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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).
  • Book page. Smashwords has much fewer distractions. Book marketing guru David Gaughran wrote, “As I write these words, there are currently 248 different titles on the product page of the Kindle edition of “Let’s Get Digital.” Between the ads, Also Boughts, Also Vieweds, Amazon promotion, and other links, there are hundreds of things that could distract a reader before they purchase.

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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Copyright Ghosts of 1923 Come Alive Tomorrow!

(I originally posted this on Teleread in 2007. The horrifying decision to freeze the public domain for 20 extra years has increased costs to libraries, schools, students and scholars. The works below would have gone into the public domain in 1999; instead, they will go into the public domain tomorrow! The openculture blog has more).

“You are all a lost generation”
Gertrude Stein, quoted in preface to Hemingway’s Sun Also Rises (1926)

See also: Welcome to 1922! (Introduction)Ghosts of 1924. For Texas readers, see my tirade about why Dorothy Scarborough’s The Wind isn’t in the public domain.

All the works listed below were scheduled to go into the U.S. public domain in 1999–except that a 1998 law mandated a 20 year delay–causing higher prices for students, teachers and libraries. Instead of 1999, these works will become part of the U.S. public domain only in 2019.

Caveat: This is a work in progress. It may not be accurate. However, it will be updated over time (and hopefully made more accurate). Some of the works listed below might be very well be in the public domain or special arrangements might have been made to make them available in digitalized form. Always google to be sure. If you have edits/additions, send them to me here: idiotprogrammer at fastmailbox.net .

How I Compiled This List

First, let me explain how I located works specific to each year. I’m no expert on that decade, and frankly I did nothing that no other savvy Net Surfer could do using google and well-known resources.

  1. Wikipedia uses year pages as a central reference point to events, people and creative works particular to the time period. If you go to Wikipedia’s entry to 1923, you will find links to Literature and Film. I’ve found a lot of discrepancies about dates on wikipedia, so you shouldn’t take for granted that dates are absolutely correct (you should probably verify these dates elsewhere). However, they are usually in the ballpark. One of the problems with this dating system on Wikipedia is that it based on self-reporting by wikipedia posters; many well-known works probably haven’t been listed yet. Still, it’s enough to get a person started.
  2. University of Pennsylvania has a great listing of prize winners by year. Obviously not all great works were prize winners, but this helps you to be sure you haven’t overlooked any prize-winning works. This site links to digital copies when available. Sometimes it happens that post-1922 works have made it in the public domain for one reason or another. Also, because copyright law in Australia is Death + 50 Years, Project Gutenberg in Australia, they are sometimes able to carry certain works not yet available in the U.S. (Suddenly my heart is surging with a feeling of Australian nationalism).
  3. For general reference information about copyright, check University of Pennsylvania’s listing of copyright laws by country and Cornell U.’s reference guide to U.S. copyright law.
  4. Google Book Search tends to be pretty conservative about which books it allows full text for, but on the other hand, the best two things about it are 1)easy access to the copyright page to verify date (regardless of whether it’s in public domain) and 2)google-produced PDFs which are just a collection of screenshots of scans. I haven’t tried it, but now Project Gutenberg’s Distributed Proofreader’s Project is using these PDF’s to OCR these works, saving individuals and libraries a lot of time and effort (horray Google!) .
  5. Here’s a list of copyright renewals by year. For example in 1923, works needed to be renewed in 1950, 1951 or 1952. This table provides a gigantic page of 1923 works which were not renewedand a list of works which were renewed (zip). I can’t really say how accurate or complete this information is (and by the way, I generally did not consult it when listing works below).
  6. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database is the only literary source that lets you narrow by year. Its purpose seems to be sci fi/fantasy, but for now the database lists lots of general works as well. It also lists short stories and essays printed in a particular year–particularly useful. This website is still buggy and lists incomplete/unedited information. Also, the dates may contain second editions, so some might already be in the public domain. Still a good resource, and likely to improve with time.
  7. Project Gutenberg lists a lot of works that are post-1922 but are not put in the public domain by virtue of publication date. Maybe they have made alternate arrangements. The PG Clearance team is pretty sharp; I seriously doubt they would make a mistake.
  8. The Golden Age of Detection wiki lists detective novels from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, period between the 1920s and 1930s in England and (to a limited extent) the U.S. There are many ways to find detective novels in a certain time period. The most direct seems to be to enter “1923” as a search term in its search box.
  9. The IMDB database offers lots of ways to browse films by date. The problem is that even in 1923 there were 2099 listings. This is a cumbersome way to search. However, links on the left side allow you to list by total votes and by average vote. These two links have further links to the 100 top links in that category. However, I’ve observed discrepancies in dates. Also, many of these films are foreign, and you can’t tell the release date of these films in the US. I’m limiting myself to American releases (generally). Don’t forget to click on the Review link for individual films. BTW, make sure to check whether the film has a link to an External Review; some of the notable ones do.
  10. In archive.org you can do search by Date Ranges. You have to use Advanced Search, and it’s a bit cumbersome, but it works; . Also Openflix is distributing early public domain works. You can’t neatly search by year, but often entering the year into the Search box produces tidy search results. They used to provide p2p links, but now they provide links to streaming videos and cheap editions you can find on amazon.
  11. See also the National Registry of Films list. You can list films by date, and pretty much see which films that historians and archivists deemed notable/significant for a particular year.
  12. Other Categories: I am generally not listing literary works originally other than English here. For English-speaking audiences, we care about the copyright date of translations (although it is true that a person living today could write their own free translation from the original and post it online). Also, I haven’t listed much in the way of history/nonfiction/essays simply because I have no way of finding out what’s out there.

The Ghosts of 1923–A Synopsis

1923 was a great year. The country was suffering under an incompetent U.S. president, and in midyear another took office to fix the mess he’d created. William Butler Yeatswon the Nobel prize. Both Robert Frost and E.E. Cummings produced their first major collections of poetry (so did Wallace Stevens, but luckily it contained previously published works now in the public domain). W.C. Williams wrote two volumes of poetry; curiously even his pre-1923 works haven’t made it onto Gutenberg. A female sci fi writer named Gertrude Atherton published a sensational, semi-autobiographical novel Black Oxen, about a middle-aged woman who miraculously becomes young again after glandular therapy. It was made into a well-received film a year later. Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer created Cane, a series of poems and short stories considered to be an important work of high modernism. English writer (and friend of Rosetti) Hall Caine wrote an anti-war novel of a romance between a German POW and an English girl; it was made into a film in 1927. Feminist dramatist/fiction writer Zona Gale wrote another love story that satirized life in a small town. Edwin Lefèvre wrote a classic novel describing the life of a professional stock-trader on Wall Street (akin to a 1920’s Bonfire of the Vanities). Elmer Rice wrote Adding Machine, widely considered an early expressionist classic of American theater. P.G. Wodehouse had another Jeeves book out; G.B. Shaw had another play; Willa Cather had two novels; H.G. Wells had one, and adventure writer H. Rider Haggard had one too. Arnold Bennett had his last great masterpiece Riceyman Steps (now on Gutenberg).

IMDB shows a mere 2099 movies produced in 1923 (a good percentage, we may assume are not American). Everything is still silent (obviously), but still there’s a wide variety of productions. Laurel and Hardy released 19 new films; Buster Keatonproduced three; Hal Roach’s Our Gang comedies started appearing with 19 in 1923; so did the classic Harold Lloyd‘s Safety Last (where he hangs off a clock on a building). Cecil de Mille produced two more epics. We also see an early work of Fay Wray (who starred in King Kong 10 years later). Alla Nazimova produced the controversial and lavish avante-garde Salome version of Oscar Wilde’s play, replete with “bare-chested boys, blond Nubian slaves, metallic potted palms, art nouveau floral patterns, and birdcage dungeons (wrote a Village Voice critic recently). There was Covered Wagon, a Western with a giant budget and other films with various plots about orphans, Irish immigrants, woman heading off to Hollywood to be a star (Hollywood was big even then).

Of course, I have only scratched the surface. Obviously there are many more books, plays and movies and paintings I haven’t had time to describe here. Now, thanks to 1998 legislation passed by your congressmen, these and other works will have to wait an extra 20 years for Americans to have easy access to them. You have 12 years of waiting to go.

