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Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.
I found some great deals on Smashwords titles which were valid in the last 2 weeks of December. Prices jumped back to normal in January, but my guess is that the prices are still pretty low.
I’ve been busy on publishing stuff for most of 2020, so haven’t been able to post this column in a while. With my new blogging strategy, I expect to be writing Robert’s Roundup columns once a month. I’ll post the column page at the beginning of the month and then add it to over it over time. This kills a lot of birds with one stone. First, it ensures that I post more regularly and that I can post individual links more regularly. I used to treat this post as being time-sensitive, but over the past year I’ve decided that it’s less important to publish temporary sale prices than to make people aware of new authors and books. If you want, you can always set up price alerts on ereaderiq if you want instant notifications (perhaps Bookbub has that same functionality by now; can’t remember). I belong to the Smashwords affiliate marketing program, so you’ll notice that I do direct links to Smashwords ebooks. (I doubt if my affiliate payouts have amounted to more than $5 over the past year). More importantly, I like Smashwords because it’s very author-friendly, DRM-free and pays great royalties to authors.
I’ve stopped providing direct links to Amazon books mainly because they cancelled my affiliate account, but also because I see no reason to promote the Kindle platform because it’s so dominant. Another reason is that it’s time consuming to manage all those links — and frankly everybody knows how to google. Anyway, I think it’s more important to link to the author’s own website because they can direct you to the ebookstore they like the best.
I expect to buy a lot more ebooks from GPB over the next year. GPB now pays indie authors one of the highest rates in the publishing world. Amazon only pays 35% for ebooks priced below 2.99; indeed for ebooks with a larger file size, Amazon will reduce author royalties by 15 cents for each MB of the ebook file as a “delivery fee.” This is crap, and both Smashwords and Google Play Books charge no such fee. For that reason, I try to buy indie titles on GPB or Smashwords instead of Amazon for ebooks priced at below 2.99. Of course, Kindle Unlimited titles are exclusive to Amazon, so you have no choice.
Indie Author Spotlight
Frank Prem (Website is here) is an Australian poet who writes and performs poetry about the ordinary aspects of living — such as going shopping!
Sales on Smashwords
Here are the most interesting presses I’ve seen so far on Smashwords: Unsolicited Press | Fomite Press | Whitepoint Press | OpenBooks (interesting but overrpriced?), Bold Venture Press (republishes classic, pulp and genre fiction | Lethe Press | ReAnimus Press (established scifi press which republishes lots of things) | LDB Press | Black Opal Books | Propertius Press (too expensive though) | Atthis Arts | Leaf Garden Press (mainly poetry — see here)
Read by Strangers: Stories (Free!) by Philip Dean Walker (author website). A collection of sixteen queer stories exploring the complexities of the human experience. One review describes it as “result is a deep dissection of lives where the barriers to human connection can take on sometimes-comic, sometimes-monstrous proportions.”
Lethe Press has a variety of titles (notably gay fiction, sci fi, paranormal and some some general fiction and stories. Some good discounts here –highlights:
- Vanishing Point by E.V. Legters (author website) — FREE! Novel about a turbulent affair a lonely housewife has with an emotionally unstable man. (called by Kirkus a “heartbreaking and exquisite story about emotional violence.”) See also: Connecting Underneath (on Amazon for $2, not SW) , her debut novel about teenage girl journey to discover who her father was. (Kirkus: engaging meditation on the most basic desire—to know oneself. )
Senior Touring Society by Donald Kemp
Isolde Kurz: A Cultural Anthology, translated by Becca Menon (free!) Kurz is a
Kissing Booth and other stories by A.C. Wise (3.75) — whoops, maybe I thought the price was lower? Gay surreal scifi fiction about time machines, robots, aliens, etc.
ReAnimus Press republishes out-of-print sci fi novels and story collections for 3.99 (no discount; it’s the same price as Amazon). (Update: I see that you can buy DRM-stuff for the same price directly from the publisher . If you subscribe to the newsletter, you get 20% off first purchase — and hopefully info about more promotions. I generally like buying directly from the publisher because author royalties tend to be higher). Still Smashwords has a lot of these titles — I found lots of James Gunn stories and Robert Silverberg novellas. From Gunn, I’m starting with Future Imperfect story collection, but there’s a lot to choose from. The Silverberg link above went to several 60,000 word collections of 3 novellas by well-known people. Wow, does sci fi have a lock on the 15,000 word novella?
