They may have collected interesting ideas and political anecdotes, but for the most part they are conveying insights secondhand.

Second, books by politicians are tied to current events and thus get stale very quickly. A few months ago Simon and Schuster was having an insane sale where they discounted a large chunk of titles to free. Among this treasure of free stuff, I stumbled upon political memoirs — several by politicians I abhor, but one by Howard Dean. I love Howard Dean, and the book was FREE! But I wasn’t even remotely tempted to download it because the book would probably have lots of talk about issues which were hot in 2003.

Last week, the most talked about book is one by Chris Christie. Without even trying, I came across TV interviews with this “author.” (Believe me, Cheever or Updike or Oates would have killed for this sustained media attention). It seems unfathomable when in this busy news cycle, PBS Newshour would deem this book newsworthy enough to devote an 8 minute segment on it. Soon, in the grand spirit of G. Gordon Liddy, the onslaught of “bad actor” memoirs will soon be upon us . We’ve already had Omarosa and Sean Spicer; it’s only a matter of time before there are memoirs by Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and John Kelley. While maybe some of these people are not corrupt per se (or at least, not outlandishly so), they are still pushing an agenda. Chris Christie isn’t as loathsome as Trump (and he showed visible disdain for him during the Colbert interview). His main line was that he disagreed with Trump’s rhetoric and political methods but he still agreed with Trump’s political ideas. Wait — what? Everyone is entitled to their point of view, but then again, talk shows can accommodate a diversity of viewpoints by inviting social scientists and policy experts rather than the actors involved. Otherwise, you’re just allowing politicians to rewrite history as they think it ought to be written.

A memoir written by an actual president is a different beast (See note #1 at bottom). Almost anything an ex-president says or does is historically important; they can relate encounters firsthand of important people during critical times. A presidential memoir also provides insight into the private vs. public aspect of running the country (although I’m not sure Bill Clinton’s book contained any mention of Monica Lewinsky in his own memoir). I still wouldn’t read most books by presidents, but if I were to pick one, it might be Ulysses Grant (which Edmund Wilson raved about in his book Patriotic Gore). Although I disagreed with George W. Bush profoundly about many things, I thought his Decision Points book to be a somewhat interesting way to tell a story. Bush and his ghost writer/editor picked a few key decisions Bush had to make as president and covered them in depth. Brilliant! It’s far easier to write a book-listicle than a full chronological narrative.

Nonsucky Books by Politicians

I generally avoid books by political figures, but here are some notable exceptions.

Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance (and his other books) That 1991 book literally changed my life. From my study in school, I already knew about global warming, but Gore described the scientific, economic and political issues cogently. After reading it, I remember thinking that first, the carbon tax was a brilliant way to solve the climate change crisis. Wouldn’t the world be a better place now if it had been implemented in the 1990s? That would have given the US a 25 year head start on transitioning to a clean economy . This book made me see that the Texas lifestyle (cars, air conditioning, etc.) and the Texas economy (heavily dependent on petroleum and natural gas) would have a difficult time transitioning to cleaner fuels. Despite Gore’s dire warnings, I could never have imagined that some devastating environmental effects (like hurricanes and forest fires) would be here 20 years later.

Actually what Gore wrote about after losing the election turned out to be even more interesting. In Assault on Reason, Gore wrote think pieces about our intervention in Iraq and what values should guide our domestic and foreign policies. Gore was always a vision guy, and his insights into the political process were thoughtful and profound. Well worth reading.

Gore also wrote two books about the technologies used to make the transition to a carbon-free economy. These two books had no real political agenda or axe to grind, but their aim was simply to educate people about what’s becoming possible technically. (I even bought the interactive ebook edition when it came out on iPad).

Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote many books which influenced public policy, but his best book was the one he wrote after retiring from the US Senate: Secrecy. (Amazingly, an ebook version is not available). Moynihan was tasked with investigating why the CIA got everything so wrong about the Soviet Union – both its military might and its political stability. After poring over classified and unclassified documents and doing an in-depth policy analysis of other administrations, Moynihan concluded that the gathering of intelligence under the guise of secrecy ensured that bad information would be distributed but never challenged. “Secrecy is for losers,” the book said. “(It’s) for people who do not know how important the information really is.” People at the CIA were not idiots, but they (and political leaders) assumed that information from classified sources was higher quality than it actually was. Publicly available information and news reports can be vetted and challenged and confirmed, while classified intelligence briefs rarely undergo the same skeptical rigor.

This book had a profound effect on me when looking at George W. Bush’s military buildup in anticipation of the 2003 invasion. Bush had been referring to classified reports of Hussein’s WMD. I remember attending a town hall meeting right when the Iraq invasion was about to take place. My far-right Congressman, John Culberson, was telling us about how chilling the classified briefings were and how if I attended the same briefings about weapons of mass destruction, everyone would understand why the US had to intervene now. As the town hall meeting broke up and I had the chance to push back on his claim, I realize that instead of talking to him, I should have just handed him the Secrecy book, and asked him just to read the damn book.

I don’t know if he actually wrote this book or it was simply compiled, but Bob Dole Great Political Wit was a random pleasure which I bought for 25 cents at a library sale. I never expected to read it, but the book consisted of short anecdotes between 1 and 3 paragraphs. Some parts were dull, but most were silly, unexpected and fun. Actually, I’m sure Ronald Reagan was an incredibly good joke teller, and I wouldn’t mind reading compilation of his humorous anecdotes. (Some people have compiled them on Youtube, have fun guys!) I wish more politicians could write joke books. (See note #2 at bottom).

In the early 1990s Robert Reich had written widely about how more public investment in people and infrastructure would be more effective than other GOP solutions like enterprise zones. (Work of Nations) In the last two decades Reich wrote deep and thoughtful pieces about managing economic policy and improving the social safety net. I’ve been reading his blog forever; indeed, recently I reread his 2008 posts where Reich details the buildup of the mortgage crisis, the recession indicators, the failure of Bush’s SEC and FTC to regulate industries and ultimately TARP. (Reich made a vehement case against bailing out the major banks and for helping citizens directly). Reich was been right and prescient about so many things that I lose count.

