An American Editor

November 28, 2016

On Today’s Bookshelf XXVII

It’s the holiday season and because I am surrounded by books, both for my work and my pleasure, I think about giving books as holiday gifts to family and friends. I would guess that many of you do the same. Consequently, it is time for the my next On Today’s Bookshelf.

There are a goodly number of past On Today’s Bookshelf essays, which you can access by clicking here.

Since my last On Today’s Bookshelf post (On Today’s Bookshelf XXVI), I have acquired the books listed below, among others, for my library. They have been added to my to-be-read pile. Most are hardcovers, but some are ebooks.

Nonfiction –

  • Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation by Nicholas Guyatt
  • Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz by Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel
  • The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798: Testing the Constitution by Terri Diane Halperin
  • Turner: The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner by Franny Moyle
  • Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3: The War Years and After, 1939-1962 by Blanche Wiesen Cook (previously purchased volumes 1 and 2)
  • American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald C. White
  • Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick
  • The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War by H.W. Brands
  • A Revolution on the Hudson: New York City and the Hudson River Valley in the American War of Independence by George C. Daughan
  • No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity by Sarah Haley
  • Birth of the Chess Queen: A History by Marilyn Yalom
  • The History of the Hudson River Valley: From Wilderness to the Civil War and The History of The Hudson River Valley: From the Civil War to Modern Times (2 vols) by Vernon Benjamin
  • The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945 by Robert Gellately
  • Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips

Fiction –

  •  Shadow of Victory by David Weber
  • At the Sign of Triumph by David Weber
  • Night School by Lee Childs
  • Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
  • A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George
  • The Counterfeit Agent by Alex Berenson
  • Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning
  • Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon
  • Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick
  • The Hermit by Thomas Rydahl
  • The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens
  • Fall from Grace by Tim Weaver

Finally, if you are looking for a great book on the business of editing (to give or receive), check out The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper (ISBN: 9781434103727), which is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble or directly from the publisher, Waking Lion Press.

Please share with An American Editor your suggestions for good books to give as gifts this holiday season. Also share the books you are hoping to receive as gifts or that you have purchased for your own pleasure reading.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

March 14, 2016

On Today’s Bookshelf XXIV

Books are not only my working life, they are my relaxation life, too. The beauty of books is that they can increase your knowledge as well as transport you to places and times of interest. For me that means my acquisition of new (to me) titles to read never ends. Here is a list of some of the hardcovers and ebooks that I have acquired and added to my to-be-read pile (other books can be found in earlier On Today’s Bookshelf posts):

Nonfiction –

  • Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius by Sylvia Nasar
  • Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Modernisation of the Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy
  • George Washington’s Surprise Attack: A New Look at the Battle That Decided the Fate of America by Phillip Thomas Tucker
  • Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World by Evan Thomas
  • Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — A Test of Will and Faith in World War I by Louisa Thomas
  • The Churchills in Love and War by Mary S. Lovell
  • A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts After the American Revolution by Emma Christopher
  • The Holocaust Encyclopedia edited by Walter Laqueur & Judith Taylor Baumel
  • Global Crisis: War, Climate Change & Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century by Geoffrey Parker
  • Army of Evil: A History of the SS by Adrian Weale
  • Born to Battle: Grant and Forrest—Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga: The Campaigns that Doomed the Confederacy  by Jack Hurst
  • The Last Slave Market: Dr John Kirk and the Struggle to End the African Slave Trade by Alastair Hazell
  • Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine
  • The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis
  • The Plot to Seize the White House: The Shocking True Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow FDR by Jules Archer
  • Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America by Annie Jacobson
  • The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal by David E. Hoffman
  • A Higher Form of Killing: Six Weeks in World War I That Forever Changed the Nature of Warfare by Diana Preston
  • The Mystery of Olga Chekhova by Antony Beevor
  • Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan

Fiction –

  • You’re Next by Greg Hurwitz
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  • The Man From Berlin by Luke McCallin
  • Life for a Life by T. Frank Muir
  • The Great Betrayal by Pamela Oldfield
  • Traitor’s Blood by Michael Arnold
  • The New Neighbor: A Novel by Leah Stewart
  • The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  • The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds by Scott Westerfield (2 books)
  • The Just City by Jo Walton

What are you reading? Are there new acquisitions that you would recommend to colleagues? Is there a newly found author who excites you?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 15, 2015

On Today’s Bookshelf (XXI)

My acquisition of new titles to read never ends. I keep thinking I need to stop and put the money I spend on books into my retirement account. But books have a special allure and I find nothing is as relaxing as sitting in my recliner reading a well-written and well-edited book (and nothing as frustrating as starting a poorly written or edited book :)).

