Robert’s Roundup #43 (Nov-Dec 2023)

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MAILING LIST: I just started a mailing list for my publishing company. Will mail out every 2 months and will include excerpts from my Robert’s Roundup columns and other random stuff. MASTADON:

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited,  and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.NYP means “Name Your Price” (that’s an option on Smashwords and other booksellers). If you’d like to submit an ebook to me for review or mention in this column, see my instructions here.

I’ve finished formatting the 4th and final Jack Matthews Story Collection, Boxes of Time, so I can relax a little. Up to now I haven’t had time to work on reading or other books, but I think I have more bandwidth for that.

It’s funny. I’ve been on vacation from book buying, but in 5 minutes I bought 3 Random House ebooks on sale. That’s how it happens. The Big 5 discount their titles for only a day (or less), while indie publishers keep it on a sale price for several days.

They announced the Indie Author Project awards. Lots of nice indie titles, all very interesting. Even though the type of books they choose are conventional, they usually are good quality. (I entered once, but didn’t win).

US READING HABITS: In 2022, 40% of US adult males and 56.6% of females said that they read a book for pleasure during the previous year. (SOURCE: NEA ARTS PARTICIPATION SURVEY, 2022). In totally unrelated news, in the 2020 election, 45% of US male voters and 57% of US female voters voted for Biden. I just happened to notice the political connection; I was far more concerned about the 4.2% decline in the percent of people who said they had read a book for pleasure from 2017 to 2022.

I’ve been poring over Jake Seliger’s blog archives and finding all sorts of great essays. I’ll be posting (i.e., stealing) them from his blog).

Ron Charles on the 2007 media event that was the Harry Potter books:

How could the ever-expanding popularity of Harry Potter take place during such an unprecedented decline in the number of Americans reading fiction?

Perhaps submerging the world in an orgy of marketing hysteria doesn’t encourage the kind of contemplation, independence and solitude that real engagement with books demands — and rewards. Consider that, with the release of each new volume, Rowling’s readers have been driven not only into greater fits of enthusiasm but into more precise synchronization with one another. Through a marvel of modern publishing, advertising and distribution, millions of people will receive or buy “The Deathly Hallows” on a single day. There’s something thrilling about that sort of unity, except that it has almost nothing to do with the unique pleasures of reading a novel: that increasingly rare opportunity to step out of sync with the world, to experience something intimate and private, the sense that you and an author are conspiring for a few hours to experience a place by yourselves — without a movie version or a set of action figures. Through no fault of Rowling’s, Potter mania nonetheless trains children and adults to expect the roar of the coliseum, a mass-media experience that no other novel can possibly provide.

The schools often don’t help, either. As I look back on my dozen years of teaching English, I wish I’d spent less time dragging my students through the classics and more time showing them how to strike out on their own and track down new books they might enjoy. Without some sense of where to look and how to look, is it any wonder that most people who want to read fiction glom onto a few bestsellers that everybody’s talking about?

Indie Author Spotlight

Under the Radar

American Homes by Ryan Ridge.

Halfway to the Stars by Marcy Sheiner. Here’s an interview. Sexy comedy about a sexually liberated woman.

Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs. Authority in American Film and TV by Paul A. Cantor. Cantor is a critic who has published pieces in right-leaning publications about high culture and pop culture. I read an essay he wrote about Casablanca which I thought was great, so I was eager to get my hands on one of his ebooks (which was discounted to $3)

View from Half Dome by Jill Caugherty (FREE!) Historical novel about a San Francisco woman in 1934 who runs off to Yosemite while working with the CCC. This won Indie Author Project award for North Carolina. (Youtube interview about book) Other interviews.

Fragile By ALEXA WEIK VON MOSSNER (Cli-fi novel). a film and media professor (Website, ). Promising — though I’m a little behind on my cli-fi fiction. ” At the heart of this thought-provoking novel are two damaged people trying to build a relationship while working at cross purposes to help society amid dealing with a broken system’s inequities. ” (KIRKUS) Related: Zoom panel about ecological warnings in film and documentaries. She’s published 2 academic books about environmental studies from the literary side. Yes, I dig that kind of shit.

Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. John E. Woods translation. Believe it or not I have been reading and loving the printed version of this book, but it’s a pain to read printed books with my glasses. When the ebook became available for 1.99 I was right on it.

1619 Project by Nicole Hannah-Jones. Famous African-American rewriting of US history. I read some of Ms. Hannah Jones’ essays originally in the NYT, so it’s nice to have them in an ebook. Surprisingly, several people contributed to the book. Can’t wait to read.

Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms around us by Ed Yong. This science book got a lot of buzz when it came out, and I’ve always been fascinated by animal consciousness

Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales. Angela Carter was an uncategorizable English author who wrote feminist/fantasy/horror stuff. She died too early. She wrote a nice intro to this hand-selected collection. BTW, Michael Dirda recommends Carter’s Nights at the Circus which apparently is hard to find.

Library Purchases/Printed books

Taming the Beast : A Novel by Emily Maguire.

Why I Like this Story, Edited by Jackson Bryer. Anthology where authors rave about a single short story.

The Hero of a Hundred Fights : Collected Stories from the Dime Novel King, from Buffalo Bill to Wild Bill Hickock. Edited by Clay Reynolds. Stories by 19th century Western writer Edward Zane Carroll Judson who wrote under the pseudonym Ned Buntline. I interviewed Texas author/scholar Clay Reynolds in his last year of life which I still have not published. (Here’s a Clay Reynolds reader’s guide I prepared about his writings).

Fiction by Maureen Howard: Natural History, Before my Time and Big as Life: Three Tales for Spring.

Satchel : The Life and Times of an American Legend by Larry Tye. I’ve heard lots of good things about this baseball biography about a larger-than-life athlete who played only in the Negro baseball leagues.

In the Cut by Susanna Moore. (Erotic murder mystery recommended by Katherine Angel in her Tomorrow Sex will be good again nonfiction title).

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Lesbian coming of age graphic novel which I read before but am gifting to a family member. Other gifts: Childhood’s End by Arthur Clarke, Liars’ Club by Mary Karr and The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury by Bill Watterson.

Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. NYROB edition of a widely praised comic novel about a woman who “heads overseas to conquer Paris in the 1950s.”

American Fictionary by Dubravka Ugresic. Humor pieces written by a Yugloslav writer fleeing the 1990s Yugoslav war to arrive in USA. Actually, though the context is completely different, in 1997 I wrote a long essay about my reverse culture shock upon returning to USA after Peace Corps.

Creative Commons/Freebies

3 volumes of climate change fiction anthologies:

Here’s a PDF dissertation about climate change fiction: Capitalocene Dreams: Dark Tales of Near Futures by Catriona Margaret Mullineaux Sparks. Aha, that’s sci fi author Cat Sparks (Wiki) from Australia. Here’s a group zoom video about climate change fiction with Sparks as well

Seventeen by Booth Tarkington. I have raved about the comic 1914 bestselling novel Penrod which was about the misadventures of an 11 year old boy. Apparently a year later he wrote this bestseller lampooning teenage romance . Neither is considered his best works (try Alice Adams or Magnificent Ambersons), but they are intriguing enough to read. Tarkington is forgotten, and I suspect his works deserve a second look.

Literary Articles and Essays

Happy to learn about Oksana Lutsyshyna, a Ukrainian writer, translator and poet who lives and teaches in Austin. She has published a few things at Deep Vellum Publishing which can be checked out on Overdrive. (I currently checked out Ivan and Phoebe). Here’s a great 2021 interview where she talks about being a scholar and poet. Highlights: ON READING DURING SOVIET TIMES: “The truth is, Soviet intelligentsia read a lot, and I always tell my students that this is because there was nothing else to do – no cars to drive, no trips abroad to take, not even any good TV to watch.” Here’s her take on George Floyd in Eastern Europe:

