Robert’s Roundup #18 (April 2021 Edition)

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Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.


The last 5 years has seen a revolution in ebook pricing, and the best way to learn about it has been deal newsletters. So far I have been looking at Bookbub, Bookgorilla, etc, but recently I’ve noticed that some deals are happening on publishers’ own newsletters. I actually read and enjoy Simon & Schuster’s newsletters — though it is true the deals are mostly in the 2.99-3.99 range.

On the publisher’s side, many authors have been using personal newsletters to promote their brand and publicize discounts. I’m in the process of creating a monthly newsletter for Personville Press (which will wrap many things up — including parts from this column). You can talk about whether it’s possible to keep up with so many emails from individual authors, but there’s no doubt that individual authors are likely to pass along deal announcements to subscribers.

After reading about the multiple scandals involving literary biographer Blake Bailey, I now realize (too late, I’m afraid) that I should have stayed in academia to write literary biographies. I certainly enjoy reading them and would have enjoyed writing them too. No matter. A good literary biography can include history, gossip, cultural history and even literary criticism. Frankly, when I read biographies of people from previous centuries, I am amazed at how much material is available for the author to cull through and how some biographers do it admirably.

Indie Author’s Spotlight


Smashwords Sales

(Skipping this time).

Ebooks published by Amazon Imprints

For a few weeks, Amazon had their World Novels promotion. Basically, they are publishing and promoting translations by distinguished authors from around the world. Here were their freebies for this year:

  • At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano, Juliet Winters Carpenter
  • A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling, Shelly Bryant
  • The King of Warsaw: A Novel by Szczepan Twardoch, Sean Gasper Bye
  • The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury by Marc Levy, Chris Murray
  • The Son and Heir: A Memoir by Alexander Münninghoff, Kristen Gehrman

Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb — and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month.  (check previous columns herehere and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).

Under the Radar

Thin for Life: 10 Keys to Success from People who have lost weight and kept it off by Anne Fletcher (2.99). Use this for shedding your extra COVID year pounds. I discovered this 2003 book the last time I tried losing weight. Although Fletcher is a dietician, the most interesting thing about the book is how she identifies what behavioral strategies worked for successful dieters. Fletcher didn’t spend much time talking about nutrition or what to eat or how to exercise — and in fact, this makes the book still current today. I’m now trying to lose weight, and my first thought was go back and read this book again.

Invisible Pyramid by Loren Eiseley. 1.99

Emotional Rescue: Essays on Love, Loss, and Life–With a Soundtrack by Ben Greenman

Shakespeare’s Secrets – Romeo & Juliet: Essays and Reflections on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet by David Blixt.

Blink and It’s Gone Sales

Penthouse Uncensored series (I have to admit, I enjoyed reading one of these).

Leg over Leg: Volumes One and Two by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq. I spent $10 on this translation of a classic Arabic literary work. I only did this after realizing that I was willing to pay 9.50 for a used copy of this book, and then thought, why not pay 50 cents more and ensure that the author actually received the royalties?

An Event, Perhaps: Biography of Jacques Derrida by Paul Salmon. I can’t explain it, but I’m interested in biographies of significant people in the arts and literature. Perhaps intellectual history is more accessible than reading the works themselves.

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. Remarkably, I bought it after seeing this professor’s interview on Trevor Noah.

Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison (author website).

Heaven’s Edge by Romesh Gunesekera. Sir Lankan novelist. Mary Whipple comments,

Sometimes enigmatic and even a bit preachy, the novel is at once magical and nightmarish, full of myth and allegory at the same time that it offers haunting, cautionary tales about the past and the use of violence to change the present and affect the future. Echoes of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, the fall of man, legends about peacocks and leopards, and episodes telling the importance of love and respect pervade the novel, giving it immense color and depth. Clearly a pacifist, Gunesekera says, “The art of killing cannot be our finest achievement…Nothing is inevitable.”

Creative Commons — Academi/Public Domain

This is just a teaser, but I will soon be digitizing a monograph containing 3 public lectures from the 1950s by Robert Hillyer, Richard Wilbur and Cleanth Brooks. Apparently it’s in the public domain. Expect it next month!?

Once in a Lifetime Deals

There There by Tommy Orange.

Indie Titles/Other ebook distributions

None this time

Review Copies Received

None this time

Library books & Printed books bought (Better World, Amazon, etc)

Bought a haul from Better World Books this time.

Love, Life, Goethe: Lessons of the Imagination from the Great German Poet by John Armstrong.

Goethe: The Poet and the Age: Volume I: The Poetry of Desire (1749-1790) by Nicholas Boyle

Collected Stories by Carol Shields

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty

Terminal Experiment by Robert S. Sawyer. I enjoyed the TV adaptation of his Flash Forward book, so I’m trying to read his others.

Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. Called by several people the best sci author and this is his best book.