Locked in the Cabinet by Robert Reich was one of his less ambitious books; it gave a firsthand account of what it was like to work in the Clinton White House and how his progressive agenda was frequently overruled by Bob Rubin and Larry Summers. It was also very funny. Reich details the byzantine protocol that cabinet members have to observe and some charming private conversations he had with the Clintons. I was a big fan of the Clinton Administration anyway, but Reich successfully humanized them and revealed their limits as political figures. (I have not read the books by Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton; don’t plan to!)

Before Elizabeth Warren was barnstorming the Senate (and now, possibly the presidency), she authored a pretty amazing bit of scholarship, The Two Income Trap with her daughter Tyagi. She tried to unmask the subject of consumer debt and bankruptcy (a lot of it is due to medical bills and unexpected emergencies, not slacking off). She noted that Americans saddled themselves with unusual amount of debt to buy more expensive houses than they could afford. Their actions were motivated mainly by the desire to send their kids to good schools in good school districts. To accomplish this, a couple could have two people working full time instead of only one. This provided extra income and extra ability to buy a nice home, but it also added risk; if you are dependent on two incomes, what happens if one person loses a job? In the past, Warren shows, a family could afford to buy a house on a single wage earner’s income, and so sending the spouse to work in the event of an emergency provided a buffer against financial ruin. Now they no longer have this buffer, resulting in more economic uncertainty within the household. It is an intriguing explanation (Matt Yglesias has more), and the book argued policy in a book for a general audience.

Elizabeth Warren is a good and thoughtful writer, but will I be reading her pre-campaign book? Not a chance! (Anyway, I already follow her speeches; her speech at last year’s Netroots Nation was perhaps the most remarkable).

Why some books by politicians aren’t bad

Several things are evident from the limited number of books by politicians which I’ve actually read.

First, Moynihan, Warren and Reich started off in academia and did a lot of important work there. Moynihan taught and even had a tenure-track position until JFK asked him to serve in the Kennedy White House. After he left office in 1965, he worked in academia again before serving various ambassador roles with the Nixon Administration. He was elected to the US Senate in 1976 and mostly stayed away from being an author until after leaving the Senate. Although he wrote many public policy reports (most notably his 1965 report about the Negro Family), probably his Secrecy book will have the most lasting influence. (Also, on my to-read pile is Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary).

By now Warren’s biography is well-known, but her punchy speeches derived from decades of teaching bankruptcy law and becoming master of economic and legal details for the purpose of advocacy. While Robert Reich got a JD and started out in law and government, his most productive and formative years were teaching 12 years at Harvard.

It’s an obvious point really, but political memoirs are richer/juicier/more thoughtful after a political campaign (and presumably after someone leaves office). If you think of it, pre-election books amount to little more than long homework assignments which will become a series of talking points at interviews. One expects competence and occasional insight, but not genius.

Second, although politicians have gotten used to retelling their life stories, often they produce a book with a specific agenda in mind: to show I’m actually brainier than I appear, that I’m warmer than I appear in public, that I am actually very charitable, that my critics have been consistently been wrong about me, that God is an important part of my life as a politician, that I’m just an ordinary Joe like you. The agenda of these books may interfere with the enjoyment of the book itself — especially when the reader has tons of other celebrity memoirs competing for their attention.

Books by political spawn and sidekicks

Family and children of famous politicians also write memoirs. The Bush daughters, First Ladies, Ronald Reagan’s son, probably lots of others. Barbara Bush wrote several memoirs, as did Hilary Clinton and Laura Bush. Chelsea Clinton has written several books for children (as did Mike Pence’s wife Charlotte). Barbara Bush wrote Millie’s book, a tongue-in-cheek book about their dog in the White House. This trend of writing children’s books is not limited to First Or Second Ladies. Kamala Harris wrote both a campaign book and a book for kids. Children’s books are their own thing. Often a dull story can be livened up by a first rate illustrator. That said, I wouldn’t be caught dead reading a children’s book by a politician.

It can be more fun to read tell-alls by the Rosensteins and Guildensterns than the Hamlets. (I’ve been partial to Barton Swaim’s The Speechwriter, which details being a speechwriter to now-disgraced South Carolina governor Mark Sanford). Actually, some journalists started out as political speechwriters (James Fallows, Bill Moyers, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.), but these gigs were just a short detour off their career in journalism. Often obscurity can work to your advantage. If you are just a small cog in a campaign or administration, your perspective might be more interesting or insightful.

The sad duty of having to read campaign books belongs to political journalists looking for insights into the person’s character or policy prescriptions. Fortunately, journalists are already good at poring through court records, government documents and police reports; compared to these things, reading a campaign book by Kamala Harris or Jeb Bush would be a walk in the park. Some clever writers have read these books in nontraditional ways. Journalist Tim Murphy read only the blurbs for these books and learned a lot about a politician’s voter base and potential constituents. Another very clever journalist named Christopher Beam, upon noticing that Sarah Palin’s awful Going Rogue memoir had no index, decided to make his own. 

But what about the Reader?

Well, it is good for journalists to do these things, but what about the ordinary reader? Also, how much money are politicians and publishers really making? In the 1990s, Speaker of the House Jim Wright was able to make extra money in bulk sales of his political book, which violated ethics laws at the time. About 10 years ago, Pakistani prime minister Pervez Musharraf wrote a memoir that I have no interest in — and probably less than 1% of literate Americans would have even the slightest interest in. Yet. when his book came out, he was interviewed by all the major talk shows and reviewed even in the highbrow presses. (Washington Post gave it mild praise). I guess that this book is somewhat newsworthy, but wouldn’t it be better to interview Pakistani novelists (Bapsi Sidhwa, Mohsin Hamid, Mohammad Hanif, etc.) instead? Still better, what about a book by a Pakistani journalist or academic? I get it that talk shows prefer newsworthy and recognizable figures, but Musharraf’s media appearances were unremarkable, plus he’s not that great a man (he staged coups, was a military strongman, derailed democratic elections; in other words, no Nelson Mandela!)

Why do we need these books?

