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Robert’s Roundup #31 (June, 2022)

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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.NYP means “Name Your Price” (that’s an option on Smashwords and other booksellers). If you’d like to submit an ebook to me for review or mention in this column, see my instructions here.

I just wanted to follow up on last month’s purchase of my big ass floor lamp. That — along with better floor glasses has made it easier for me to read. Much as I like to read, I have to do a ton of it for professional reasons. Some of it can be fun, but mostly it feels like work. Anything which helps me with reading is a win. I personally prefer reading ebooks — especially because it’s easy to annotate and save my place, but occasionally it is nice to read a real book for a change.

After the tremendous amount of ebook purchases between Jan and April, I settled down in May a bit and June should be rather tame. But maybe I’ll do more actual blogging. Six days later: I bought a ton of books during the intervening time! Ha, ha!

I’ve started reading Iris Murdoch‘s The Sea, The Sea, which I’ve always wanted to read!

Indie Author Spotlight

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Under the Radar

Jesse Ball (wiki page) is an experimental writer from NY who has been compared to Kafka, Borges, Calvino. Got his MFA from Columbia and studied with Richard Howard (he has published several poetry volumes as well). He’s prolific and publishing through major publishers, so who knows where the quality stuff is. But I bought the cheapskate novella, The Lesson (99 cents) and and early story collection called Village on Horseback (2.99) which contains a piece published in Paris Review and won a prize.

Schopenhauer Cure by Irvin Yalom. (Author website). Yalom is a philosopher/psychotherapist who has written lots of nonfiction and fiction books. In 2009, he published this book about a therapy group who use Schopenhauer’s ideas in trying to heal/improve. The first chapter I read was great, and Yalom has written several subsequent books with the names of famous philosophers in the title (not a bad gimmick, I admit).

On Looking: Essays by Lia Purpura. 1.99 (Author bio and interviews). Purpura is a poet and critic Oops, a lot of these links don’t work, but she has a lot of interviews on Youtube. (2022, 2021, 2016, and another 2016)

Balladeer: Coming of Age Drama by Fred Calvert. (author website) 99 cents. Young boy accidentally causes his brother’s death; the novel is about how it affects his growing up. First novel by an extremely accomplished animation artist, screenplay writer and TV writer.

Redundancy of Tautology: 80 acerbic poems by Leilanie Stewart (author website and blog). Reviewing for Bookroar. She’s a Belfast-based poet and author who edits Bindweed Magazine — whose issues are also published on Amazon.

Luminaries by Eleanor Catton . Longish Booker prize-winning historical novel about New Zealand.

Alejandro’s Lie by Bob Van Laerhoven (author home page). Free on Smashwords. Political novel taking place in South America in the 1980s. From Booklife: There is a poetic quality in Bob Van Laerhoven’s prose that makes the story sing, and its romantic angle reminds me of Love in the Time of Cholera. As for the turbulent backdrop of a system that corrodes the nation, what started out as detention and torture for Alejandro has expanded into a moral dilemma that largely affects not only him but also those people who have faith in him.

I like digging through the archives of book reviewers. Lately I’ve been looking through Baskerville Book Reviews. This reviewer reviews lots of fantasy, thrillers and sci fi, but there’s a variety of genres. Here are some things that struck me:

  • Born of Air (The Valdir Chronicles Book 1) by RA Lewis. All the books start with “Born of”
  • Two books by Brian Freeman: Ursulina and Deep Deep Snow. Mystery/thriller (she recommended especially the audiobook).
  • Kitsune: A Little Mermaid Retelling (Tales of Akatsuki Book 1) by Nicolette Andrews. This series consists of retelling of several famous tales, but in a Japanese context.
  • Brilliant White Peaks by Teng Rong. In the good style of Watership Down, this novel depicts a life of a wolf.
  • Chloe After Dark by Elsa Joseph. Steamy thriller book, btw, the audiobook reader Aisling Bea is a well-known Irish actress.
  • Minion: Vampire Huntress Legend Book 1 by L.A. Banks. (First in a Series).

Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins. (Wiki page) “The dawn of the atomic age is seen through the eyes of Fos, an amateur chemist in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and Opal, a glassblower’s daughter.” 1.99 Wiggins claim to fame is being married to Salman Rushdie when Iranian crazies were trying to assassinate him. Eventually they separated, and she’s gone onto a successful writing career. I read some of her stories from Herself in Love and read the 1989 John Dollar, which was interesting.

Agamemnon’s Daughter: Novella and Stories by Ismail Kadare. Well-reviewed shorter pieces by Kadare.

Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth’s Extinct Worlds by Thomas Halliday. (Author Website) Big sciencey book about extinct animals. Covers some of the same ground as Elizabeth Kolbert‘s Sixth Extinction,but hey, Kolbert and McKibben wrote blurbs, so I’m going for it! (It’s a heavy ebook weighing 25 MB)

Cabinet by Un-su Kim. Well-regarded Korean novel about an office worker who discovers a cabinet with magical qualities.