Starting Over: Stories by Elizabeth Spencer

Festival of Insignificance: By Milan Kundera. Crap, I just realized that I bought the wrong book. I had meant to buy the essay collection, Encounter instead. (I probably will end up buying it). Just bought it.

What Light Can Do by Robert Hass — essays on poetry

Hell or High Water by Joy Castro (college friend)

Question of Bruno: Stories by Aleksander Hemon. Also, Love and Obstacles.

Pomegranate Lady and her sons: Selected Stories by Sara Khalili. Autobiographical stories by Iranian woman from pre-Shah days.

American Poetry Since 1970: Up Late by Andrei Codrescu. Alternative anthology of Codrescu rounding up stuff by his friends. Some really off the beaten path poets here, including Lorenzo Thomas. (UPDATE: This out-of-print anthology is really good especially at the price I paid for it. Highly recommended!

Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami. Really looking forward to this. Story about a Muslim who explored the Gulf coast of America in the 1500s with Cabeza La Vaca (and based on real events!)

Also, I’m going on a diet, so I found two books on that: The Diet Myth: Why the Secret to Health and Weight Loss is Already in Your Gut by Tim Spector and The FastDiet – Revised & Updated: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting by Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer. Update: Diet Myth consists of a series of articles on popular diet subjects for BBC. Well written and summarizes research well, but isn’t earth-shattering. FastDiet (in praise of intermittent fasting) is pretty innovative and very interesting, but is only one approach to the subject. (Here’s what Harvard School of Public Health has to say about it).

Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past By Simon Reynolds. Excellent musical and cultural history though a bit too cerebral about what should be a light-hearted and uplifting art.

Unknown Woman by Alice Koller

Suburb by the Sea by Robert Hillyer. I bought this to complete my collection of Robert Hillyer’s poetry.

Ebook Reviews


Literary Articles and Essays

Maria Popova has a wonderful short essay about the unrequited loves of H.C. Andersen. His permanent infatuation with Jenny Lind is well documented (aka, the Swedish nightingale), but apparently he had tender/erotic feelings for a man named Edvard Collin. In a related post, Popova writes of the intense relationship that Emily DIckinson had with Susan Gilbert:

To make art out of heartache is, of course, the most beautiful thing one could do with one’s sorrow, as well as the most generous — no artist knows how the transfiguration of their pain into beauty will salve another heart, give another sorrower the language of their own truth, the vessel for navigating their own experience.

Popova of course has a famous and wonderful literary newspaper which always amazes me every time I find time to read it. Apparently portions of Popova’s essays are found in the very expensive ebook Figuring (which despite the price is always something I’ve wanted or planned to buy).

Here’s a great elegy by poet Edward Hirsch on Adam Zagajewski: (Hirsch’s website and Z’s website)

Adam challenged those students. He chided them gently, “So you all have been writing a lot of small poems about small things. I would like for you to try something larger.” He assigned one class to write elegies to the 20th century. He made space for students to probe big questions with utter seriousness and depth. The course titles speak for themselves: The Imagination and Its Enemies. End of the Century, End of the World. Memory and Oblivion. Poetry and Doubt.

Here’s another fine obituary without a paywall.

He preferred to use traditional free verse (“Rhymes actually irritate me, a bit like the bell calling you to kneel in church”) and avoided poetic experimentations as his focus was on communication and understanding, yet still engaging in “a dialogue with the imagination”. He demanded that poetry tell the truth (“we write to understand the world,” he claimed), and once wryly concluded that “some French poets say Polish poetry is just journalism, because you can understand it”.

As an aside, I’m depressed at how expensive poetry books are. Apparently if you sign on with a prestige publisher, the price of your ebooks stay above $10. Who on earth has the dough to pay that much!? I have bought a few expensive poetry books in my day — usually they are collected poems, not individual titles. I remember that at grad school I paid $20 for a collected works of Richard Wilbur and another for Howard Nemerov. Also, one for Elizabeth Bishop. More recently, I paid $10 for a collection by Paul Otrembra, a young Houston poet who died recently. I suppose you could say that I’ve paid a handsome price for a nice bilingual collection of sonnets by Petrarch, a collection of Bhartrahari poems and Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry : From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century by Burton Watson. Maybe if the poet is extremely well known and beloved, I could justify paying 9 dollars, but even then I bitch about how expensive it is.

Literary Audio /Multimedia

U. Penn has an incredible website of poets on audio. Notable poets included here are Gertrude Stein, John Ashbery, Ezra Pound, Donald Hall, HD, Kenneth Rexroth, Ferlinghetti, Jorie Graham. Lots of names I don’t recognize, looks like there’s a NY/New England bias, but still just an incredible number of names here!

Here’s a brief and funny exchange between Neil Gaiman and Harlan Ellison about why film critics always blame the writer instead of the filmmaker.

Cool Things Coming Soon!

In about a month I should finally have created the Personville website. Shortly after that, I will have a gigantic book promotion of upcoming titles. Should be monstrously great.

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 DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from GoogleAmazonBNApple and Kobo. In May 2021 you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.






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