I understand that books by political figures come with an agenda and that a political author may be more interested in selling this agenda than actual books. Why then do you need these books? Can’t talk talks and news shows just invite them on the show without books in hand? I’m not against politicians mentioning books during TV interviews, but we currently have a media environment where celebrity has become the primary currency. At the moment Michelle Obama has been going on a very successful book tour for a book which sells for $20 hardback/$15 ebook. That is insane. Part of my reaction is furious writer envy; part of it has to do with knowing that dozens of great ebooks are being published by journalists and scholars and pundits — all of whom are rarely compensated anywhere near what they deserve. Part of it derives from knowing that most of these political celebrities are already millionaires and hardly need the royalties. Part of it derives from my awareness that entertainment dollars are scarce; money spent on Obama’s book will not be spent on other books. Perhaps I am being overly optimistic; the money could also have been spent on videogames, booze, online gambling or overpriced concerts.

I don’t want to sound like I’m beating up on Ms. Obama; her book probably is competently written and moderately entertaining. But don’t Americans deserve something more substantive (and at a more affordable price)?

Aren’t books supposed to help us understand the world and ourselves? Or are they merely supposed to facilitate celebrity crushes on multimillionaires and flatter ourselves into thinking that these people are like us? I’m reminded of Richard Schickel’s book Intimate Strangers,  which shows how Americans fixate on celebrities they think they understand — and celebrities reinforce these fixations by making bland pronouncements of personality. Political books are just one further way to humanize a politician’s political views. Maybe Bannon has vile beliefs or Christie is clueless about making government work. On a talk show, they can share “inside scoops” and deliver well-rehearsed laugh lines. The TV audience can watch it and decide that maybe Steve Bannon and his beliefs (or his boss’s beliefs) weren’t so vile after all.

Americans will spend their money on the darndest things. You can’t really complain about why certain books sell the way they do. That’s just the American way. But when you allow books to be used as props for political campaigns or comeback tours, you are degrading what is special about books — the deep analysis, the confessions, the bold manifestos, the dramatic/lyrical qualities. To swipe Kamala Harris’ catchphrase, books are “better than that.” The world is already awash with books that are unread or have trivial aspirations. The public does not hunger for bland political memoirs; it hungers for arguments and ideas and empathy. If that means that most political books will be unwritten or unpublicized, so be it!


NOTES

  1. As I said above, I admired George W. Bush for using Decision Points as the structure for his memoir, but I’d never actually read the book. I personally love Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (and heck even Herbert Walker Bush), but I don’t think I’d ever want to read their books. Nixon (like Obama) is probably intellectual enough to write a deep book, but (unlike Obama) doesn’t seem adept enough to tell a good story. I’m really guessing; I haven’t held any of these books in my hands for more than 15 seconds.
  2. Even though I think Al Franken was an effective politician and thought his comedy performances on SNL were great, I wasn’t that impressed with Franken’s fake-political memoir, Why Not Me? which he wrote in the 1990s. The humor seemed predictable and risque — so much that it surprised me that Franken dared to run for office later. I thought the book contained enough tasteless humor to disqualify him. Later books by Franken were sharper and more issue-oriented, (Rush Limbaugh is a Big Lying Idiot!), so perhaps Franken gets a pass. Other politicians have played around with fiction. In 19th century England, British prime minister Disreali wrote about 10 novels in and out of office . More recently, Democratic senator James Webb wrote a handful of military/Vietnam novels and nonfiction works well before running for political office. (When he entered the presidential race, some intrepid journalists highlighted some of the racier parts of Webb’s novels, but they don’t seem especially lurid or disqualifying for me. Long after they retired, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich co-wrote novels with different people; Clinton tried it once with a crime novelist, while Gingrich co-wrote several alternate history novels along with other nonfiction. Discovering your muse after leaving office might become a thing, although the median age of presidents and Senators make it hard to imagine people writing that much. Obama might have the imagination and temperament, and perhaps one of these fiction works might turn out to be good, but I currently have no plans to read any of these things.
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Various life events have conspired to keep me aware from this blog and ebook deals. Even though it’s so last minute, I want to paste the recent purposes from the US Amazon’s monthly special which expire tonight at midnight. (Don’t worry; these items are discounted every few months).

WHY I WRITE: ESSAYS BY SAADAT HASAN MANTO.. obscure Urdu writer

Awash in Talent by Jessica Knauss fun midEast adventure. Written by Literary translator and very engaging first chapter.

Starship Grifters (A Rex Nihilo Adventure) by Robert Kroese. Hilarious sci fi, I’m going to buy the whole series. Keep an eye out for this author.

A Mind of Winter by Shira Nayman psychological novel . Great writing

Secret Piano: From Mao’s Labor Camps to Bach’s Goldberg Variations by Zhu Xiao-Mei. title says it all novel translated from French)

Lucian Freud: Eyes Wide Open by Phoebe Hoban — good budget biography of artist. Apparently no graphics.

This Life or the Next by Demian Vitanza. Norwegian guy’s novel about Pakistani youth based in Europe who returns to his country as a teenager to attend a Pakistani military school. Smells like a YA novel with global elements.

Wild Whistling Blackbirds by Allen Kent. 19th century saga and American pioneers who go west during the Civil war. on the fence about this one.

Angels & Loners (Private Investigator Heredia) Ramón Díaz Eterovic, Patrick Blaine. Crime/mysteries are totally not my thing, but this genre novel by Chilean novelist was atmospheric and engrossing.

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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

As mentioned before, I skip hyperlinks to speed up posting (It takes forever to dig up the URLs). It would be a futile and time-consuming task for me to list all the worthy deals when they hit free or some other low price point. (I would literally have to post every day!) Unlike Smashwords and other booksellers, Amazon sharply restricts an author’s ability to give away titles for free (5 days in a 90 day period, and only if the author agrees to sell the title exclusively on Amazon). To be notified when it goes free again, just set a price alert on erereaderiq. (if you install the 1-click watcher on your browser, you can make one just by clicking a browser button!) I try to link to the author’s website when I can.

OK, I know some descriptions are missing, but let me publish this first, add later.

Finally I discovered a massive trove of free titles by university presses. Links to how to search for them are under the Creative Commons/Free titles below.

Blue Moon Deals

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. 1.30. Unknown how long this sale will last, but my Butler collection is ever-widening. The Lilith’s Brood trilogy is on sale for $2.99 on the day I posted this (Update: Nope, not anymore!)

How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an answer. by Sarah Lakewell. 1.99 I heard an amazing podcast a few weeks ago about Montaigne and thought I’d eventually buy an academic title by the always wonderful Timothy Hampton (his blog). Turns out Lakewell’s title came to me first. On the bright side, I just realized that Hampton did another 2011 podcast lecture about Montaigne to keep me entertained further.