Literary Works of 1923–Poems/Drama

  • E. E. Cummings – Tulips & Chimneys
  • Robert Frost – New Hampshire (won Pulitzer)
  • William Carlos Williams: Go Go, Spring and All
  • Elmer Rice – The Adding Machine
  • George Bernard Shaw – Saint Joan
  • John Masefield — Dauber And the Daffodil Fields
  • Wallace Stevens – Harmonium
  • Owen Davis, Icebound (won Pulitzer for drama)

Literary Works of 1923–Fiction

  • Gertrude Atherton – Black Oxen (racy sci fi later made into 1924 film). Update: Expired copyright.
  • Sherwood Anderson – Many Marriages
  • Max Brand – Seven Trails (writer of Westerns/pulps)
  • Hall Caine – The Woman of Knockaloe
  • Willa Cather – A Lost Lady; One of Ours
  • Marie Corelli – Love and the Philosopher
  • Zona Gale – Faint Perfume
  • Georgette Heyer – The Great Roxhythe (Heyer wrote historical romances/detective novels)
  • Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes (Children, Newberry)
  • A. A. Milne – The House at Pooh Corner
  • Jules Romains – Knock
  • Felix Salten – Bambi, A Life in the Woods
  • Dorothy L. Sayers – Whose Body? (expired copyright)
  • James Stephens – Deirdre
  • Jean Toomer – Cane
  • H. G. Wells – Men Like Gods
  • Margaret Wilson -The Able McLaughlins (Pulitzer) . Wully McLaughlin, a member of a Scots community in frontier Iowa, is alarmed by the behavior of his sweetheart when he returns from battle in the Civil War.
  • Edwin Lefèvre – Reminiscences of a Stock Operator (free on the net)
  • H. Rider Haggard – Wisdom’s Daughter
  • Arnold Bennett – Riceyman Steps (now at PG)
  • Weeds by Edith Summers Kelley, First published in 1923, Weeds is set amid the tobacco tenant farms of rural Kentucky. This pioneering naturalist novel tells the story of a hard-working, spirited young woman who finds herself in a soul-destroying battle with the imprisoning duties of motherhood and of managing an impoverished household. The novel is particularly noteworthy for its heartbreaking depiction of a woman who suffers not from a lack of love, but from an unrequited longing for self-expression and freedom
  • Novels by Anzia Yezierska : Salome of the Tenements and Children of Loneliness

Films of 1923

  • Gasoline Love (early film with Fay Wray)
  • Burning Brazier (surreal French/Russian detective ) Ivan Mozzhukhin
  • Little Old New York, comedy of Irish female immigrant who comes to USA starring Marion Davies), dir. Sidney Olcott
  • Zaza, story of French music star battling with her rival
  • The Extra Girl, actress wins a contest to become a star
  • Our Hospitality & Balloonatic, Three Ages, Love Nest (1923) Buster Keaton classic
  • Covered Wagon, Western with giant budget
  • The Daring Years, starring Mildred Harris, Charles Emmett Mack and Clara Bow
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney
  • The Purple Highway, starring Madge Kennedy, Monte Blue, Vincent Coleman and Pedro de Cordoba
  • Safety Last!, starring Harold Lloyd. In one scene, Lloyd is seen climbing around and hanging off the side of a tall building, including a very famous scene where he hangs off a clock. Lloyd did all of his own stunts, and worked without a safety net. Also in the same year, Why Worry?, silent comedy about hypochondriac millionaire
  • Salomé, starring Alla Nazimova; directed by Charles Bryant, stylized avante-garde version of Oscar Wilde’s play (deemed a “culturally significant film by the National Film Registry).
  • Souls for Sale, starring Richard Dix and Eleanor Boardman; look at gliterati of Hollywood
  • A Woman of Paris & Pilgrim , starring Edna Purviance; directed by Charles Chaplin
  • It’s a Gift & 18 other Our Gang films (written by Hal Roach )
  • White Rose, D.W. Griffith tale of an orphan girl who goes out into the world.
  • Bright Shawl, adventure/political/spy thriller Edward G. Robinson, Mary Astor, William Powell
  • Adam’s Rib & 10 Commandments Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
  • Laurel & Hardy: 19 videos (!!!)

Essays/History/Autobiography/Nonfiction

  • Studies in Classic American Literature, by DH Lawrence; famous litcrit.
  • Robert Henri – The Art Spirit (essays and conversations about art by artist/teacher who led Ashcan Art movement of realistic American art).

Detective Fiction

(I haven’t verified these titles, but a commenter to the original article referred me to the Golden Age of Detection Fiction  )

  • Baroque (1923)
  • Behind Locked Doors (1923)
  • Black, White and Brindled (1923) by Eden Phillpotts
  • Bones of the River (1923) by Edgar Wallace
  • Captains of Souls (1923) by Edgar Wallace
  • Cheri-bibi and Cecily aka Missing Men (1923) by Gaston Leroux
  • Chick (1923) by Edgar Wallace
  • Children of the Wind (1923) by MP Shiel
  • Cole, GDH & M – The Brooklyn Murders – (1923)
  • Contact and Other Stories (1923) by Frances Noyes Hart
  • Craig Kennedy Listens In (1923) by Arthur Reeve
  • Days to Remember (1923) by John Buchan
  • Dorothée, danseuse de corde (1923)
  • Dr Thorndyke’s Casebook aka The Blue Scarab (1923)
  • Feathers Left Around (1923)
  • Hounded Down (1923) by Roy Vickers
  • Impromptu (1923) by Elliot Paul
  • Jim Hanvey, Detective (1923) by Octavus Roy Cohen
  • Jim Maitland (1923)
  • John Dighton, Mystery Millionaire (1923)
  • Klondyke Kit’s Revenge (1923) by George Goodchild
  • La poupée sanglante & La machine à assassiner (1923)
  • Many Engagements {short stories} (1923) by JS Fletcher
  • Michael’s Evil Deeds (1923) by E Phillips Oppenheim
  • Midwinter (1923) by John Buchan
  • Monsieur Jonquelle (1923) by Melville Davisson Post
  • More Lives Than One (1923)
  • Mr Fortune’s Practice (1923) by HC Bailey
  • Once In A Red Moon (1923) by Joel Townsley Rogers
  • Secret Service Smith (1923)
  • Spooky Hollow (1923)
  • That Fellow Macarthur (1923) by Selwyn Jepson
  • The Affair at Flower Acres (1923)
  • The Ambitious Lady (1923) by JS Fletcher
  • The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith (1923) by Patricia Wentworth
  • The Big Heart (1923)
  • The Blackguard (1923)
  • The Books of Bart (1923) by Edgar Wallace
  • The Brooklyn Murders (1923); by GDH Cole
  • The Call Box Mystery (1923) by John Ironside
  • The Cartwright Gardens Murder (1923) by JS Fletcher
  • The Cat’s Eye (1923) by R Austin Freeman
  • The Charing Cross Mystery (1923) by JS Fletcher
  • The Clue of the New Pin (1923) by Edgar Wallace
  • The Copper Box (1923) by JS Fletcher
  • The Eyes of Max Carrados (1923) by Ernest Bramah
  • The Flaming Spectre of Cloome (1923)
  • The Four Stragglers (1923)
  • The Green Archer (1923) by Edgar Wallace
  • The Green Eyes (1923)
  • The Groote Park Murder (1923) by Freeman Wills Crofts
  • The House at Waterloo (1923)
  • The Inevitable Millionaires (1923) by E Phillips Oppenheim
  • The King’s Red-Haired Girl (1923) by Selwyn Jepson
  • The Last Secrets {essays and articles} (1923) by John Buchan
  • The Lone Wolf Returns (1923) by Louis Joseph Vance
  • The Mazaroff Murder {aka The Mazaroff Mystery} (1923) by JS Fletcher
  • The Million-Dollar Diamond (1923) by JS Fletcher
  • The Missing Million (1923) by Edgar Wallace
  • The Moth-Woman (1923) by Fergus Hume
  • The Murder on the Links (1923) by Agatha Christie
  • The Mysterious Chinaman (1923) {aka The Rippling Ruby}
  • The Mysterious Mr Garland (1923) by Wyndham Martin
  • The Mystery of Glyn Castle (1923)
  • The Mystery Road (1923) by E Phillips Oppenheim
  • The Nature of a Crime (1923), with Ford Madox Ford by Joseph Conrad
  • The Orange Divan (1923) by Valentine Williams
  • The Other Story, and Other Stories, (1923) by Henry Kitchell Webster
  • The Red Redmaynes (1923) by Eden Phillpotts
  • The Return of Anthony Trent (1923) by Wyndham Martin
  • The Rover (1923) by Joseph Conrad
  • The Secret of the Sandhills (1923) by Arthur Gask
  • The Secret of Thurlestone Towers (1923)
  • The Seven Conundrums (1923) by E Phillips Oppenheim
  • The Sinister Mark (1923)
  • The Step on the Stair (1923) by Anna Katherine Green
  • The Thing at Their Heels (1923) by Eden Phillpotts
  • The Valley of Lies (1923) by George Goodchild
  • The Veiled Prisoner (1923) by Gaston Leroux
  • The Vengeance of Henry Jarroman (1923) by Roy Vickers
  • The Whipping Girl (1923) by Ralph Rodd
  • The Wild Bird (1923) by Hulbert Footner
  • The Woman Accused (1923) by Roy Vickers
  • The Yard (1923) by Horace Annesley Vachell
  • Tut Tut Mr Tutt (1923) by Arthur Train
  • Wheels Within Wheels (1923)
  • Whose Body? (1923) by Dorothy L Sayers
  • Why They Married (1923) by Mrs Belloc Lowndes
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Preface

(View last week’s ebook roundup and next week’s roundup.Also, see the 70+ academic titles from Cornell U. Press now discounted to free on Amazon US store.