John Flynn (aka Basil Rosa) Basil Rosa — a pseudonym (author website) for John Flynn has discounted all his 3.99 titles to 99 cents for this week — including his Lotion State Trilogy. Alas, I see that he has 3 poetry collections on Smashwords for free — which is great. Fun fact, Flynn served in Peace Corp Moldava in 1993-1995, and I lived in both Albania (1995-7) and Ukraine (1997-9) with Peace Corps and Soros Foundation (respectively). Moldava is right next door to Ukraine, and our country director in Albania came there directly in Moldava, so I have an affinity with this author already. His poetry comes from Leaf Garden which publishes a lot of free and low cost poetry.
Nature’s Confession by JL Morin and Loveoid Nature’s Confession is a YA climate change novel (descriptions and reviews here). Also, Morin has a Huffpost author page containing climate change articles.
Sussurus on Mars by Hal Duncan (1$) is another novella about Greek mythology, botany, philosophy, gay fiction
Richard Herley (author website) is a versatile English author who has already achieved a fair amount of commercial success and has published a lot of his titles on Smashwords (as well as Amazon). On both stores, a significant fraction of the ebooks are priced at free, but everything is under $3. On his author’s website, he has helpful advice about which books to read first and next.
Frank Prem is a gifted Australian poet who I mentioned in a previous column. (author website). I really love his stuff (and you should listen to Frank Prem’s youtube pages.) . He has two poetry ebooks on Smashwords: Pebbles to Poems (free) and Herjo Devastation – a poetic collaboration with a storyteller
I have already highlighted Whitepoint Press in previous roundups. Whitepoint has published a few new titles in 2020: Bread and Salt by Valerie Minor (author website). (Note: This is just one title — more are sold on Amazon). Also, Mom’s Dead by Gerard Lafond (author website) and the poetry title Of Covenants by C. Kubasta (author website, also an interview here and here).
Rasmenia Massoud (author page)
ISOLDE KURZ: A Cultural Anthology: Edited, Translated & Iluminated by Becca Menon FREE!
Man in the Seventh Row: and Related Stories of the Human Condition by Brian Pendreigh 99 cents. Novel by film critic about man who is sucked into various movies (see Purple Rose of Cairo, etc) . Several good reviews on Amazon (where it is on sale for the same price). Here’s his Smashwords interview.
Real World by Kathleen Jowett (author home page and book page). Novel by English writer about a gay woman torn between her desire to marry her girlfriend and the desire to serve as a vicar. From her website, a LGBTQ reading list. A few years ago Jowett published a well-received award-winning novel Speak its Name.
Deals published by Amazon imprints
Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb (and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month. (check previous columns here, here and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).
The King of Kahel by Tierno Monénembo, trans. from the French by Nicholas Elliott. 99 cents (KU, APUB). French prize winner inspired by a historical event about a man who traveled to Guinea and conquered a region in order to build a railway. Reviews are mixed though.
Under the Radar
Talking is Wasted Breath (Tales from the Deccan Plateau) by Rasana Atreya (free, preorder on Amazon and Smashwords).
Gotcha! Inside Trump’s 2000 Campaign – A Novel by Ed Weinberger (99 cents). I usually pass on fiction about topical politics, but Weinberger is a legendary TV writer — wrote for Mary Tyler Moore, co-created Taxi and several other shows. Also, he and Ed Asner wrote an entertaining pseudo-history, Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution against right-wing hypocrites and nutjobs.
Three Stages of Amazement: A novel by Carol Edgarian (bought on sale for 2.99). (Author website). The first thing I noticed about the book page is that the author was the cofounder of Narrative Magazine (which is very well done). Wow, I read the first chapter a long while back — it’s a contemporary California story about love affairs, social classes, venture capital, current events (sorry for phoning it in; it’s been a while). But it seems competently written and Edgarian is definitely someone to watch (she’s even achieved a fair degree of mainstream success).