Under the Radar

I’ve been finding lots of very cheap ebooks on Roman history by military scholars. Haven’t decided what to buy, but they all look interesting and reasonably well-written and by modern historians and costs only $1.30 See Roman Empire and the Silk Routes by Raoul McLaughlin and Patricians and Emperors: The Last Rulers of the Western Roman Empire by Ian Hughes.

Empire of the Mind by Roger DeBlanck. (FREE!) Deblank is a Nevada librarian who has written 3 novels and this book of poetry. Here’s his other novels  which take place in historical eras (Pearl Harbor, Cuban Revolution, etc) and involve spirituality, redemption and discovery. Sounds great! (Author website)

We are Data: Algorithms and the making of our digital selves by John Cheney-Lippold 83 CENTS! This academic book ponders the social and political implications of our digital footprints. Although some Amazon reviewers complained about the dense writing style, most have described it as an important contribution

Thanks, PG!:Memoirs of a Tabloid Reporter by John Isaac Jones

In the future this will not be necessary by Paul Samael. 99 cents.

Jesse Stuart — various things. Stuart was a Kentucky author who wrote all kinds of things — and was very popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Some of his things are in ebook form. They are still pricey ($10) , but available in Kindle Unlimited at least. The best place to start is Best Loved Short Stories of Jesse Stuart which is on KU, so I will probably have a chance to read it before my trial KU subscription runs out. Apparently even ereaderiq didn’t know about most of Stuart’s titles until I added it to their system, so there is no pricing history to be able to tell if Stuart’s titles are ever discounted. I will surely report back if I see them discounted! Also on KU is Jesse Stuart Reader.

I Was Geeky When Geeky Wasn’t Cool by Marc Allie

2 books by Joseph Hannay: Greater Fool and Beast in Me. (website) Hannay is a UK author of 2 books with a dark almost satirical bent. Fool is about a real-estate hotshot who falls from grace, while Greater Fool is a Kafkaeque tale of an actuary made to undergo a regimen of self-improvement by his boss.

Someone to Remember Me: by Brendan Mancilla (Author site). 1st sci fi novel about dormant memory, unfamiliar cities and malevolent beasts. Sounds like a desolate videogame, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Stray Dogs and Lonely Beaches by Maria Elena Sandovici

Carnival by Joan Colby (FREE!) is a poetry collection that celebrates the quirky, odd, and an audience of participants and voyeurs. Colby is an accomplished poet who frequently discounts her titles. (Author website).

Home from the Sea by William Meikle. 14 tales of Lovecraftian terror.

Coffee Dates From Hell by Jim Tilberry

Office Wars: Mailroom Clerk by James Patton. First of a series. dystopian world and office politics and virtual reality.

Trapped in Russia: An American Family’s Struggle to Survive by Karen Wardamasky Bobrow

Bathe Me by Kevin Farran. Farran was born in a leper colony in Zambia, and writes social dramas in Africa, NYC, Japan, etc. (website).

New York Echoes by Warren Adler. Prolific author of “War of the Roses” writes a three volume set of short stories. (This is volume 1).  As in his celebrated novels, Adler’s themes in “New York Echoes 1” deal primarily with intimate human relationships—the mysterious nature of love and attraction, the fragile bonds between husbands and wives, and parents and children; the divide between generations; the obsessive pursuit of the creative artist and the emotional toll it exacts. Looks like all his titles are on KU, so expect more freebies.

Young Men in Pain Omnibus by Caspar Vega

Pig’s Slaughter by Florin Grancea is a personal account by a journalist about the Romanian Revolution of 1989. .

From King to Obama:Witness to a Turbulent History by Earl Ofari Hutchinson. (free-political memoir) Hutchinson is a prolific journalist who frequently publishes shorts on topical subjects (Trump, Kavanaugh, etc). But he also has written some budget guides about classical music such as Beethoven and Me  (which I will be price-tracking). His Hutchinson Reports are available on HuffPost.

Recession-Proof: How to Survive and Thrive in an Economic Downturn by Jason Schenker

Langdon Codex by R. P. Poe

The Ultimate Survivalist’s Guide to Suicide by Ryan Bohl

Twice Begun  and Silent Bird by Reina Lisa Menasche . Recently Menasche has been offering her ebooks for free. Both books are about romantic turmoil between American women and French men, with psychological secrets and journeys through France. (website)

The Advice Bucket: A Scottish Comedy-Fantasy by Heather Hill

Tomas by Robert Bedick. Also The Zimmerman File and An Argument in Favor of Television and other Stories

Me and Mister Boby by Dan Nimak

Now That I’m Mature by Sylvia Morice. Also Postcards From Home

TOR ebook club: Only Harmless Great Thing: A novelette by Brooke Bolander. (FREE!)

Griefwriting by JOAN ZLOTNICK

A Native’s Tongue by Michael D. Dennis

the river: a memoir by Kevin Weadock

The Crying Bird by E.J. Stillings

The Resume is Dead by Nelson Wang

My Thoughts and Expressions: A Collection of Poetry on Love, Self, and Relationships V.M.Enriquez

Stranger’s Dance by Troy Kechely

A Lucky Day: Finalist in the Indie Literary Prize Contest by Carlos J. Server

Hardscrabble Way by Tina Gordon

When Horses Had Wings by Diana Estill

House of Twelve by Sean Davies is a psychological mystery about 12 strangers who wake up in a strange house with no memory of how they got there. 99 cents.

Cocktails, Caviar and Diapers by Renee Duke is an autobiographical novel about a globe-trotting female artist who experiences many historical events firsthand in farflung countries. The author (who died in 2010) was Paris-educated and worked in media and publishing all over the world.

All Roads Led to Shanghai by Clio Calodoukas

Blink and it’s gone sales

Anatomy of a Song: Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits by Marc Myers. 1.99

Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock by Steven Hyden. 1.99 Also, a KU title Undiscovered 80s Rock by Peter Harris (only 99 cents)

What to Think about Machines that Think: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence. by John Brockman. 1.99 Every year Brockman does an anthology asking famous thinkers a profound question. (Here’s a list of these questions). Everything is a fun and provocative read; some of it goes over my head, but there’s a good mix. Fun fact: Edge.org used to publish the responses on a series of web pages, and I used to stick everything into a document and then convert things into an ebook file. I started with the 2005 and 2006 editions which I read on my ebookwise reader. Periodically these books are on sale.

AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee. 2.99 A leading AI expert gives his predictions about AI. I bought it with a little bit of buyer’s regret (only a bit). He’s given multiple lectures and talks now on youtube, and usually books by these tech gurus tend to be more for business types and investors than for curious creative minds. Still I’ll probably read it, and my decision to buy had a lot to do with the fact that my local library has a waiting list of 3 months for this book!

Deals on stuff published by Amazon

Everything is 99 cents until the end of the month unless specified otherwise. Here are two very interesting insights about the Amazon Crossing and other imprints. First, these ebooks go on sale often.

  • Two novels by Marcos Aguinas: Passion According to Carmela and Against the Inquisition. Both are 99 cents — a steal! Aguinas is an Argentine author; I greatly enjoyed what I’ve read so far of Against the Inquisition which tells the tale of an Argentine monastic who lives under an Inquisition in the New World. Both spiritual and anti-dogmatic… Highly recommended.
  • WHY I WRITE: ESSAYS BY SAADAT HASAN MANTO.. obscure Urdu writer

Creative Commons/Free Academic/Public Domain titles

Last month, to my delight Cornell U published for free lots of random out-of-print ebook titles. I’ve noticed a few other academic presses doing the same thing — although only for one or two titles. The good thing about academic freebies is that they usually stay free, so there’s no special urgency to download all the titles now. Occasionally I will single out titles of note, but let me mention URLs that will reveal the free things.

  1. University of California has launched their Luminos monograph publishing project. You can obtain PDF/EPUB/MOBI directly from that website or from Amazon. From the book listing page, you can filter by subject category (alas you can’t bookmark these filters; you have to do it every time you visit). So far I’ve noticed a plethora of titles in ethnic studies (esp Asian), economics, labor, public policy and history. Find them on Amazon.
  2. I have mentioned before that Cornell U Press has released several dozen older titles — mainly comp lit, pre-modern history, that sort of that. Find them on Amazon. One notable short is a 40 page Svetlana Alexievich lecture.
  3. Fordham University Press has about 2 or 3 dozen philosophy monographs — usually about US or UK philosophers from the past.
  4. Fourth, for those seeking college textbooks, Openstax (from Rice University) has a few dozen peer-reviewed textbooks (mainly in math and science, but some social sciences as well. Find Openstax textbooks on Amazon.
  5. University of Chicago Press doesn’t offer much for free, but they offer some free “Chicago Shorts” on Amazon. All range from 15-50 pages, and probably the most notable is Ebert’s Shorts (which contains one or two essays, plus a chapter devoted to all his movie lists — a helpful reference.
  6. MIT Press has some free titles — mainly about innovation and other social science topics.
  7. Other custom Amazon queries: University Press + Literature, University Press + History, University Press + Science/Math, University Press + Social Sciences,

Neglectedbooks always unearths titles and authors I’d never heard of, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear about Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage Series. Richardson wrote a series of 13 autobiographical novels modernist in the style of Henry James which relates the world as experienced by females. (One blurb described the book series as “simply life. Shapeless, trivial, pointless, boring, beautiful, curious, profound. And above all, absorbing.” )

To my amazement Harmonium, Wallace Stevens’ classic 1923 book has not been digitalized — although a PDF version is available from a site dedicated to the poet. Luckily, some fool has produced and sold an ebook version for 99 cents. I normally don’t buy public domain stuff.

Other PG authors I’ve discovered: Joanna Godden by Sheila Kaye-Smith and Azure Rose by Reginald W. Kauffman. Also, the entertaining guide, Clock that had no hands and 19 other essays about advertising by Herbert Kaufman. Also Audobon’s Western Journal 1849-1850 is

Texas Titles

(From now on, I’ll give a special section devoted to ebook deals by Texas authors).

Texas litblogger & book reviewer Michelle Newby does a excellent roundup of Top 20 Texas Books of 2018

My antenna for Texas books stays up, but it normally takes a while for me to get around to Texas authors. Natalia Sylvester Everyone Knows You Go Home is published on Amazon’s Little A — (I had already bought her other novel Chasing the Sun for 99 cents a few months ago). It’s a virtual certainty that the latest title will be discounted soon.


Mind Views: A Little Book About Thought by Bart Hopkins Jr. Also, Like  and Texas Jack. Hopkins hails originally from Texas (website) and writes in a variety of genres.

Geromino’s Bones by Darrell Bryant is a debut historical novel about a Native American warrior who is sent to “Indian School” in Oklahoma and at his mother’s deathbed learns that his father’s last wish was to be buried in his own lands. This story is about his effort to accomplish just that. The author (a military guy with lots of adventures under his belt) lives in Galveston. (website).

Titles from Smashwords and Other Places

None this time!

Interesting Reviews Everywhere

I’ve been enjoying the NYT column The Enthusiast where a writer raves about one author from the past. The latest column is on Iris Murdoch (whose The Sea, The Sea I have still not read after years of being near the top of my stack). To my delight, there is an earlier column schools me on Margery Sharp.

This might interest nobody, but over the years I’ve been keeping a list of digital music purchases I’ve made from emusic. Emusic sells stuff at a discounted rate lots of obscure music — but not so much the top 40 stuff. Some of the links work no longer, and some of the sale prices are no longer valid, but stuff I purchased is mostly great and well-worth hunting out. I don’t write capsule reviews of music albums as much as I used to, but if you want to look at my music database on Google Docs, here it is.

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

Used books from the library: Stonedial by George Konrad. (Hungarian author whose Case Worker influenced me a lot at college). This later work was not reviewed favorably (except here and here ) , but frankly most reviews don’t know what to do with literary books. (I once met Konrad in New York at a reading; I told him his book changed my life!) Also 2 AM at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino. Bertino writes breezy/stylish/quirky books and has gotten a lot of good press from the usual places; I almost passed, but the librarian took pity on me and sold the Konrad for $1 instead of $2.

Review Copies Received

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

As may be obvious by now, these posts are becoming overlong and time-consuming to compile. Also, I still want to do those book reviews! I’m still trying to work out the compile amount of content/publishing frequency. Hang on, there folks, and be sure to follow assiduously the rules of logic.