In the interest of covering this sale quickly (before it ends), my descriptions will be skimpier than usual though this time I’ll include more hyperlinks.

Before diving in, I want to mention a Robert’s Roundup (Smashwords edition) from last week has several titles which is still on sale.

This is a work in progress. I’m posting this on Thursday Dec 27, but all these free/discounted prices last until 11:59 Dec 31. I’ll be adding more over the next few days. I realize that some freebie hunters may not be interested in spending a lot of money, but just before publishing, I stumbled upon the 50+ discounted literary titles by Fomite press. All of these titles look attractive — and after you click to the book page, you will generally see coupon codes which discount the title to $1.25-$1.50. Don’t miss out!

Favorite SW Ebooks of the Month 

  • Germanicus by N.P. van Wyk Louw. Translated, with introduction by Joe-Marie Claasen. FREE! Classics scholar Joe-Marie Claasen translates a 1956 play by Afrikaans poet N.P. Van Wyk Louw. The subject matter comes from the Annales of Tacitus, and Louw gives it a contemporary relevance; the play has been acclaimed in Africa. Claasan wrote a penetrating introduction (She’s published academic studies of Ovid and Cicero). I would expect the translation to be equally enthralling. Here’s an interview with the translator.
  • FREE! All Literary Works of philosophical Bulgarian author Danilo Peshikan, a writer and computer programmer who lived in a variety of countries (France, Zimbabwe and finally Australia, where he died in 2014 at the age of 60). His last controversial work Filiad is about a strange relationship between a middle-aged academic who hates children and his 11 year old daughter (it was finished shortly before he died). The author described it as a “Sisyphean attempt at love confession that cannot be, a linguistic impossibility that corresponds with the two protagonists’ living a classical paradox: “because he [she] is mine he [she] is not mine” (apud Ovidium hoc legimus). This is a story of lust, jealousy, premonition of loss, loathing and what Rimbaud calls a “systematic derangement” of all the senses, piled on top of one another and masquerading as a novel, transcendent passion.”  Peshikan has published two story collections: Shadows of Invisible Dogs and Stranger . Peshikan’s native language was Bulgarian, but he was fluent also in English; according to the author’s website,  one reviewer said of Peshikan, “As a writer, he had an extraordinary artistic personality revealed in his text; as a programmer, he was a part of the science and technology intelligentsia, which until recently had at least remained a virtually independent group, least prone to compromises… In his works, we see Danilo Peshikan as a citizen of the world; we see him projected in his wandering across parallels and meridians, free of the mental traumas and complexity of his life here. He does not delve into the melancholic tangle of homesickness but engages directly into cosmopolitan spiritual communication with enviable self-esteem.”

Giveaways /Free Promotions

Paul Hina: In my first SW roundup I raved about the prose and poetry of this Ohio author. For the holiday season all of his ebooks are priced at FREE — which is great. Grab them while you can! Also, from my first roundup, New Old World by C. D. Stowell is free again (normally 4.99). I called it a “200,000 word semi-autographical novel about a 39 year Oregon photographer reflecting on her life as she travels to various places (and continents)”. 

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

Brief History of Pink Floyd by Andrew Means.

Sex, Lies and Crazy People by John Hickman. FREE! Memoir about his family’s involvement with a hotel — like a true version of Fawlty Towers. His two other volumes are continuations of these comic memoirs and Reluctant Hero is a humorous,poignant memory about Hickman’s father’s experience as a pilot during WW2. All FREE!

Barry Rachin: Several volumes of short stories (all free normally). Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4 and Vol 5

Sabina Quartet: Stories from Italy By G. D. Spilsbury. She co-founded Bergamot Books.

Jessica Barksdale Inclán‘s. All her titles are priced FREE! for this special. (Author website). Inclan lives in California and writes lots of stuff (be sure to check the stuff on Amazon which didn’t make it to SW). I’ve noticed that a number of her titles go free on Amazon as well.

Don Q. Public by John Opsand Sutherland (FREE!) has a great lead: “If Don Quixote lived in modern America (in Toledo, Ohio, instead of Toledo, Spain), it would not be chivalry novels sending him out to be a questing knight. Today’s Don Q. would grow his garden of delusions out of superhero comic books. ” We need more books like this around! (Author’s website)

Gregory M. Fox has written two volumes of flash fiction which are FREE!: Breath of Fiction and Watch.He writes one 200 word story every week which he posts on his blog. The volumes gather these stories. (Author website).

Charles Rocha — is a US born ESL teacher in Ukraine who has published a a lot. Free stuff includes Skinny One (experimental poetry), A Very Long Night and Very Long Nights are collections of surreal short stories and litcrit. Some nonfree stuff also available.

War in a Beautiful Country by Patricia Ryan. FREE! Contemplative mystery novel by poet/playwright/author.

Drums by Brad Henderson is FREE ebook version of a light-hearted 90s novel about a drummer who decides to play with a garage rock band instead of going to college. The author teaches technical writing at a university in California, but also has published several other volumes (not on SW). Here’s his author website.

Jaleta Clegg writes strange/fantasy stories and one sci fi series (Author Website). Newly discounted titles include: Llama tell you a story, Brain Candy, Soul Windows, Dark Dancer Currently her Fall of the Altairan Empire series is completely free.

I notice that volume 1 of the Simon Adventure series by Austin author Scott Semegran is free. (I’m running an ad for the full boxed set priced at $4.99). One critic describes it as “a  funny picaresque novel features the insight-challenged Simon Burchwood, off on a quest for fame and fortune as a great writer, making his journey from Texas to a reading of his début novel at the flagship Barnes and Noble store in New York City by way of Montgomery AL, where his boyhood friend Jason signs on as his Sancho Panza. ”

Word of Shawn by Jordan M. Ehrlich is a novel about a lonely kid who develops a computer game that becomes more immersive than he could have imagined.

Mary Poser by Angel A. (cross-cultural romance).

Jon Chaisson has been publishing a book a year recently. (here’s his music/writing blog). Several titles are FREE! Meet the Lidwells! is about a musical family who hits the big time. The other 3 titles take place in a fantasy universe called Mendaihu Universe.

Patrick Whittakker is a British fantasy writer and filmmaker who has published a variety of free and low cost titles (including a FREE! translation of Alfred Jarry’s King Ubu). Many of his writings have sci fi/horror elements like the FREE Sybernetika. See also his FREE! story collection Dead Astronauts. He has published several low-cost titles worth exploring (here’s the author’s website).

John Francis Kinsella is a UK prolific novelist who has lived in France since the 1970s. (Author’s blog). Over the decades he has published 12 novels and anthology of Chinese literature. Most of the novels touch upon political, business and social themes and involve different country settings ranging from UK to Middle East to Borneo. The Turning Point is book 1 of a trilogy, so is probably a good place to start.

Ernest Slyman. Bristol Stories. and Sweetheart.

Discounted Titles

Delivering Virtue: A Dark Comedy Adventure of the West, Didier Rain Epic Book 1 By Brian Kindall $1.25 Also Pearl for 1.00 (I loved the sample I read on Amazon and am delighted to see it discounted for the SW sale). This was the first title I snatched!

I have noticed that Fomite has a lot of literary titles & poetry which when discounted are about $1.25 or $1.50. (Click here to read the reviews on Amazon — notice that all the titles are priced on Amazon at $4-5). Note: For almost all these titles, there are only epub versions of these files available.

Free political essays from Fomite. I’m going to suspend my rule about overlooking shorter ebooks to mention that Fomite offers about a dozen FREE 1-essay-per-ebook “political pamphlets” on controversial subjects: Marx, Trump, masculinity, death penalty, waste, reality simulations, that sort of thing. Eventually these things will be compiled somewhere, but they might be worth grabbing if you’re interested.

Chalk Pits & Cherry Stones by Jean Hendy-Harris. See Part 2 and Part 3Note: these are a dollar each.

Jazz Room & Other Stories by Dimitris Aspergis. Also Gerard & the Father: a novel.  and At the Whiskey County: Novel. All 3 are 1.50, which is half the normal price on SW and Amazon. (Update: I ended up skipping this purchase, but the Gerard & the Father did seem worth buying!).

Louis Greenberg is a S. African author who has published two novels discounted to $1.50: Beggars’ Signwriters and Dark Windows.Both novels have gotten around: respectable reviews and Beggars’ was shortlisted for two prizes.

Also from my original roundup, I noticed three excellent works of literary fiction being discounted for this promotion (some with ads on my sidebar: Eye of a Needle: And Other Stories By Cornelia Flick (half-priced, now $1.75),  Fine Print and Other Yarns by Dinesh Verma (half-priced, now $1.50) and White Mythology by W.D. Greene (75% off, now only $1). Also from a previous roundup, Hauling Checks is on sale for $1.24.

Personville Press Giveaways & Deals

I run a small literary book press called Personville Press where most ebooks sell for under $4.  For each SW Roundup column, I’ll include a few 100% giveaways and coupon codes. Generally the 100% giveaways coupons will be very limited in number (rarely more than 5), but the 99 cent discount giveaways will be unlimited.  Up until 2018, all Personville titles are by author Jack Matthews, but 2019 should see some different authors as well. 