I swear, I keep bumping into the ebooks of John Vance, (author website) who is a retired academic who has written in a lot of genres — most titles run for 99 cents up to 2.99 on Amazon, so the price definitely is right. Professor and the Don’s Girl, Men Behaving Badly,
Empty Cell by Paulette Alden (author website). Alden won a Stegner Fellowship and wrote a novel about lynching in the 1940s.
Believe it or not, I bought one low priced collection of Penthouse Letters and found them surprisingly entertaining and well-written. Fun reading if you’re into that kind of thing — and not just as stroke material.
Dog Logic by Tom Stretlich (LE). (Author website) Satirical novel about a damaged caretaker at a pet cemetery. Stretlich’s thing is mainly being a playwright, so this is an extension of a play he wrote previously. I’m probably not describing the book fairly, so let’s hear from the author himself.
Regrets by Milton Schacter 1.99 (KU, LE). Well-reviewed crime novel about a defense attorney who is killed as a robber and returns to life as a 15 year old black boy. No author website, but the Amazon author profile is one of the longest I’ve ever read!
Inside the Robe: Judge’s Candid Tale of Criminal Justice in America by Katherine Mader (author website). (free)
Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling and Making of Cultures by Antonio R. Damasio 0.99 Philosophical book about how homeostasis explains human evolution and lots of other things.
For $1 each I’ve picked up 4 volumes of the sci fi series Eden’s Trial by Barry Kirwan (author website) who apparently in not the Irish folk singer with the same name. The premise is about humans who travel in a space ship to find a better planet after earth is ruined by war and climate change. You know I’m a sucker for those kinds of books.
Newspaper Widow (Novel) by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
Snapshots by Eliot Parker. 99 cents. Stories set in Eastern Kentucky/West Virginia. Stories about life’s quirky ironies, usually with a twist.
Film Writing mini-guides by John Gaspard. The series is called Fast, Cheap Filmmaking Books (KU) . I got Fast, Cheap & Written That Way: Top Screenwriters on Writing for Low-Budget Movies for free.
Blink and It’s Gone Sales
(books which go temporarily on sale for a day and then jump back to regular price; to hear about them, you generally need to set up price alerts on ereaderiq).
Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz . 1.99 Award-winning book by Polish author whom Milan Kundera proclaims one of the great novelists of our century. Described as “a metaphysical noir thriller narrated by Witold, a seedy, pathetic, and witty student, who is charming and appalling by turns.” I tried reading Ferdydurke earlier without really getting into it, but my critic friend raved about his other book Pornografia, so I’m willing to give him a second look. (Sometimes I throw aside books too quickly — a personality flaw).
Second World War by Antony Beevor. 3.99 (a fat ebook!) A well-researched comprehensive book which retells the whole narrative
Ecstasy is Necessary: a practical guide to sex, relationships and oh, so much more. by Barbara Carrellas. (A guide to having a good sex life sells for 99 cents on amazon — what a deal!). If you’re looking for a great book about sex and relationships (seriously), I recommend the book Sexual Intelligence by Marty Klein. (Here’s the author’s website). I also have thumbed through but not actually read his two other books about porn and “America’s War on Sex.”
Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. (author website). This much lauded first novel is one of a series and about a communist double agent from Vietnam who travels to America in order to spy on immigrants already in America. He has written other novels The Refugees and The Committed which give different perspective on the plight of post-war Vietnamese. Nguyen has written lots of essays and fiction (here’s a recent essay from NYT called “Post-Trump Future of Literature”). Here’s a long excerpt:
That much of the literary world was willing to give Mr. Obama’s drone strike and deportation policies a pass, partly because he was such a literary, empathetic president, indicates some of the hollowness of liberalism and multiculturalism. Empathy, their emotional signature, is perfectly compatible with killing people overseas — many of them innocent — and backing up a police and carceral system that disproportionately harms Black, Indigenous and other people of color and the poor. It turns out that a president can have a taste for both drone strikes and annual reading lists heavy on multicultural literature.