American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels 1960-1966 (LOA #321). This special Library of America edition novellas by Poul Anderson, Clifford D. Simak, Daniel Keyes and Roger Zelasny. All for 1.99 via a bookbub deal. There is a later volume titled American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels 1968-1969 (LOA #322) (not discounted yet, but just you wait.

Library Purchases/Printed books

Siri Hustvedt: Living, Thinking, Looking : Essays and Sorrows of an American (fiction) . Sorrows got well-received. Here’s a 2013 video of her at an Adelaide conference with my former teacher J.M. Coetzee (and part 2.

Several books by James Morrow (Home Page) Last Witchfinder, Philosopher’s Apprentice, Galápagos Regained. Can’t wait to read them.

Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge (Wiki page). Russian Marxist-anarchist critical of Stalin who wrote novels about Stalinist purges. This 1962 work was later republished by NYROB with a fancy introduction by Susan Sontag. I bought the original 1962 edition in a nearby store for 90 cents — and I can download the ebook sample which contains the full Sontag essay for free!

Not where I started From by Kate Wheeler (Oklahoma-born American Buddhist novelist – wiki page) .

Several Postsecrets picture books — edited by Frank Warren: The World of PostSecret, Postsecret : Confessions on Life, Death, and God; Lifetime of Secrets : A PostSecret Book; My Secret : A PostSecret Book; PostSecret : Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives.

The postsecret books compile anonymous postcards sent to the postsecrets.com website.

Triangulum by Masande Ntshanga. (Author page on two dollar publisher site). “ambitious, often philosophical and genre-bending novel that covers a period of over 40 years in South Africa’s recent past and near future — starting from the collapse of the apartheid homeland system in the early 1990s, to the economic corrosion of the 2010s, and on to the looming, large-scale ecological disasters of the 2040s.” Here’s an 8 minute video about the book and a 1 hour zoom interview.

Street by Ann Petry. (Author wiki page). 1st bestseller by African-American woman in 1946.

Sun is Not Merciful: Short Stories by Anna Lee Walters. (Author page and wiki page). Oklahoma-based Native-American author. This collection published in the 1980s won an award.

Available Light by Ellen Curie. Humorous magic-realist novel published in the 1980s. (wiki page). Praised by J.D. Salinger of all people.

Creative Commons/Freebies

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Literary Articles and Essays

Here’s a nice article about translations by Hindi translator Daisy Rockwell whose translation of Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree later won the International Booker Prize for translations. I expect that the ebook will be rushed to the US market soon.

NYT has several By the Book interviews with well-known authors where they spill their guts about favorite books and things. Michael Dirda spills his reading list for the summer. .

Interview/profile of Syrian author Samar Yazbek about writing in exile. Learned about her from an interesting zoom discussion with several East European authors and poets talking about writing during wartime. I’m still exploring these authors, so I’ll probably report on some other participants later.

From an article about new apps to help people discover book titles, I wrote this modest comment:

The best way to learn about new stuff is to sign up for newsletters of publishers and authors. The best way to learn about indie authors and publishers is to subscribe to a ebook deal newsletter like Bargain booksy or fussylibrarian. Another idea is to read Midwest Book Review which reviews everything… Social media and community sites are fine too — I like twitter and reddit — but many of the highbrow readers end up recommending the same writer or books. To summarize: rather than trusting one critic or one publisher, I recommend drinking from the firehose — you’d be amazed at how much you can learn about a book just by reading the book description and the blurbs — but especially the description. I’m not particularly impressed by blurbs or negative reviews; lots of books get negative reviews because reviewers don’t know what they’re reading or they are the wrong kind of audience for that particular book. I no longer worry about the objectivity of these reviews — who cares if they are so-and-so’s sister? I just read for information about style and themes.

Fascinating discussion of a new trend in book promotion: putting the character’s name in the book’s title.

Listicle of the 55 Most Erotic Books You will Ever Read by Shannon Carlin. Here’s another listicle and another one on bookriot (a really good list)

Two essays on publishing and elitism by Naomi Kanakia . Myth of the Classically Educated Elite and If They Want to Be Published, Literary Writers Can’t Be Honest About Money Fun fact: Kanakia graduated from the same creative writing program I did (Johns Hopkins) and has published several novels. Most amazing about her website is her index of books she’s read/blogged about.

I followed a different path to publishing — avoiding writing to market, and abandoning the futile effort to get published by a traditional publisher. Also, I never bothered with submitting stories — or rather I stopped doing it 5 years after finishing JHU; it seemed like an incredible waste of time. Also, by starting my own publishing company, I retained a lot of control, but at the cost of writing much much less than I would otherwise have done. Instead I learned more technical skills and developed more outside interests — though at heart I’m a scholar and bookworm. As a result, I started publishing much later in life although I’ve always been writing (I guess). I disappoint myself every day with my lack of writerly productivity — it used to be so easy — but the problem is not lack of inspiration or drive, but struggling with other personal commitments. On the other hand, I can still pursue certain narrow topics in excruciating depths. In my 20s and 30s reading seemed so important to do — and I guess it still is that way, but I don’t need to read the way I used to. I’d rather spend the time writing my own stuff — especially now that my time is in such short supply.