  • Interview with the Sphinx. By Jack Matthews.  (FREE until 1/16/2019, 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 cdbaby and itunes), but the script  reads well too.
  • Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War by Jack Matthews. Philosophical Stories Taking place during the US Civil War.  (FREE coupon — use code: KD45Y.  maximum: 2 uses).   Use CN39R Coupon to buy for $0.99 (expires Jan 16 2019)
  • Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind by Jack Matthews. Flash Fiction.  (FREE coupon — use code: LQ42XK.  maximum: 2 uses).   Use KL39SC Coupon to buy for $0.99 (expires Jan 16 2019)
  • Three Times Time Story Sampler by Jack Matthews (Always Free!) , You can download these files directly without having to register: EpubMobi.

Finally …

If you know of any Smashwords deals you’d like to share, drop me a line. I know I have missed a ton of stuff. I generally try to do one roundup column — and one Smashwords roundup a month…. I must say, I’ll be taking a reading vacation — I have a lot of books to catch up with!

S. African play by well-known 20th century poet and dramatist
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We interrupt this program….

Today, Cornell University Press is pricing their older academic titles to free. It’s unclear how long that will last! (Amazon US store only). I grabbed 75 titles. Cornell U. Press is one of the major academic presses. Some of these titles have been free before, but I haven’t seen many of them before. Cornell usually publishes some first rate titles in comparative literature.

A while back, the head of Cornell U. Press sent out a strange offer to sell out-of-print titles to the best bidder. I ended up poring over the catalog for a few hours and finding some wonderful things: I sent them a list of 100s of titles I wanted, adding that I would pay $10 for 4 titles (which I thought was reasonable). As it turns out, this was a kind of bait-and-switch thing (which was not really a surprise). Apparently Cornell is trying to sell a new ebook portal service for scholars and institutions. (which is what I expected). Anyway, I ended up getting nothing, though I had a perfectly good time browsing titles and discovering to my delight that my local libraries have a fair number of Cornell titles which I wanted to read.

It’s easy to make fun of literary academic types and their crazy topics, and in a way academic presses serve an important function of providing an outlet for tenure-hungry professors seeking publications. At the same time, academic publishing has always been crazy — mostly grant-supported, ridiculous prices (especially for people not affiliated with institutions) and unmarketable by definition. Many of these books are financed not by author advances, but academic grants and sabbaticals.

If you compare them with mainstream publishers (like for example, Simon & Schuster), books in academic presses don’t talk down to readers; they don’t try to popularize a subject or pick a juicy tidbit from a discipline that anyone would find irresistible. Often these books are more methodical than interesting. But that’s ok too. Sometimes when uncovering new writings on a subject, it’s more important to be thorough and accurate than revolutionary.

Probably the one exception to the rule are biographies — which are expected to be well-researched and fun to read. Occasionally they are affordably-priced too. I have purchased several biographies by academics …most recently Vol 1 of a biography of Stalin by Stephen Kotkin. I don’t know enough about the biography genre to know what makes a good biography (though ironically, I am gearing up to write one myself about Jack Matthews). In the last 5 years I’ve read a number of biographies, all of which I’ve enjoyed — though in a way you have to implicitly trust the author’s researching skills. Anway, Cornell U. has a biography of Machaut which I’ve been salivating over (and luckily my local library seems to have a copy of).

Not all comparative literature titles are great to read, but many are. If you think about it, comp lit is about making connections across cultures, languages and disciplines. I was once reading Allegoresis : reading canonical literature East and West by Zhang Longxi and found just the East/West comparisons lovely.

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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

See previous Robert’s Roundup.   and the next roundup (Special Smashwords-holiday edition).   

Preface

Avalanche! I’ve been telling people that on average I pick up about 5 cool ebooks a day. In the last 2 days I’ve picked up about 10 high quality ebooks for free! Listing my recent acquisitions is a constant game of catchup. I had to skip last week for various reasons, so I have to make up for lost time.

This will be my last Amazon post for the month, but after posting today I will continue adding 99 cent deals until Dec 31. Also, it looks like Dec 28 Amazon will do some sitewide promotion so maybe I’ll add an appendix. Stay tuned.

This may be an obvious point, but if I spend so much time researching/acquiring low cost ebooks, doesn’t it prevent me from actually reading them? Let’s just say that I have a significant number of ebooks I can’t wait to get to. Some will disappoint, but frankly, I am easily pleased by semi-competent ebooks as long as the story is interesting. I confess that I grow bored with thrillers/sci fi/chicklit/etc, but once I start reading them, I can enjoy them for what they were.

I need to set reasonable limits — to permit more time for reading and reviewing books. Future roundups will be a lot more superficial than this one.

Around Thanksgiving I took advantage of a 3 month trial subscription to Kindle Unlimited for 99 cents. That hasn’t changed my buying or reading habits at all; I’ve been using it mainly to have access to the full ebook so I can more thoroughly review it before deciding whether to buy. I did notice something very significant though: when you subscribe, apparently all titles with KU will hide their prices! I guess it makes sense; it conveys the sense that you don’t need to buy any of these ebooks; but you are paying for these ebooks — normally about $10 per month!

The biggest disappointment since my last Robert’s Roundup (non-Smashwords edition) is missing the opportunity to buy Steven Novella’s Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. I adore books about cognitive psychology and how to improve your thinking skills. (I am currently reading a fantastic one called Mindware by Richard E. Nisbett, which will never be discounted). Novella’s title is “hot” and I knew the price drop would be short-lived. Luckily, my library’s overdrive has one copy, with a 6 week waiting period. I am keeping finger’s crossed that it will go on sale again.

Blue Moon Deals

Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich. 2.99 This was my consolation prize for missing out the Nisbett’s book. Alexievich writes these beautiful mosaics containing hundreds of ordinary Russians. I checked this out 4 times without reading. Now I don’t need to worry!

What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe. 2.99. Amazingly this prize seems to have stuck for several weeks. Although it’s a swell book by the acclaimed creator of Xkcd, after looking at it, I decided that the book is not as essential a book as I thought (though it was a lot of fun). The Strogatz title below is better.

Joy of X by Steven Strogatz. 2.99 (still on sale!) Popular math book (a genre I love). I almost missed this one, and I’ll probably try to take his other books when they go on sale. (One reason not to is that all of Strogatz’s books are easily available at the library).

Lord of the Rings (one volume) by Tolkien. $2.99 (expired, but it lasted several days). Don’t worry. This deal will be back. The only thing that might give reason to pause is that 1)the file size is somewhat big, and the maps are not high resolution. But the rest of the book is great! (Plus, there are good introductions!)

Sex and Rage by Eve Babitz. 1.99. I did NOT buy this title despite my friend and critic Michael Barrett raving about it. He said on Facebook:

Eve Babitz is so good I want to puke, but let’s think of something better to say. Although their territory and style are completely unlike, she reminds me of the equally brilliant Lucia Berlin in that they’re not really writing fiction, hardly, just jotting notes on how they’ve lived, so that it feels like you’re not reading, hardly, but just having this experience injected through the retina, which is proof of how they write everyone into the ground. Moving on from last year’s reading of SLOW DAYS FAST COMPANY: THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND L.A., we have: Her “novel” SEX AND RAGE is her bildungsroman and, with the refreshingly air-dappled, dew-spangled and alcohol-spritzed elan that is her seemingly invisible style of self-conciousness, her anti-Daisy Miller. Jacaranda is a California girl who surfs, has minor boyfriends and incidental fame and luck and talent as a writer that hijacks her unawares, and hangs herself out to dry for years over the one she can never have. The alcoholism and cure are direct and unfussy, the frivolities serious and delightful, the sense of women’s friendships real and invigorating. She gives a sly cameo to herself: the nude woman playing chess with Duchamp in a photograph, found hanging on a wall. (RJN: That really happened!)

Despite the low cost and high interest (and the easy availability through my library), this purchase will have to wait.

Under the Radar

Wow, today (Friday) almost all the works of Jonathan Finch are free on Amazon US. I raved before about Love and Other Afflictions. See also: Great Tits I’ve Known and After Dawn and Poems People Liked.

Various 99 cent ebooks by James Hanna: A Second, Less Capable, Head and other rogue storiesCall Me Pomeroy: A Novel of Satire and Political Dissent and the Siege. I’ve read one story from Second Less Capable Head and enjoyed it a lot. These books stay cheap all the time.

Is That The Shirt You’re Wearing?: a memoir in essays by Kristen Hansen Brakeman

Treblinka Survivor: Life and Death of Hershl Sperling. 99 cents. I follow history books about the Holocaust, and I knew that there were a handful of survivors from Treblinka — one of whom wrote a memoir (which I read). Imagine my amazement to learn that another survivor had written an unpublished memoir about his survivor guilt (the man later committed suicide, and journalist Mark S. Smith, edited it and wrote about Sperling’s problems adapting to modern life.