And here, marginalized writers who tell stories about marginalized populations do not get a pass. Take immigrant literature. During the xenophobic Trump years, when immigrants and refugees were demonized, simply standing up for immigrants became a politically worthwhile cause. But so much of immigrant literature, despite bringing attention to the racial, cultural and economic difficulties that immigrants face, also ultimately affirms an American dream that is sometimes lofty and aspirational, and at other times a mask for the structural inequities of a settler colonial state. Most Americans have never heard of settler colonialism, much less used it to describe their country. That’s because Americans prefer to call settler colonialism the American dream.
Too much of immigrant and multicultural literature fails to rip off that mask. Yet the politicization of these populations does pose a threat to the white nation that Mr. Trump represents. White identity politics has always been the dominant politics of this country, but so long as it was ascendant and unthreatened, it was never explicitly white. It was simply normative, and most white writers (and white people) never questioned the normativity of whiteness. But the long, incomplete march toward racial equality from 1865 to the present has slowly eroded white dominance, with the most significant rupture occurring during the war in Vietnam.
I, Claudius by Robert Graves ($2). I’ve heard good things about this.
Indie /DRM-free Ebook Deals
Once or twice a year, the radical publisher Verso Books discounts critical/leftist ebooks. Most Verso titles are brilliant radical works — often about economics, sociology, media studies, literary criticism (and occasionally even fiction). To my delight, I saw that Derrida‘s Politics of Friendship was discounted. I am somewhat well-read in Derrida, but as it happens, I attended the first public reading of the 1st chapter while at JHU in 1989. Although Derrida’s analytical method is fairly abtruse, he recited his thoughts carefully and intensely (leading me to believe that I understand most of what Derrida was speaking about. (I made small talk with him at a wine and cheese party afterwards). Verso has a lot of interesting “deep thoughts” books; it’s definitely worth signing up for the newsletter to be informed of when things go on sale.
Note: Verso Books sells DRM-free versions directly to the consumer and in multiple formats. Everything is also on Amazon, but discounted prices come only from directly purchasing on Verso’s site.
Creative Commons — Academic — Public Domain
Some more free titles from Cornell U Press that I hadn’t picked up already. This set comes from the series, Signale: Modern German Letters, Cultures, and Thought. I’m reasonably well-versed in German literature and for a while was reading advanced stuff in German (including 2/3 of Hermann Broch‘s Sleepwalkers). Sleepwalkers is a great work; I probably should revisit it in an age of Trump.
- On the Ruins of Babel: Architectural Metaphor in German Thought by Daniel Leonhard Purdy
- The Total Work of Art in European Modernism by David Roberts
- Benjamin’s Library: Modernity, Nation, and the Baroque by Jane O. Newman
- Lyric Orientations: Hölderlin, Rilke, and the Poetics of Community by Hannah Vandegrift Eldridge
- Formative Fictions: Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Bildungsroman by Tobias Boes.
I have delved into the Cornell Open Access Project a bit. (See the newest free titles). There’s a lot there, and perhaps next month I’ll cover the offerings (many of which I’ve already downloaded). Suffice to say that on the Cornell website you can download epubs and pdfs, but on Amazon they are available at kindle files. If you download from Cornell directly, you should be sure to give the downloadable file a recognizable name. COAP has titles on a lot of subjects (maybe 1/4 are literary topics). Lots of social science, history and political economy,
Once in a Lifetime Deals
Improvement by Joan Silber, 2$
See my blurb about R.S. Gwynn below.
Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island by Scott Semegran.
Republic of Jack by Jeffrey Kerr (author website). A satirical look at the Texas government who entertains the secession movement for political purposes. Kerr (who also makes movies) has a great sense of Texas politics — here’s a fun Texas history lesson he gave to the Austin public access TV.
Levee by Paul Otremba. (a Houston poet who died at 40 of stomach cancer). Here’s a very nice interview in American Literary Review in 2019. Here’s one lovely description: From a nice article about the book:
Levee—set in and around the Ship Channel, lush greenery, and crawfish boils of the Bayou City—is a thoughtful, sometimes ironic work that examines living in a time besieged by climate change and perpetual violence in a place forged from industry and greed. It’s also some of Otremba’s most personal work, drawing, as it does, from the poet’s own confrontation with mortality.