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Ok, I won’t make a habit of doing these kinds of posts, but here are the best answers from a reddit question of teachers.

**********************

One day you’re going to come across people who are not being paid to tolerate you, and all of a sudden life is going to become considerably more difficult. ***

I actually teach middle school rather than high school, but I’ll play:I love them a whole bunch (I do actually tell them this, that’s not the thing) but goddamn every single middle schooler is an asshole. Like, even the best ones. They’re all assholes. You can’t help it at that age. Part of the process of being a good middle school teacher is accepting the assholishness and figuring out ways to work with it. Don’t worry, guys, your peers (and you) will stop being assholes soon. Most of you, anyway. ***

That we have much better hearing than you assume. We just choose our battles as it pertains to inappropriate comments. And sometimes I pretend not to see that thing you did just because I too found it humorous, and speaking to you about it would only result in me cracking up. ***

Your parents are literally the worst part of my job. ***

We work incredibly long hours for very little pay-last night I was making posters/anchor charts until midnight just because I was “in the zone”. We really appreciate letters, cards, gifts and thank you’s. Please be polite. You know how good it feels when we make you feel significant, teachers are the same. If you make us feel significant you make it all worth while. It’s heartbreaking when you disrespect us. ***

Learn how to play the game. You just have to give teachers/administration/parents what they want to see, then you can move on. If you hate math, then do the work and study so that you can pass the class and never have to deal with it again. If you hate the principal, then speak to them politely and respectfully so that they leave you alone and you fall off their radar. You don’t have to mean it, you don’t have to love it, but playing the game a little will help you get to wherever you want to be. ***

I’m sorry that your parents are not educated enough to know that education is your best chance out of poverty.***

Also, all the things you think your parents and teachers don’t know about? We do. We’ve done it all. We just would prefer not to think about you doing it because you’re much too young. ***

Failing is not the end of the world. I teach at a private school, and I have had so many students in the last week alone come in on the verge of tears because they’re so worried about exams. Like, absolutely try your best and prepare for the exam, but most of us have NO idea what we got on our high school midterms. I’m a teacher and I have no idea. If you don’t get the grade you want, it’s not the end of the world. Failure builds character. Heck, I’ve failed more than most, and I’m still here! ***

Oh, and do you think you hate exams, tests and homework? Your mild dislike of the work is a mere candle flame compared to the hatred that burns like a million suns, that I feel when I have to fucking mark it.
*** (My god, I love this comment!)

That we get just as stressed out as they do about workload and deadlines.
***

That we take no satisfaction in giving failing grades, and in many cases, it can make us sick with stress when a kid doesn’t get acceptable grades (especially when you can tell that they try). ***

That we appear happy and engaged (most days) but we are walking a tight rope of decision making: “What part of my work can I put off tonight so that I can spend a few minutes/an hour with my wife/kids, etc. ***

I don’t want to see you in public either. I’m eternally thankful that my one student had her nose in her phone long enough for me to climb the tree outside the train station and hide from her. ***

One of the most valuable lessons I can teach you is to fake looking busy.

If we’re supposed to be working on an assignment or reading or whatever, and you see me coming your way… At the least have a piece of paper on your desk and a pen in your hand and some shit on your paper, and then I won’t bother you. If you have nothing going on and can’t even be bothered to make it look like you’re trying, I’m heading your way.

This lesson will be invaluable with eventual bosses someday.
***

Yes, I do have favorite students. No, I won’t tell you who they are because that would discourage you, but yes they’re probably who you imagine them to be. ***

If you’re nice to me and aren’t disruptive I’ll always work the numbers in your favor when it comes time to post grades. ***

Your small town is ruining you. RUN. ***

I pretend to like you and I pretend to care about your fads and interests but I’ll mostly never going to see you again when you leave. Keeping a healthy detachment at all times is important to maintaining mental health. ***

College-level first-year writing instructor here, but that’s practically still high school.

  • Stop fucking all the friends you made in my class. It’s going to be awkward later.
  • I have to make sure “all sides are heard,” but you’re being racist/sexist/etc.
  • You’re a great student, but you have some very toxic ideas about how the world works. I’m legitimately afraid you’re going to become an evil CEO or kill yourself in the next 30 years.
  • I love your passion to change the world. But you’re probably not going to. Still, I’m going to keep telling you that you can, on the off-chance that you might be the next J.K. Rowling or Barack Obama. And even if you don’t change the world, you can change lives around you, which might be just as important. ***

I don’t care if you get high. Either take some edibles so we don’t smell it, and don’t do it when you’re IN THE ACTUAL BUILDING, and don’t do too much so it’s obvious due to how incompetent you’re acting. I get it, you have anxiety. I wish you had a better coping mechanism instead of weed but I’m glad you’re doing SOMETHING rather than avoiding school, etc. Just please please PLEASE don’t give me a reason to send you to the nurse and/or dean. Learn some practical skills. We all have to at some point. ***

If you are stupid enough to have filmed yourself doing something that can get you in trouble, especially legal trouble, for the love of God don’t post it online. ***

I teach middle school, not high school, but for me, it’s that I know shit sucks at home. I see it every day when you come into my class. I see the tears you’re hiding, the pain behind that class clown smile, the emotional fragility behind your tough-guy persona. I know exactly what it’s like to come from a broken home. I wish I could do something, but until you come to me, all I can do is try and let you know, with a look, a smile, a subtle turn of phrase, that I’m always there for you when you need an ear, or a shoulder. ***

I totally played favourites. Hands down. I was like a mirror reciprocating what you send my way. If you wanted to be a lil bitch, I would not meet you halfway for anything. ***

Show respect, or make me laugh with your wit, or ridiculousness, and I can make adjustments and compromises. ***

Also, cheat and plagiarize away, dumbass. You’ll pass my class because I don’t get paid enough to police your entitled ass, but post-secondary education or the real world will nail you with your ineptitude. Or maybe it won’t and you’ll be lucky. I get paid the same either way, and I’d rather spend my time providing useful feedback. ***

When it’s surprise movie day instead of lecture and actual class time – I’m likely hungover or just having a fuck it kind of day. They aren’t gifts to you. They are gifts to me. Or i faffed off and had no lesson plan, shh.***

Some classes got pizza parties/ potlucks/ departures from the norm way more often than others. I lied when I said each class got about the same amount.
.***

