Book Reviews

Michael Dirda on the the Past & Future of Bookselling, eBay etc.

"Once I could have sold my books to any number of local used bookshops for a reasonable sum--now nobody much wants anything, aside from rarities--because everything is available online. I myself understand the attractiveness of being able to buy everything you want, but I don't like the whole outlook. It's like a billionaire buying a beautiful woman any time he wants one to sleep with--where's the romance, where's the excitement, the heartache, the attendant glories and sorrows of romance? Once it was exciting to go out 'booking'--and there were scores of places to go. But now, now. To make everything freely available makes everything seem that much less interesting and desirable. But I begin to rant."--Michael Dirda in a discussion held Wednesday at the Washington Post.

Of Book Reviews And Blogs

Over at The London Review Of Books Thomas Jones Takes A Look At Books and blogs. He says if they’re doing their jobs properly, are as different as two kinds of published text can be. For one thing, creating a book takes many months, not to say years, and the process requires the participation of a whole chain of people besides the writer: commissioning editors, copy-editors, typesetters, proofreaders, printers, distributors, booksellers etc. A blogger can have an unedited post up on the web and available to readers within minutes of the idea popping into his head.

It's Never Too Late to Read Walden

Tom Slayton, 66, a retired longtime editor of Vermont Life magazine, was a Thoreau buff for years, but admitted to never reading "Walden" cover to cover until three years ago.

Once he did, he was drawn to Walden Pond and soon afterward decided to visit the author's other haunts and make a book of it. Battling an arthritic hip and wearing out a pair of hiking boots, he traipsed all over New England in a three-year quest to find Thoreau, nature and a bit of himself. He's written Searching for Thoreau, (here reviewed in the Sauk Valley News) which pairs analysis of "Walden" and other lesser-known Thoreau works with step-by-step descriptions of visits to the places that inspired Thoreau.

The resulting 240-page paperback, illustrated by Slayton's 36-year-old son, Ethan - draws heavily on "Walden," "Cape Cod," "The Maine Woods" and Thoreau's journals, describing in lyrical detail the flora, fauna and sometimes-treacherous paths Thoreau walked more than 150 years ago and that Slayton followed.

Amazon's Top Reviewers and the fate of the literary amateur.

Slate Takes A Look at Amazon's "celebrity reviewers." As in any numbers game (tax returns, elections) opacity abets manipulation. Amazon's rankings establish a formal, public competition for power—or its online equivalent, recognition—wherein each competitor follows his own private sense of fair play. Or not.

Like celebrity bloggers and Wikipedia "Gnomes," then, the Top Amazon Reviewer heralds the arrival of a curious hybrid: part customer, part employee. This feels like a loss. But perhaps it means that in the coming age, every writer will be a salesman: up past dark, sifting through the data stream for evidence that somewhere, some honest soul is buying.

The latest book of the year shortlist can't disguise the prejudices that threaten literature

Mark Lawson Says The frightening consequence of these cultural changes is that serious fiction is now almost entirely dependent on judging panels. It is an awesome responsibility with which, literary history suggests, they may struggle - though women writers have less to fear than they did.

NPR's StoryCorps Profiled in New Book

The founder of NPR's StoryCorps, Dave Isay, has published a book, Listening is An Act of Love (Penguin Press). The StoryCorps project began in 2003 with a recording booth in New York's Grand Central Station and continues on with recollections of Americans young and old about people they've known and experiences they've shared; it's the largest oral history project in the U.S. today.

Columnist Joy Wallace Dickinson gives us her thoughts on the book in the Orlando Sentinel, and here's the website of the StoryCorps Project where you're invited to listen in.

To live with books, perchance to read them

An apology may be in order. How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, the slim French bestseller which has become a sleeper hit in English translation this fall, may have a fantastic but faulty title. That's because unlike, say, the news summary magazine The Week, or the chic advice guide In the Know: The Classic Guide to Being Cultured and Cool, How to Talk... is not intended to help you cheat at life by appearing more sophisticated or educated than you really are. Indeed, the author Pierre Bayard has a sheepish admission to make. theglobeandmail.com Has The Review/Interview.

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

I finished the book Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin in two late nights reading. This story about how a failed mountain climb in 1993 turned into a lifetime of school building is as gripping as any novel I've read. It weaves a personal narrative with a story of how grassroots development can improve lives in what we consider impossible places while warding off extremism.

The title Three Cups of Tea refers to a lesson that was taught to former mountaineer and current school builder Greg Mortenson that advised him to be sensitive to the local culture:

When the porcelain bowls of scalding butter tea steamed in their hands, Haji Ali spoke, "If you want to thrive in Baltistan, you must respect our ways," Haji Ali said, blowing on his bowl. "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die," he said, laying his hand on Mortenson's own. "Dr. Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time." -- Read More

Results Released on Book Reviewing Survey

Critical Mass, a blog for the National Book Critics Circle, reports on the results of a recent NBCC survey on the ethics of book reviewing. A similar survey was done in 1987, and both are linked to in the article. A few highlights:

"68.5 percent of book reviewers think anyone mentioned in a book's acknowledgements should be barred from reviewing it.

64.9 percent think anyone who has written an unpaid blurb for a book should also be banned from writing a fuller review.

60.5 percent think it's okay for a newspaper book section or magazine to ignore self-published books that authors submit to them, e.g., iUniverse type books."

Salon Book Awards 2007

From an imaginary history of Alaskan Jews to a compelling glimpse of the CIA, we pick the 10 most pleasurable reading experiences of the year. They say It's been a tranquil year in the book industry: no big fabrication or plagiarism scandals, à la James Frey or Kaavya Viswanathan, and consequently no dramatic denunciations on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." O.J. Simpson's bizarre "hypothetical" confession, "If I Did It," was finally published after the copyright had been transferred to the family of Ronald Goldman; in the end, it achieved little more than the destruction of the career of one of publishing's premier carnival barkers, editor Judith Regan. (She's now suing her former employer, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.)

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