“He used his own illness as the background and metaphor for the illnesses of the world,” explains Otremba’s wife, Holly Holmes.Morgan Kenney, Houstonia Magazine.
Demagoguery and Democracy by Patricia Roberts-Miller. (author blog).
Clay Reynolds is a distinguished and erudite Texas author (website) whom I’m currently interviewing. Curiously, despite his being born 16 years after me, he went to Trinity and we share a lot of cultural reference points. I’m excited to get into his fiction and essays which have overlooked way too long. I’ll be posting more about his fiction eventually, but two places to start is his 2004 public lecture A Cow Can Moo: The Irony of the Artistic Lie (PDF). It’s a detailed discussion about the evolution of a Texas writer’s sensibility and how you develop a sense of irony. Deep, heavy stuff. For something lighter, here’s a 2006 interview with Reynolds in Lone Star Literary Life. One curious thing about Reynolds is that he talks freely about his fiction. When Baen released ebook editions, he wrote new introductions for almost all of them.
From Barsoom to Malacandra: Musings on Things Past and Things to Come by John C. Wright (author website) Also: Transhuman and Subhuman. ( 99 cents KU, LE) Wright is a retired lawyer, editor and sci fi novelist. Here are two collections of essays about science fiction and the genre’s authors.
Review Copies Received
To prepare for the interview with Texas novelist Clay Reynolds (author website), I received two great-looking print books by Clay Reynolds: Of Snakes & Sex & Playing in the Rain (essay collection) and
Printed books bought (Better World Books, Amazon, etc)
If you are looking for a great book about elephant society and how mammals communicate and emote, check out the brilliant and fascinating Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. by Carl Safina. (author home page). A great fascinating work about the animal kingdom.
Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Believe it or not, this comic was really big during college, but I never read it until a month ago.
Several volumes by George Singleton: These People are Us, Half-Mammals of Dixie, Calloustown, Between Wrecks.
Argument for Stillness by Erik Campbell. Found a poem in a litmag that blew me away, and finally tracked the book it came from.
How to Create a Flawless Universe: In Just Eight Days by Godfather Publications is one of my favorite novelty books. They’re giving away copies for nothing, and it is a clever humorous scrapbook kind of book.
Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. Lepore has covered weightier subjects, but this treatment of cultural history was engrossing.
Goethe, Goethe, Goethe. I’ve been a fan of the Princeton U Press multivolume set of Goethe Translations from the 1990s. This Christmas I broke down and bought two volumes — one of plays, the other of poetry. (That means I have 3 volumes so far).
No Word of Farewell: Selected Poems, 1970-2000 by R.S. Gwynn. Gwynn came highly recommended to me by Texas novelist Clay Reynolds, and he happens to be spending his retirement very close to Houston! By the way, I’ll be reading more works by Clay Reynolds, stay tuned.
I couldn’t resist. I’m an admirer of the book cover designer George Salter, a German-born Jewish artist who designed some immortal covers — both for German publishers and (after fleeing Nazi Germany) all the major US publishers. Someone gathered all his illustration work with commentary and packaged it into a print book. called Classic Book Jackets by Milton Glaser. You can view a sampling of Salter’s covers here . I have picked up a handful of books with Salter covers already, but it might be nice to collect these books (all the books sound cool too).
Personville Press Giveaways and Deals
I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. All the titles are discounted on Smashwords for less that price — and usually under $1.50. Pay attention to any 100% coupon codes which I occasionally list below — they can be redeemed only a small number of times, so first come, first serve. Smashwords only sells epub versions of these titles, but you can easily convert them to Amazon’s mobi format by using Kindle Previewer or Calibre.
- Minor Sketches and Reveries by Alberto Balengo. ($4) Introspective tales involving animals, allegories and the melodrama of everyday life. Amazon | Smashwords | BN | Apple | Kobo.
- Interview with the Sphinx. By Jack Matthews. ($2.99). 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 . $2.99 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. $3.00 Philosophical Stories Taking place during the US Civil War.
- Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind by Jack Matthews. Flash Fiction. $1.25
- Hanger Stout, Awake (50th Anniversary Edition). by Jack Matthews. Coming of age novel. $3.00
- 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: Epub, Mobi.