Just because I like you as a person doesn’t mean that I won’t fail you. Being smart isn’t a justification for being lazy and I can’t pass someone that never hands in work. .***

I moved you away from your friends because they were taking you down with them. You have a real future in sports but you need to pass my class to play them. Your friends were making you fail and, if you don’t get to play volleyball, I don’t know what kind of future you have in front of you. .***

I wish that the positivity that you get in my class could follow you home. I’ve met your parents and they are a nightmare. I do my best to encourage you here but I know that, some days, that just might not be enough. .***

I have never and will never find a student intimidating. That’s why I laughed at you when you asked me if I “knew who your father was”. Yeah, he’s the manager of a car dealership; that means nothing to nobody. I had a kid throw a desk at me and, while it scared me in the moment, it didn’t make me fear him. One day, you will meet someone who has real power and I just wish that I could be there to see it. ***

The odds of you using any specific piece of knowledge you learn in high school is slim. The odds of you using some piece of knowledge from high school is near absolute and you have no idea what it’s going to be or when it will happen, so you may as well try at all of it. The biggest thing you’re going to learn is how to learn.
***

I’d let you get away with so much more if you were actually a decent person who treated others with kindness and respect. Assholes rarely get the benefit of doubt or indifference.
***

I’m sorry but I probably don’t know your full name, and the year after you leave my class, I won’t remember you. The students whose names I remember were either the awesome students, or the dickheads who I hoped would amount to nothing.
***

I’m really sorry. Your parents put you in this elite private school because they think they can protect you from all the evils of the outside world… including responsibility. You aren’t getting any of the skills you will need to function as an adult. I’m doing the best I can but my hands are tied by the school.
***

I’d tell the girls “Stop dating that guy. You’re intelligent, ambitious, and talented. He’s a dead-eyed sociopath who got kicked off the football team for drunk driving. You could easily run a Fortune 500 company, but if you marry this guy you’ll be living in a trailer park taking care of this soggy unappreciative jackass for the rest of your life.”
***

I can see who you have a crush on in the classroom.
***

If your parents email a teacher and argue with them, the whole staff knows. (At least at my school) ***

“If you end up having a boring, mediocre, miserable, pathetic, unfulfilling life because a teacher, or pastor, or parent, or anyone else told you how to live your life, THEN YOU DESERVE IT. -Frank Zappa”
***

I know when you are using your phone dipshit no one looks down at their crotch and just smiles.
***

When you think you are being genius by getting me to talk about random things at the beginning of class instead of “teaching”, I’m really allowing it to happen b/c I don’t have enough planned to cover a full class.
***

There are two things that make me happy:

  1. You doing what I ask you to (I will admit to this)
  2. You refusing to do what I ask you to in a polite, respectful, and meaningful way (I will not admit to this).

***

I don’t always agree with what I’m told to tell you the rules are. I don’t always have a personal stake in their enforcement. I just want to not get in trouble for not enforcing them. If it’s important enough, and students are polite and respectful about declining something, and do what they can to keep class moving smoothly while not doing whatever it is, that doesn’t bother me. It’s a frustration I’m happy to deal with in exchange for the idea that I had a small part in teaching kids how to adult, which is not on state standards.
***

Sadly, students often think the best way to achieve this is “argue with teacher until teacher relents,” when relenting is not an option we’re often afforded, and it’s not an adaptive option for adulthood necessarily. I often tell kids who have complaints to take it up with admins or put it in writing, and they don’t often listen. I understand why they don’t, as I was worn down at their age too, but still.
***

I believe the arbitrary and, let’s be honest, sometimes unnecessary rules of high school are a preparation for a real world that is often cruel, arbitrary, and uncaring. Escalating to higher authorities, explaining clearly and calmly one’s grievances, and not taking out frustrations about a rule on the person enforcing it are life skills.

And yes, sometimes it’s my rules the kids don’t like. And that’s ok too. Go over my head with you like, respect it as a boundary of my personal classroom if you like, just be nice to me about it. I’m generally only annoyed rather than offended if you sneak and do what I asked you not to behind my back too, unless you’re rude about it. I wouldn’t come into your room and do some of the things you do in mine, but if I did I would be contrite about it.

TLDR: I’m not offended when you disobey rules I don’t like as long as you’re nice to me about it and understand when I can’t or won’t change something. Bonus points for trying to change rules I don’t like in a constructive, adult way. It’s all about respect.

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I am a New York Times junkie (I received a discounted rate which has never expired). The articles are first rate, but sometimes the reader comments are more interesting than the actual articles.

After NYT published its shocking investigative report about the Trump family’s $400 million tax fraud (summarized here), I found the comments harrowing to read. Most were mad not at Trump but at the IRS for not scrutinizing his returns more closely. Here’s one comment about one IRS “victim:”

COMMENT 1: By the end of the main article, I had tears in my eyes. My 88 year old aunt was audited by the IRS because she reported the redemption of a small municipal bond (or something like that) in the wrong year, and had to pay a penalty and was harassed by the IRS. But they turn a blind eye to the vastly undervalued appraisals in the Trump tax returns for the gift and estate taxes. I had to worry about filing the returns and the forms for foreign accounts for my deceased mother two years after she died because it took time for the bank to divide the remaining few thousand dollars between me and my brother – after all, I want to do everything as required by law, even though we owed no tax on those small amounts. I feel so betrayed. Not by the Trumps – they are crooks and there will always be crooks. I feel betrayed by the government and its IRS that are supposed to protect me from the crooks. That are supposed to uphold the idea that all are equal before the law. It is not because of the understaffing of the IRS – they would benefit the most by going after people like the Trumps. They choose not to.

Comment 2: Auditing a poor family.

In the 80’s, I was audited by the IRS. At the time, I was living hand to mouth, my meager salary unable to meet the costs of daycare for my three young children, rent, and the most basic of living expenses. Our apartment had no heat, save for one small gas-fired heater. I cooked meals on a hotplate; I had no stove or oven. We spent winters in our coats, huddled around that little stove. At Christmas, we received a turkey from the Salvation Army, but had no way of cooking it – and our pipes were frozen. There were no presents. I spent my last few bucks on a tree and with scissors, crayons, and some ribbon, we made decorations. We all dressed up in our finest and pretended to have an elegant, candle-lit dinner.