Gail L. Winfree is a Tennessee-born nonfiction author who lived most of his adult life in Germany. Today all 3 of his ebooks are free. They all sound interesting — especially Reality of Being Lovers.

Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law by Michelle Granas. Granas titles pop up on various deal newsletters with the same low price of 99 cents. Every time I see it, I resolve to buy her titles, but then put it off because I know I will definitely buy and read her titles someday. Well, even though all her titles are now on KU, I decided to buy one anyway — just for the hell of it. Character-driven continental fiction; I’m guessing like Mavis Gallant. Should be a winner!

Last Klick by Robert Flynn. 99 cents. Flynn is a terrific Texas author who also happens to be my college prof. I’ve reviewed a lot of his books and haven’t read this one, but I heard him read a chapter at a bookstore. Former vet Flynn tells a Vietnam story here; the main character is a Texas journalist who is war correspondent who is appalled by the war and its lies. Robert Flynn has written about small town life in Texas, but also some westerns. (I recommend the Jade: Outlaw series). Probably the most interesting thing about Flynn is that after he retired from teaching, I finally realized what a liberal peacenik he really is (when I attended Trinity and even a few years afterwards, I had no clue).

Speaking of college profs, one of my fave college profs John Stoessinger (now deceased) taught international politics and also is a great writer! His Holocaust to Harvard book should be fantastic and has been discounted on occasion to $2.99 (not now). Stoessinger personally saw Hitler, witnessed the rise of Nazism, escaped through USSR to live in China 2 years before the Chinese Revolution, then emigrated to USA where he was Kissinger’s roommate at Harvard and did all sorts of international politics stuff afterwards. His textbooks were great popular history. Here’s one of his lectures which will knock your socks off. (it starts at the 10 minute mark, and don’t watch the Q&A) Don’t worry, this sale will come again.

Face the winter naked: A depression novel by Bonnie Turner. 99 cents. This is a very well-regarded novel about a man who leaves his wife during the Great Depression and leaves her. Turner writes mainly for kids and YA, but this novel seems to have adult and historical themes.

Edward C. Patterson has written 30+ novels on historical themes. Because he’s gay and has a background in Chinese history, these things appear in his novels. Because he has a lot of books, there usually is at least one book on sale at any given moment. (Here’s an interview he did recently). Oops, I realize I already blurbed about him last time.. Sorry!

Speaking of prolific, I learned about Ben Stephens a super-prolific author of Japanese detective stories. Apparently he publishes a ton of story collections (called the Ennin Mysteries) . He publishes some stories individually, and then sometimes he publishes omnibuses (i.e., Collected Stories 36-45). I guess these are more like Ellery Queen stories than Sherlock Holmes, but I’m determined to read a few to see what they’re about. A certain portion of his stories are always free, and everything is at KU, but if you buy, be careful to buy the omnibus editions rather than individual stories.

FUN FACT: Last Roundup I mentioned Panayotis Cacoyannis who has published some fine literary stories. After I signed up for his mailing list, I had a brief correspondence with him. Turns out he is related to the legendary Greek director Michael Cacoyannis (who directed Zorba the Greek, Iphigenia, Electra, etc). Another reason to check him out. (He assured me that his books are going to be discounted again, and they were, and I forgot to mention it. Well, I’m mentioning it now! (Here’s his Amazon author page). 

Blink-and-it’s-gone Sales

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid was 1.99 for a week. Now it’s back at 12.99, though the publisher will probably bring it back again.

Seed to Harvest: Complete Patternist Series by Octavia Butler. 3.24 I bought one Butler series last month (that’s my second Butler series bought at bargain prices!); Don’t worry, this omnibus editions will come again soon.

Tales from a Greek Island by Roger Jinkinson. Come and gone.

One of my outstanding finds this go around were by Bruce Hartman. Philosophical Detective is a Borgesian detective story (literally, the protagonist is Borges’ driver). Also, I am not a robot! and Rules of Dreaming (which amazingly enough I obtained in 2013). The sales ended, but they will come back, and at that time, be sure to grab them.

More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon. 2.99 Open Road Media is discounting Sturgeon books one at a time. This is supposed to be his best work. Really, a lot of sci fi authors rave about this guy!

Stalin: Paradoxes of Power 1878-1928 by Stephen Kotkin. vol 1 of a 3 volume series. I heard a really entertaining lecture by this biographer on commonwealth club podcast.

Deals on ebooks published by Amazon

(These 99 cent books expire at the end of November — sorry for waiting so long to decide!) I should explain that I make my purchase decisions usually by reading only the first chapter and skimming the book description.

  • Unravelling Anne by Laurel Saville. US Writer tells the protracted struggles of her mother who was murdered.
  • Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan is a prize-winning Russian postmodern fantasy novel. It was free during Amazon’s Read the World week but still worth reading for 99 cents.
  • Mother of Invention by Caeli Wolfson Widger. Well-regarded novel about the journey to motherhood.
  • Lost Tribe of Coney Island by Claire Prentice. Strange historical account of a showman who brought a group of “headhunting, dog eating tribespeople from the Phillipines to Coney Island, where they performed dances and rituals before the Coney Island crowd.
  • Kaunteyas by Madhavi S. Mahdevan. Modern retelling of a Mahabharata story in novel form.
  • Calculated Life by Anne Charnock. British sci fi writer (also journalist).
  • Seasons of the Moon by Julien Aranda. First novel by French author about boyhood during WW2
  • Paris Still Life by Rosalind Brackenbury. Mysterious novel about a woman who sees visions of her deceased art dealer father on the streets of Paris. Brackenbury writes a lot of novels with literary/historical themes. So far, I have passed, but I’m going to look for her titles in the future.
  • Interrogating Ellie by Julian Gray. Fascinating premise of a clueless English woman who falls in love with a German man before WW2 and emigrates to Germany with him before the war begins. Great premise and historical milieu; it remains to be seen if the book will amount to more than the premise.
  • Emotion in Life & Music: A New Science by M. Zachary Johnson. Book on aesthetics, art and music (PS, might not last until the end of the month).
  • Burnt House by Lowell Mick White. Gothic tale of W. Virginia told by a Texas author (who teaches at Texas A&M).
  • (More to be added over the next week).

Creative Commons/Public Domain Titles

I’m getting excited about the public domain finally opening in the USA again. 11 years ago I made a list of literary titles from 1923 which will go into the public domain next year. Lots of good stuff!

Smashwords Titles

Stay tuned for the big SW sale next week– I’ll have a post on Dec 27.

I just want to mention that my indie press is giving away a FREE title, Interview with the Sphinx by Jack Matthews for the rest of the month.

Non-Amazon & Non-Smashwords titles

None this time. 

Interesting Reviews Elsewhere

This is the season of besticles: Here’s the 2019 PEN long list, a BBC List, Laura Miller’s besticle, and some marketing advice to authors wishing to pen the next bestseller.

Miscellaneous (Used books, library titles, book-related articles, etc)

To my dismay I purchased the wrong used book for someone. In a previous post I was raving about the Paris Review interviews with playwrights (perfect gift for an acting friend); apparently I had bought the wrong title and just got one volume of the PR interviews. The author list is not bad (and I’ll probably read it cover to cover), but now I have one less present to give for Christmas!

I bought 2 wonderful books at my branch library: Obasan by Joy Kowaga (award-winning Canadian novel about Japanese man who emigrated to Canada after WW2 — not available in ebook form unfortunately). Also: German Boy: A Child in War (Memoir) by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel. Steve Ambrose and NYTBR rave about this memoir of a German boy’s experience during WW2 (He later emigrated to USA and wrote the book in English). Available as kindle but expensive.

Checked out some wonderful things: Michelle Huneven’s Off Course (about a doctoral candidate who lives in her parents’ cabin in the country to write her dissertation). Also: Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, a well-regarded Turkish NYROB from the 20th century. Both are ebooks and too expensive for consideration here.

Review Copies Received

To be added later.

Closing Thoughts 

As I mentioned, I’ll be adding to this list for the rest of the month because next week’s column (on December 27) will be specific to Smashwords.

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Preface

(View last week’s ebook roundup and next week’s roundup.)

Although this is a weekly column, once every month or so I’ll be doing a separate roundup about Smashwords (SW) titles. Last spring I put together a   list of SW ebook gems and enjoyed  it so much that I want to do it regularly.  In 2 or 3 days I will post another Roundup about ebook deals on Amazon, and on Thursday December 27, I will post another SW deal roundup to mention notable ebook bargains for the end of the year SW deals.  

One interesting thing about today’s SW  roundup is that a significant number of these authors do not publish on Amazon for one reason or other; often it has to do with the author’s country of origin or how niche  or unmarketable an  ebook is.