When the events of the George Floyd murder were unfolding, we witnessed a lot of rather racist discourses coming from the countries of the former Soviet Union. I tried to make sense of it all and wrote an article about it. The problem of racial oppression in the US was spoken about a-historically in the former Soviet Union. It was generally perceived as a done deal, everybody liberated and free. The only books widely available on the subject would be things like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which African Americans do not consider all that great in terms of resistance strategies, actually quite the opposite. Only two of Toni Morrison’s novels were translated into Ukrainian, and that happened already after independence. I compiled a list of readings for one Ukrainian online journal on the topic of racial oppression and violence in the United States and found that regrettably little was available in Ukrainian. No Baldwin, no Harlem Renaissance, no bell hooks – not even Frantz Fanon, who is a classic. The narrative that dominated the post-Soviet terrain as a response to the murder of George Floyd was along the lines of “What do these people want, haven’t they been freed?” Nobody seems to have understood what Jim Crow laws were about, what or the Civil Rights Movement fought for. Looking at the reasons, I think it is hard for a post-totalitarian country to fully understand somebody else’s trauma if it has not yet fully voiced and analyzed its own. Empathy is a resource that needs to be built up, and survivors often don’t have this luxury. I am, of course, not talking about specific people who may feel empathy just fine, but collectively. In feminist theory we talk about standpoint epistemology – the look from the bottom up versus the look from top-down, that is, thwarting the hierarchy. In this sense, it may seem that for the oppressed it is easy to empathize and understand simply because they share the condition with all the oppressed groups in the world. But the matter is infinitely more complex.

(Speaking of which, it’s always a pleasure to read things on the Apofenie website, which is run by Kate Tsurkan). Tsurkan also prepared this Landscape of Ukrainian Literature article about notable Ukrainian authors.

A nice list of 2023 climate change books. Includes quite a few graphic novels (a very good pairing of subject and genre) and Michael Mann‘s Our Fragile Moment, which I’m sure is elucidating. There’s a lot of interesting novels on the subject,

Talented Reader is a nice litblog that later formed the material for an essay collection Trotsky’s Sink by two distinguished authors George Ovitt and Peter Adam Nash. As it happens, I had picked up fiction and poetry titles during the Great Fomite Ebook sale of 2018. I really need to read more of these people.

Here’s a remembrance of George Garrett by John Michael Flynn (also a prolific poet). Wow, looks like several of Flynn’s novels and poetry on SW are free until the end of Jan 1!.


Suddenly I find that I really needed the Shere Hite Reader. It’s a weighty and indispensable tome consisting of a lifetime of articles and essays. It was published in the 2000s. I was on the fence about buying a used copy for $6, and when I checked a day later, I see that it was out of stock. (It has remained out of stock since that time). Apparently someone did a really cool documentary about Shere Hite, leading to renewed interest in her books. But the print book sells for $25 with no cheap books available. The ebook sells for $18, which is perfectly ridiculous. I checked it out of the library and expect to be renewing it over and over.

I had to do an Interlibrary Loan for Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet (Princeton U. Press). Carson is a classicist and highly regarded poet and essayist, and this is her first series of essays about love according to how ancient Greeks saw it. Book is $15 with no used books available. The ebook sells for $10 which I guess is not outrageous, but Carson has lived a long and distinguished life as an academic and poet; it hardly seems fair that starving writers and poets should have to pay this much for a slim volume published in the 1980s. I probably will end up buying the book, (I need it! and can’t do an ILL again). But I’d much rather spend the money on 3 or 4 volumes by young poets than hand it over to prestige university presses.

Capsule Book Reviews


Multimedia/Podcasts, Etc

Personville Press Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. Prices normally appear highest on Amazon, Apple, Kobo and BN, somewhat lower on Google Play Books and lower on the two DRM-free stores which are Smashwords and Payhip. Personville Press is committed to selling DRM-free ebooks and audio files directly from the Personville Press payhip store or from SmashwordsThe prices listed here are the non-discounted price on Amazon. Check the links to see if they are discounted at the moment (it happens often).






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