I brought a shoebox of papers (including proof that my children were actually living with me) to the IRS meeting. They went through my finances and found a ten dollar error in my tax form, which I had to pay. The agent apologized for their bringing me in and said that the IRS had audited me because they hadn’t thought it was possible to raise three children on the amount of money I was making.

I read this article about the Trump’s obfuscations and fraud and find it difficult to understand that an IRS that was so doggedly determined to catch a poor person like me could not have seen the unbelievably huge elephant in their “room.”

And BTW, I have used some of those decorations on my trees ever since!


Here’s another comment by an affluent (but not superrich) person:

Echoing the other individual stories. My life was turned upside down by having to pay $1Million in taxes over a four year period from 2002 to 2006 on short term capital gains. It was a million I did not have at the time. I basically worked for nothing for four years. The IRS was all over me for those four years, and then a few years later tried to claim I still owed $50,000+. Fortunately, I saved all my records and receipts. But then I read this report and I feel only anger towards the Treasury Department for not enforcing our laws, and at Congress for saying the wealthy are paying too much in taxes and passing the latest tax cut bill which has resulted in tremendous shortfalls in our federal budget. Remind me once again why we should pay federal taxes if our leaders are not paying taxes, please.

Another one:

After carefully digesting this incredible fact-finding journalism, new headline suggestion: Donald Trump is a shyster, criminal, tax-evading fraud.

What I don’t understand is how the trump family has evaded serious investigation by the IRS — for decades! There truly are different rules for the wealthy vs the rest of us tax-paying peons.

I’m self-employed and diligently pay my quarterly taxes, as required by law. Yesterday, I received a letter from the IRS detailing my 2017 payments and saying I still owed nearly $7000 plus penalties and interest. Problem is, 2 of my payments were not reflected in the letter. I jumped online to my bank and found the 2 payments and dates they were cashed by IRS (complete with photos of checks, front and back). Nearly 2 hours on the phone with IRS to learn they mistakenly applied those payments to 2018, not 2017, although checks clearly indicated 2017 and were accompanied by official IRS payment paperwork. IRS employee says “will take up to 6 weeks to make correction & I still need to pay interest for late payment” –even though payments were made on time!

It baffles me how the IRS will jump on the “little guy” like me, yet millions owed by the likes of trump are ignored. The system IS rigged towards the “wealthy” & against the rest of us. Sickening!

Two almost self-evident comments.

First, according to the tax experts interviewed by the NYT reporters, all of this fraud fell outside of the statute of limitations, so essentially the Trump family “got away with murder.”

Second, dozens of commenters stated that as a rule Republicans have underfunded the IRS; indeed, last year’s Trump budget cut its budget even further.

Finally, today’s Paul Krugman’s economics column started with a shocker even for news junkies:

The 2017 tax cut has received pretty bad press, and rightly so. Its proponents made big promises about soaring investment and wages, and also assured everyone that it would pay for itself; none of that has happened.

Yet coverage actually hasn’t been negative enough. The story you mostly read runs something like this: The tax cut has caused corporations to bring some money home, but they’ve used it for stock buybacks rather than to raise wages, and the boost to growth has been modest. That doesn’t sound great, but it’s still better than the reality: No money has, in fact, been brought home, and the tax cut has probably reduced national income. Indeed, at least 90 percent of Americans will end up poorer thanks to that cut.

Even more interesting were the anecdotes from commenters about their estimated tax bills. Here’s a sample from a New Yorker:

I bought this year’s Turbo Tax 2018 and plugged my 2018 numbers in. I also plugged my 2018 numbers into last year’s Turbo Tax 2017, just to see what happens. Because I’m a modest earner with hefty real-estate taxes living in a state with a high income tax, my total federal income tax on my 2018 earnings was a full 75% higher (yes, that says 75% higher) under the 2018 rules than it would have been under the 2017 rules. Again, I’m squarely middle-class, with relatively simple taxes except that I itemize my deductions. So can we please stop talking about Trump’s tax cuts? Perhaps Trump got a tax cut, but many of us got exactly the opposite.

Actually I have commented several times on NYT articles. But I used a pseudonym, so you’ll never know it’s me!

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I survived the SW ebook sale!

Well, I have spent half of Dec 31st planning what I’d buy from Smashwords end of the year sale with my ultra-limited budget. Let’s just say that I found some amazing deals, and then after I could spend all I could spend, I went ahead and downloaded some SW freebies.

Smashwords is a funny place. They are really trying to make their site attractive, and I appreciate that. Their author and marketing features are incredible! But their end of year sale says Dec 25-Jan 1; what does that mean? Will the deal include January 1 or will the sale expire right before the New Year? What specific hour do these sales expire?

I may seem to be nitpicking, but customers are all over the globe, and frankly some people are perennial night owls. After Netflix announced when movies would arrive and leave, I actually have noticed that the time that things expire/premiere in Houston (i.e., Central Standard Time) is 2:00 AM. The same happens with Amazon deals more or less.

In other words, the new day occurs whenever it hits California!

Smashwords created a new home page a few weeks ago. I am slowly warming up to it, although 95% of my surfing is still through the old interface (because I like the filters and like the ability to read the book descriptions when browsing).

If you use the new interface and look at the row titled “Recent Purchases at Smashwords”, it’s clear that Smashwords sells a lot of weird and smutty titles. (Luckily SW has developed a good option to filter these titles out when browsing). I know reading tastes differ from person to person, but it can be shocking to see clear evidence that most people don’t buy literary fiction; they buy smut and science fiction and pop psychology and formulaic romances (divided into subgenres).

I don’t really issues with erotic themes in literature or even erotica. What I resent more is how much people are paying for it! I guess authors are entitled to whatever people pay for, but I’m seeing a lot of 15,000 word titles bought for $4.99. Authors in this genre (and others) are going out of their way to churn out book slivers and then claiming they are books! At least Amazon can claim that their Kindle Unlimited program blurs the concept of book by letting you pay a single fee for an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Even if these authors were writing things I’d actually want to read, reading and managing ebook shorts is too much of a pain for me — even if they are freebies.

An ebook is not a web page. It is something you should be able to dive into and lose yourself inside. Anything less, and you’re just teasing people.

Happy New Years, and if you haven’t visited last week’s Robert’s Roundup of free/low-cost titles on Smashwords, don’t delay; time is running out!

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