Favorite SW Ebook of the Month 

  • White Mythology by W.D. Clarke. Silly me, I was going to write a review of this wonderful book, but got sidetracked! I’ll link to the review later here in a few days. ($4, priced at $1 until Dec 31). 
  • (Also, my previous fave:  Cats on Film by Anne Billson. In my review of this photo-packed cinematic reference, I said it “gives a delightful and irreverent tour through world cinema from the standpoint of the cats who appear in it. … the book has unexpected bonuses. For the movie ALIEN she does a brilliant interior monologue of the same story from the cat’s point of view. (You remembered that there was a cat in that movie, right?)….  The book is a celebration of cats for what they naturally are in mainstream movies; At the same time, there’s more than enough  obscure Japanese, European, animation and old genre movies described here to make the ardent film buff happy.”

Giveaways /Free Promotions

David Antonelli is a filmmaker and novelist who has lived in Chicago/Canada/UK. From his interview it’s clear that he is strongly influenced by Continental authors (Dostoevsky, Handke, Flaubert) and  world cinema masters (Bergman and Truffaut). None of his 9 books are  on Amazon.com, but I am happy to report that they are all free on Smashwords. Glancing over the titles, they seem to be psychological thrillers; Antonelli said, “Many of my novels rotate around a crime as a means of exploring a psychological, spiritual, or moral issue.” I’ll try to do a review of one of these titles eventually. 

Short Stories Volume IV by Edward McWhinney.  (FREE!)  Short stories by an Irish author, and all of his stories are set in the Cork region. I can’t find vols 1-3, but Contrarymagazine has a nice index and longish interview with him. Happy to report as best as I can tell that the online stories don’t overlap at all with the SW volume. 

Darth Vader: The Good Guy Who Lost by MS Lawson is a tongue-in-cheek fake biography of Darth Vader as a historical figure. According to the book description, “Darth Vader, has been grossly misrepresented by historians. In fact he is a Richard III-like character given gross deformities and credited with all sorts of evil deeds to make the story of a supposedly fun rebellion against allegedly harsh overlords seem better.” Lawson has another free ebook, A Planet for Emily , an adventure in space about a captain who goes searching for her lost sister on a new home planet. Worth noting is that neither ebook is on Amazon, and 2 other ebooks are available from an ebook subscription service. See also his online collection of essays on Good Guys are Lost.  This reminds me of a brilliant essay by Gary Kamiya, “All Hail Pottersville” about how the nightmare scenario imagined in the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” wasn’t as bad as people made it. 

Newtonberg Stories by David Emprimo collects 3 volumes of short stories into a single volume. Normally priced at 3.99, but it’s free until  Dec 31.  (Author Website).  This collection contains humorous stories taking place in a small Texas town in decades past, sometimes with religious undertones (overtones?) There’s some   Woebegoney elements here  (how could you avoid it?), but based on the first three stories I read, the stories are a little more like gentle character sketches and less like satire.  Everything is very easy-to-read, written in plain language, and some of the same characters reappear throughout the volumes. (The other volumes on SW are also free, but this omnibus ebook is really all you need). 

Barbara G. Tarn has written several sci fi/fantasy series that  build an elaborate story universe and then populate it with characters and stories. (Author site). Prices hover in the $3-5 range for individual titles and $6-8 range for omnibus editions containing multiple volumes.  I’ve been previewing two works in the Star Minds series which imagine Earth in the near future after it has joined some interplanetary alliance with several different species, including a telepathic race or two. (Humorously,  the humans seem to have adapted just fine to these events and go about their usual lives).  The complete trilogy is here for $7 (same as Amazon), and there are tons of books not-in-the-trilogy-but-part-of-the-same-universe. I’ve been reading Adventurer (about a telepathic female from a destroyed planet who is hired to assassinate a corrupt Earth ambassador) and Chasing Stardom (about the Sturm and Drang behind an interplanetary pop music group). Based on the very small amount I sampled, the writing is casual and fun to read and full of adventure. (Also, the cover illustrations are fun and out of the ordinary).  This just scratches the surface of Tarn’s  series. Silvery Earth is described as “unconventional fantasy set on the world of Silvery Earth. Inspired by our planet’s cultures but not exactly our planet. QUILTBAG friendly.” (Book descriptions suggest a kind of   Earthsea vibe).   Her current series, Future Earth Chronicles describes what happens after “Planet Earth got rid of us pesky humans and has moved on.” Several titles will be forthcoming in 2019, but book 1 Brainwaves starts with a woman named Bel watching movies inside a post-Apocalyptic settlement before she decides to venture outside). Hey, I guess if I had Netflix and Kanopy with Internet, I could survive an apocalypse too!

I am happy to report that Tarn has given me some free codes for one of her Silvery Earth titles. (First come, first served!): Angelica, Scholar (Silvery Earth Heroines) by Barbara G.Tarn (novel). Secondary world fantasy with the history of the world.  6.99$ Coupon: HD67X. 100% off. (Valid for 5 uses)

(By the way, two months ago Tarn blogged about some of her favorite literary discoveries in the last year. Check it out!)

SF/Fantasy author Kevin Williams publishes a lot of stuff that are hard to describe, but generally full of fun and adventure. (author site). He produces two series (Teddyhunter and Aaron+Henna)  consisting of 5 books (with the first book of the series being free and the remaining volumes costing $2 each). Aaron+Henna is a more conventional sword and sorcery tale about  a wizard’s apprentice who has various adventures; it is light-hearted and easy to get into. Teddyhunter explores the nooks and crannies of a futuristic world populated by cyborgs, robots, mutants and (I assume) humans; the protagonist is a “Teddyhunter Tracker,” some kind of bounty hunter who performs various shady missions under the direction of various people (to kill rogue bots, I’m guessing). At first, it’s kind of overwhelming; the world feels quite alien (is it earth?) and the characters speak in jargon which can seem cryptic at times. But as you get used to it, you begin to perceive what’s going on (it feels a little like Bladerunner or Wall-E or  William Gibson’s cyberpunk worlds). If you’re in it for the long haul and longing for some hard SF and don’t mind inhabiting a world populated by bots, mutants and cyborgs, this is it. (Williams publishes some story collections and some peculiar stick-figure comics ebooks as well, but I’d start with the book 1 of either series before you go exploring the other minor stuff). 

Fifty Egg Timer Stories by Richard Bunning.  99 cents! Bunning is a prolific UK author of  fairy-tale speculative fiction. (Here’s his author page).  He has written two  volumes of “egg timer stories” and has edited several short fiction anthologies and written some novels such as the reasonably-priced $3 Another Space in Time

Clive Gilson is a UK novelist  who recently has been publishing a series of folk tales in a series called Tales from the World’s Firesides.  (Here’s his personal blog). As best as I can tell, he compiles tales from separate sources and adapts them for a more modern audience. Two of the books (Insomniac’s Booth and Mechanic’s Curse seem to be modern retelling of fairy tales — i.e., the characters are political lobbyists or use mobile phones or microwaves or visit supermarkets. Some are explicit homages to HC Andersen (one of my favorite authors as well).  Additionally, Gilson has written cyberfiction a la Philip K. Dick   and a crime thriller.  Gilson has published almost a dozen works on Smashwords for FREE! to my knowledge, nothing is for sale or on Amazon.  These look really promising! 

Robert W. Fuller is a physicist, philosopher and longtime educator. He was once president of Oberlin College.  He has published several books (including one novel and children’s book)  for free both on SW and Amazon (although Amazon has several additional   ebooks that actually cost money). His novel Rowan Tree received over 300 reviews on Amazon; some reviews were positive, but a surprising number found fault with the story (about a college president who has an affair with an African American student) and thought it resembled a political diatribe. Theory of Everybody is a bunch of essays about various scientific topics. 

Strangely, none of  the intellectual humor books of  Nobody!  have been reviewed on Amazon or Smashwords even though the ebooks are easily found (and a FREE download!). Despite the loose sloppy form and the sophomoric/subversive presentation, these books are quite brilliant, and I definitely will be writing a review of them soon.  You can check the equally cryptic  Goldman’s Bulldog publisher page for clues about who produced these books or why (trust me, I’ve looked over them and found no useful clues).

Susan Skylark is a prolific fantasy author who writes extended stories with an almost mythical quality (author blog). Lots of her titles are currently free on SW; many are available as individual books but also as a collection. A good place to start would be The Foibles: A Collection (Free on SW!) which consists of mythical beings humorously showing up in contemporary settings (i.e., a woman goes to a job interview, and  the HR manager turns out to be a real-live dragon). The other novels/stories/series seem to take place in the mystical land of fairy tales and are definitely more serious and dramatic. After skimming her ebooks, I have  noticed that the last 20-25% will sometimes consist of samples from other ebooks. 

John Joseph Adams is a publisher of sci fi titles and magazines and various other stuff. (Website here) Not only does he run a sci fi imprint at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, he also edits several noted anthologies and sci fi journals. SW has some FREE samplers from Lightspeed SF mag and also notably  the brand spanking new Futures & Fantasies which contains a large number of stories originally published in Lightspeed magazine. (I notice that the same anthology sells on Kindle for 99 cents too. Sci fi really isn’t my  main thing (although I always enjoy reading it!)  but the upcoming titles from his HMH imprint sound compelling — also, those covers are fantastic! 