I do enjoy this artistic experience, but I confess that lack of feedback can potentially hurt me in the long run.

Annual Awards

I enjoyed surfing through the SPR reviews

Rant/Commentary

The next section contains my “review” of a Clay Reynolds book. It’s more like a rushed review than anything else.

Truthfully I publish book reviews a lot less often than I should. I come across tons of books I like and recommend; often I am asked by friends to write a review of their ebooks, and I feel obligated to do so (and try to be honest and fair). I generally have no time to pause to write a review unless a book has a dearth of reviews and a book is particularly deserving. In such cases, I usually write “rushed reviews” which are superficial and generally laudatory, but also provide the bare minimum to tell readers what the book is about. Certainly books deserve better reviews than this, but I just dash these things quickly.

I love reading longish reviews and will read book review essays in New Republic and NYROB. Often though, these book review essays seem like overkill. They are written not necessarily to assess the book’s quality but to respond to the issues of the book. That certainly is a worthy goal for an essay, but it often skirts around the consumer question about whether someone should pay to read the book.

Some people can do it quickly and effortlessly. Not me. But when I do write a review, I want it to count; I want to grapple with aesthetic and ethical questions posed by the book. Yes, I’m inclined to write precisely the type of essays which I just called unnecessary.

One of my greatest literary misdeeds is that I queried the book review editor of an extremely well written online litmag called Cleaver Magazine. Cleaver Magazine is one of the best litmags in USA, and they publish great and thorough reviews (and fiction, etc). I pitched the idea of writing a review essay about my favorite discovery — a quirky translation of Confucius’s Analects. I was all set to write a deep review of this book — and maybe do some comparisons with other translations. The editor wrote me back, saying, great. I gave a date range when I would get it done.

For a while, I really wanted to get it done by that date. I read it quickly, wrote nice notes and commentary. But then some major life events happened, plus this book just became a low priority — always. I wrote the editor a month or two later, saying, don’t worry, I’m still working on it. Truthfully though, I couldn’t justify spending any time writing this review. I was so humiliated at wimping out that I didn’t even write the editor back to explain myself.

A year goes by. No one has discovered this quirky translation. It still does not have a single review on Amazon, Smashwords or anywhere else. The translator is a distinguished scholar and translator living in California somewhere. Eventually one morning, I decided just to throw together a “rushed review” of the book (and really all my blog readers should buy and read this book — it’s that good!) It took 30-45 minutes to write. But this rushed review is not genuine criticism; it’s just praise mixed with book descriptions. I’m not really saying anything except, look how incredible this book is!

I never felt comfortable in academia and never could crank out above-average criticism rapidly. Usually, when I try, the result is garbage. As it happens, I’m writing two long analytic essays about books; it’s killing me. These essays are the first (and possibly only) long essays about the topic; both of them need to be great! By contrast, these “rushed reviews” feel like off-the-cuff impressions.

Capsule Book Reviews

Here’s an Amazon review I posted for Clay ReynoldsOf Snakes & Sex & Playing in the Rain

book cover graphic

This is a great and funny and poetic collection of personal essays about all sorts of topics ranging from “macho” topics (like trout fishing, golf, baseball, etc) to pop culture (Elvis, first dates, coffee, warning labels) to personal reflections about the legacy of long lost relatives. This is the perfect gift book for the I-Know-How-To-Read-But-I’d-never-be-caught-dead-reading-Proust-or-Faulkner-or-Morrison type of reader.

Reynolds (1949-2022) is one of the most erudite authors in USA. His fiction is distinguished and very Texas-focused. This essay collection contains a little bit of that regionalism and some of that erudition (although Reynolds hides it very well here). Reynolds has written lots of literary essays and book reviews, but judging from this book, you’d never know it. These are more like personal incidental essays. I guess it’s sort of tragic that Reynolds didn’t write more in this genre; he came to the personal essay genre later in life (and didn’t have time to release more).

Don’t be fooled by the lack of reviews (blame the publisher for that!) This collection is sure to be a classic.

Multimedia/Podcasts, Etc

Hmm, I’m already linking to the podcast and youtube by the author’s entry. Maybe I can delete this section. Need time to think…

Personville Press Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. Prices normally appear highest on Amazon, Apple, Kobo and BN, somewhat lower on Google Play Books and lower on the two DRM-free stores which are Smashwords and Payhip. Personville Press is committed to selling DRM-free ebooks and audio files directly from the Personville Press payhip store or from Smashwords

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