Discounted Titles 

Although Anne Billson titles are generally not discounted (they all hover in the $5 range), she has been compiling her  film reviews into yearly volumes costing 99 cents each  (see here and here and here and here).  One of the volumes is actually FREE! The Billson Film Database (actually 450+ pages of capsule reviews over 4 decades, $4.99) is a delight to browse through and lower-priced than comparable volumes by other critics.   There probably is  overlap between the two, but the annual compilations have longer articles that cover more than one film and  focus on more general topics. 

SPECIAL PRICE WITH COUPON:Hauling Checks by Alex Stone  (Humorous Fiction; Aviation)  A screwball comedy about a cargo airline.  (Author Site).  $4.95  Coupon: YY86H for .99 cents or 80% off. (Valid until Dec 31, 2018)

Delicate Passionate World of  Gregory Morgan and Vivien Prevette. is a 5 volume series by Slovak-born author Mia Marko (her website). Classified as a “fairy tale for thoughtful, sensitive adults loosely based on the tale of Psyche and  Eros… exploring desire and love’s milestones from this gentle and elevated point of view is intended to take the reader toward the Big Questions of life.” Book 1 (now at 99 cents). The successive volumes are more expensive (5-10$). All 5 volumes were published both on Amazon and SW in the last month, so nothing has been reviewed yet, and book descriptions are vague, but I’ve flipped through the ebooks; it seems to be about a grand passion with a mysterious man  starting in the early 20th century. By the way, I love the Psyche/Eros story — I once wrote  a novella on the same theme. I have no idea whether Marko’s  story will justify the extended treatment, but the narrative seems ambitious,   philosophical and setting us up  for some long old-fashioned tale. 

Personville Press Giveaways & Deals 

I run a small literary book press called Personville Press where most ebooks sell for under $4.  For each SW Roundup column, I’ll include a few 100% giveaways and coupon codes. Generally the 100% giveaways coupons will be very limited in number (rarely more than 5), but the 99 cent discount giveaways will be unlimited.  Up until 2018, all Personville titles are by author Jack Matthews, but 2019 should see some different authors as well.   

  • Interview with the Sphinx. By Jack Matthews.  (FREE until 1/16/2019, 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 cdbaby and itunes), but the script  reads well too.
  •  Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War by Jack Matthews. Philosophical Stories Taking place during the US Civil War.  (FREE coupon — use code: KD45Y.  maximum: 2 uses).   Use CN39R Coupon to buy for $0.99 (expires Jan 16 2019)
  • Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind by Jack Matthews. Flash Fiction.  (FREE coupon — use code: LQ42XK.  maximum: 2 uses).   Use KL39SC Coupon to buy for $0.99 (expires Jan 16 2019)
  • 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.

Finally…..

If you know of any Smashwords deals you’d like to share, drop me a line by Christmas!  Next Robert’s Roundup will be in 2-3 days (I have a gigantic backlog), and the next SW Roundup will be Thursday Dec 27

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Housekeeping Notes

Ok, running a little late on my roundups.   I’ve busy doing other book-related stuff. Some other thoughts.

Smashwords Roundup will definitely be tomorrow (it was practically ready last week).  Before I thought I could do 4 Amazon roundups and 1 SW roundup a month. That’s not realistic. 1  SW roundup and 3 Amazon roundups seems like a better pace.  That gives time to work on other things.  

I’m toying with the idea of starting a week with an empty Amazon roundup and adding to it over the rest of the week. I just pick up so many titles each week! 

I was thinking that I could do one review a month. I think I’m going to try to do one full review and one capsule review a month. Actually I sort of already wrote my one capsule review already.  Oh, here’s an idea. Maybe I should link to my favorite review of the month (not written by me of course!). 

One may ask: how do I keep up with all my purchases/freebies/review copies/etc? The answer: I don’t!  I mean, I really try. I’m gotten diligent about collections on my kindle (If an ebook doesn’t belong in one of my collections, it essentially does not exist!)

Finally, any creative person starts to ask himself: is this project worth my time? I’ve decided that devoting 10 hours a week to doing roundup and litblog stuff is a worthy investment, but I can’t spend too much time or else it would take away time from writing and publishing (and reading!).  For about 10 years I was perfectly happy NOT writing book reviews. And frankly, I am happy enough doing the bloggy thing slowly and  haphazardly. 

Can’t talk any more. Have to  clean house, send off some job applications and drop the books at the library! 

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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

See previous Robert’s Roundup.   and the next Robert’s Roundup (Smashwords edition)

Preface 

First, I noticed that Amazon offered me a 3 month trial to Kindle Unlimited for 99 cents (After that, it’s 9.99 a month).  I totally don’t want to pay 10 dollars a month for this, but it’s a great way to do try-before-you-buy for many indie titles. 

Second,  though I typically avoid sci fi fiction, this seems to be the month where I stock up on the genre.  

Third, my monthly Smashwords roundup is running late  (It should appear in the next 2 days).  Smashwords will be offering a sitewide sale on titles during the last week of December. My plan is to report on the great buys ASAP — (probably Dec 27), so be sure to save some funds for that  post-Christmas splurge. 

Blue Moon Deals 

Collected Stories by Frank O’Connor. $2.50 . 750 pages. Wow, what a deal! (Let’s see how long it lasts!– Update: One day!)

Lilith’s Brood (Xenogenesis Trilogy) by Octavia Butler  3.99. About two months ago I was bowled over by the  Bloodchild Story collection (a sort of fantastic tale about the interactions between humans and another superior alien race). As luck would have it, Google’s algorithms gave me a $3 store credit, so I bought this trilogy for only a dollar! Significantly, I never saw this sale price on Amazon….

Three Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past Book 1) by Cixin Liu. 2.99  This very famous prize-winning sci fi novel has gone on sale once or twice a  year for a day or so — only to return to the regular expensive price.  I have checked this book out several times without making much progress on it yet! 

Collected Stories of William Humphrey. 1.99 This collection contains stories from two early volumes. (Humphrey wrote mainly novels, but he did write a well-reviewed September Song in his later years). He is a Texan author best known for writing about family life in small towns. (He is best known for Home from the Hill — which I read too quickly — I confess I wasn’t ready for it…

Under the Radar

Joseph MacKinnon is a Toronto-based author who writes sci fi thrillers with a political edge. His Guy Faux Books press publishes his titles — including two acclaimed cyberpunk titles (Cypulchre, and Archetypal).  Newsreal,  (FREE!  on AMZN during Thanksgiving), cowritten by Carlo Schefter, is a “dark comedy, which explores today’s political carnival and tackles the soft divisions in American society concretized by and after the 2016 presidential election.”

Evil Men: Short Stories by Erik Wennermark (Free on Thanksgiving weekend) is, according to Michael Martone, “an ambitious collection completely realized and expertly crafted. [Wennermark] renders in this Poe-ian, shaped-charged fiction a startling catalogue of very visceral and deeply disturbing tales. He is very perceptive to this world of his characters and also to the world around them and how they and their environment interact with the reality of our own reality. He is especially sensitive to the variety and complexity of the human psyche.” PS, Martone is one of my fave authors. This title was free a weeks ago, and then again this weekend.  Here is Wennermark’s personal website. 

Wrestling with Angels: New and Collected  Stories by John J. Clayton (author page). 1.99 This low-cost edition contains stories from 3 previously published books. (Note: the price has been 1.99 for almost the entire year, so the price probably won’t go up anytime soon). Clayton has won multiple story awards and writes about urban living from the perspective of a New England Jew. Several of his books haven’t been digitalized, but I notice that a more recent story collection (Minyan) and a novel (Kuperman’s Fire) are available. 

Siege of Walter Parks by Colin Robertson (99 cents)  is a nice Office Space type satire  that takes place during a financial recession. He has written a series about hackers or zombies or something like that. 

Panayotis Cacoyannis. Over the last year or so I’ve noticed several titles being promoted by this Greek/Cyprus  author living in UK. (Here’s his Amazon author page).  Reviews of his books usually mention the satirical element, the psychological complexity, the insights into love and human relationships.  

Gary Reilly. Last month I mentioned Reilly’s prodigious output after his death. Very rarely have his titles gone free, but today his Volume 7 of his Asphalt Warrior series is  free. 

Them Bones by Howard Waldrop. (STILL 99 CENTS). 1980s  time-travel novel about a 21st century man who travels through a time portal to prevent WW3 and lands in the wrong time period. Austin-based author. 

Poetry Collections: Magic with Skin On by Morgan Nikola-Wren (FREE!)

Squish the Fish: A Tale of Dating and Debauchery by Dave Lundy, Mariah Sinclair, Ro O’Connor. Hedonistic novel revolving around  a football game. (The book is divided into corresponding quarters of the game). Eye-grabbing cover too. 

Various historical fiction  titles by Edward C. Patterson.  (author website) Patterson is a prolific author with an interesting background in Chinese history. IIRC, some of his titles have slight gay themes and storylines, but more often historical themes (and not just about Asia). So far I’ve captured a few  free titles, but he’s the perfect kind of author to do an author alert on ereaderiq.  Aha, I see that Patterson used to be on Smashwords, but then moved all his titles to exclusivity deals with Amazon. I’ll be writing about this Hobson’s choice later. 

Nigel Bird is a prolific Scottish author and poet whose biggest venture seems to be in crime fiction (author website). I’ve grabbed his Dirty Old Town (short stories, 100 pages) which is at the affordable 99 cents.  He has about 1/4 of his stuff on Smashwords (try here and here), and I’ll be monitoring those prices. 

33 Days in the Hole: Chicago Experiment by Rob Kern. (FREE!)  Longish essay (not really book-length) about a rock critic who forces himself to listen to nothing but Chicago music group for 33 days. 

Blink-and-it’s-gone Sales

God, so many of the EarlyBirdBooks have come and gone. I already binged on EBB titles last Spring, so most of the authors and titles are already familiar to me. (Indeed, all of the EBB names were big in literary circles at one point).  I didn’t buy much this time, but the EBB spot sales reappear frequently. As an aside, EBB and Bookbub have basically gotten consumers used to paying 2-4$ in ebooks. I don’t think there’s any turning back. (thank god!)

Deals on ebooks published by Amazon 

(These 99 cent books expire at the end of November — sorry for waiting so long to decide!) I should explain that I make my purchase decisions usually by reading only the first chapter and skimming the book description. Still all these sound like winners at 99 cents (and Amazon gave me a $3 ebook credit for buying so many of these monthly deals).  I think a few deals carry over into future months, so stay tuned. When the December 99 cent deals come rolling around, I’ll try to tackle them and report on them more quickly!

  • Too Good to be True: A Memoir by Benjamin Anastas. Daily struggles of a younger middle-aged author who has become a father. 
  • Stage Four: A Novel by Sander Kollaard. Very well-received angst-ridden tale of a European couple who take a trip after the wife receives a diagnosis of cancer.  Enjoy the references to Lagerlof  and Soderberg, which I guess is not unusual for a Danish author. 
  • Gods who walk among us by Max Eastern. Nice humorous first person tale of a NYC paparazzi who gets mixed up in the lives of people he photographs.  Really enjoy this character so far. 
  • A Scattered Life by Karen McQuestion. Nice domestic dramedy about a woman’s life in a Wisconsin suburb. Feels like Anne Tyler.  
  • Evelyn, After: A Novel by Victoria Helen Stone. The first chapter details a woman’s attempt to investigate details of the life of the woman who slept with her husband. Book description implies that the book will soon veer into a different direction, but I’m liking what I’m reading so far! 
  • Damocles by S.G. Redling. Sci fi novel about explorers trying to find a habitable planet for humans to live in. A really well-written first chapter, and Redling has written novels about a variety of subjects (not just sci fi). 
  • Kelpie Dreams by Steve Vernon.  Comic fantasy romp about — well, I’m not sure based on the first chapter, but I think a fantasy creature is involved. Never expected to get into this one, but it had a great first chapter. 
  • Moonlit Garden by Corina Bomann. Story about secret pasts — with some connection to a violin from a faraway land. Bomann is a German author of historical novels. 
  • Second First Time by Elisa Lorello.  Quirky relationship story happening after the death of one person’s father. 
  • Picks from Previous Roundup: Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet by Daniella Martin, Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much (Icons) by Michael Wood, The Art of Youth: Crane, Carrington, Gershwin, and the Nature of First Acts by Nicholas Delbanco, and Five Night Stand: A Novel by Richard J. Alley.

Creative Commons/Public Domain titles

You may already know that after 20 years of no titles falling into the public domain, 2019 will resume the normal release of titles from 1923. Apparently Project Gutenberg will start digitalizing 1923 works next year, and I nominated these titles for digitalization:  

  • Weeds by Edith Summers Kelley, First published in 1923, Weeds is set amid the tobacco tenant farms of rural Kentucky. This pioneering naturalist novel tells the story of a hard-working, spirited young woman who finds herself in a soul-destroying battle with the imprisoning duties of motherhood and of managing an impoverished household. The novel is particularly noteworthy for its heartbreaking depiction of a woman who suffers not from a lack of love, but from an unrequited longing for self-expression and freedom.
  • If you can stand reading PDFs, I highly recommend: New Plato : or, Socrates redivivus by Thomas Lansing Masson, Thomas Lansing (published in 1908). Socrates steps out of the pages of Plato into Mr. Masson’s humorous colloquies as easily as he quits the steerage of the Lusitania and takes up his headquarters at the Mills hotel. He acquaints himself with New Yorkers, visits their homes, and discusses with true modern insight such subjects as The married life, The gambler, The bridge player, Socialism, Learning, Surgeons, Philosophy, The missionary, and The nature of happiness.

I occasionally do volunteer editing for Distributed Proofreaders (the group who produce all the Gutenberg titles). Through this work I have learned about the wonderful  Book Review Digest  (a series which started to be published in 1904 on a yearly basis).  So far, only 2 volumes are on Gutenberg,  but I think every volume between 1905 and 1922 is being worked on, and in a year or two you will be able to flip through them at your leisure. I particularly recommend the 1917 volume . Two things are clear after flipping through this volume: 1)the state of book reviewing was very advanced in the early part of 20th century and 2)despite the sense that Project Gutenberg has so many titles available, only a fraction of titles mentioned in the Book Review Digests have ever been digitalized. (Sure, some are on archive.org or google, but these are just cumbersome facsimiles).  

Smashwords Titles 

I’m about to publish my Smashwords roundup, but I just wanted to say that White Mythology: Two Novellas for 99 cents is a great deal (I read the book too). 

Non-Amazon & Non-Smashwords Titles

None this time..

Miscellaneous (Used books, library titles, book-related articles, etc)

  • Solitary Twin by Harry Matthews
  • Why I read: Serious Pleasure of Books by Wendy Lesser (Lesser’s essays all are a joy to read, and they are starting to appear in the Early Bird Books deal newsletters). 
  • Click Here to Kill Everybody by Bruce Schnier
  • Podcast: Montaigne and the Art of Conversation. Timothy Hampton is a Berkley comp lit prof who gives a great talk about Montaigne. Here’s his blog, some of his Montaguish thoughts and even a nice commencement address.  Oddly  a few months ago I had stumbled upon some of his writings while perusing the Cornell U press catalog. 

Review Copies Received 

(I have a backlog of review copies to write about.  Here are some recent review copies I snagged:)

Closing Thoughts 

First, if anyone outside the USA is reading this, I’d like to hear what kind of freebie ebook options that non-US readers have access to. I confess to being totally in the dark about which stores are offering (non-infringing) freebies to readers in Canada, UK, Australia, India, etc. Or are shoppers at the US Amazon store just lucky? (I should note that Smashwords offers a lot of freebies to readers around the globe — and without DRM too). 

Let’s not write  pissy reviews! I’m all in favor of free speech, but I can’t tell you how often I come across superficial 2 sentence pissy and incoherent reviews on Amazon book pages.  (I wrote a response to one recently).  Once in a while a remark is pithy and damning, but for the most part  these types of comments are substance free and call attention to the commenter’s lack of effort to say anything meaningful. Ok, we get it, the book didn’t grab you, but shouldn’t you be open to the idea that people have different literary tastes? 

Wow, a month after I signed up to be listed on the IndieView’s list of book reviewers willing to review indie titles, they unceremoniously de-listed my name without bothering to tell me why.  This both irks and amuses me. Do they actually think that the number of people  willing to review indie titles is so great that they have to set ultra-strict criteria to filter them out?  Though I have specific criteria for what books I’d be willing to review, I’ve really made it a point to avoid the usual places to pick up Advance Review Copies (ARCs) like Netgalley, Amazon Vine, etc.  IndieView is still an excellent source of information for both readers and indie authors. But this action perplexes me. 

While visiting another book-loving friend, we exchanged titles of books we’d discovered — though we hadn’t actually read most of them   Our tastes are similar enough though my friend  grabs mainly print titles while I do the digital thing. We were marveling at all the great NYROB titles — that acronym stands obviously for New York Review of Books — which republish many outstanding titles from Europe and elsewhere. NYROB titles are great and handsome books as well, but I am flabbergasted at the high prices of the digital editions. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Autobiography of a Corpse has an $11 ebook, $11 print book and used copies sell on Amazon for $2. Similarly, another book I have been salivating over has been Elizabeth Hardwick’s Collected Essays (ebook $16, paperback $14, used $9). I’ve ended up checking out both print and ebook editions of both titles from the libraries — multiple times without having finished either one. I guess I can’t complain too much because I have easy access to both titles — and frankly these books aren’t checked out often.  But I can’t help noting that the  NYROB acronym includes the word “ROB” in it, and indeed, I feel I could never afford to buy any NYROB titles without sticking up a Barnes and Noble. I certainly see value in NYROB titles and recognize that the hefty Hardwick essay collection deserves some kind of premium pricing. But these prices are outrageous, especially when we see what Early Bird Books is discounting these days.  I find it hard to believe that it makes business sense to price something which only institutions can afford. 

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