Here is a list of some of the hardcovers and ebooks that I am reading or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post, including some children’s books:

Nonfiction –

  • The Wandering Who: A Study of Jewish Identity Politics by Gilad Atzmo
  • Blood in the Snow, Blood on the Grass: Treachery, Torture, Murder and Massacre – France 1944 by Douglas Boyd
  • The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman
  • The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV by Anne Somerset
  • Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion by Anne Somerset
  • Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades by Jonathan Phillips
  • The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople by Jonathan Phillips
  • The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce by Hallie Rubenhold
  • The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, and To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Alistair Horne (trilogy)
  • Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age by Arthur Herman
  • Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great’s Empire by Robin Waterfield
  • The Bolter by Frances Osborne
  • Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn
  • Dickens’s England: Life in Victorian Times by R.E. Pritchard
  • The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley
  • Saint-Exupéry: A Biography by Stacy Schiff
  • The Black Death in London by Barney Sloane
  • The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain by Alan Stewart
  • Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph by Jan Swafford
  • A Woman of Courage on the West Virginia Frontier: Phebe Tucker Cunningham by Robert N. Thompson
  • Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of the Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results That Shaped America by Tony Williams
  • American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit by Paula Uruburu
  • Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich
  • 1913: The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illies

Fiction –

  • Twist by Dannika Dark
  • The Clockwork Dagger: A Novel by Beth Cato
  • Fatal Enquiry, Some Danger Involved, and The Black Hand by Will Thomas (3 books)
  • The Sword Dancer Series (Sword Dancer, Sword Singer, Sword Maker, Sword Breaker, Sword Born, Sword Sworn, and Sword Bound) by Jennifer Roberson (7 books)
  • Forbidden, Mortal, and Sovereign by Ted Dekker (trilogy)
  • The Legend of Eli Monpress series (The Spirit Eater, The Spirit Rebellion, The Spirit Thief, The Spirit War, and Spirit’s End) by Rachel Aaron (5 books)
  • Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina
  • Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • Dead Like You and Dead Man’s Footsteps by Peter James (2 books)
  • Snow Wolf by Glenn Meade

Children’s Books –

Now that I have grandchildren, I try to keep an eye out for good books for them, both for now and for the future. A series I have been buying for them and that I highly recommend is Brad Meltzer’s “I am …” series. So far the titles are:

  • I am Albert Einstein
  • I am Rosa Parks
  • I am Amelia Earhart
  • I am Abraham Lincoln
  • I am Jackie Robinson
  • I am Lucille Ball
  • I am Helen Keller

Other children’s books that I have bought/preordered include:

  • Find King Henry’s Treasure: Touch the Art by Julie Appel & Amy Guglielmo
  • Crankee Doodle by Tom Angelberger
  • Time for a Bath by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
  • The Princess and the Peas and Carrots by Harriet Ziefert
  • Backstage Cat by Harriet Ziefert
  • Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants by Giles Andreae & Korky Paul
  • The Chandeliers: The World-Famous Giraffe Family Appearing Tonight and Every Night! by Vincent X. Kirsch
  • Look! Seeing the Light in Art by Gillian Wolfe
  • This Book Is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions by Kelli Anderson

It’s never too early to start children on the path to literacy, so building a children’s library makes sense to me. Besides, there is great joy in having a grandchild sit on my lap and “read” along with me. Just as books are an adventure for me, so books are an adventure for children. Certainly much better than staring at a TV or computer screen.

For previous listings of books I’ve acquired, see previous On Today’s Bookshelf essays.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

December 3, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XIX)

In only a few weeks, it will be gift-giving time again. High on my list of gifts to give and to receive are, of course, books. What I like about books is that they are educational (I always learn something) and long-lasting. When I give a book, I know that for as long as the recipient keeps the book, every time she looks at it, she will think of me.

If you are looking for ideas for books to give, the On Today’s Bookshelf series here at An American Editor can be a place to start. Besides buying books at Barnes & Noble, I also buy a lot of “remainders”, which are new books that are leftovers and overruns the publisher didn’t sell through normal retail channels and are now being sold as remainders, which translates to very steep discounts. My primary source for remainder books is Daedalus Books. The other source for books, particularly older books, are bookstores that sell used books. I generally only buy used books that are graded near fine, fine, or new; occasionally, I will buy one graded very good. As I have mentioned before, when it comes to print books, I only buy hardcovers.

As to what is on my bookshelf — and some gift ideas — here is a list of some of the hardcovers and ebooks that I am reading or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post:

Nonfiction –

  • Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I by Alexander Watson
  • Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan by David Cunningham
  • The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America by Marc Levinson
  • The Paper Trail: an Unexpected History of the World’s Greatest Invention by Alexander Monro
  • The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image by Daniel Schwartz
  • A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age by Steven Nadler
  • Churchill’s Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made by Richard Toye
  • Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War by Douglas R. Egerton
  • Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War by Stephen R. Platt
  • Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962 by Yang Jisheng
  • Isaac’s Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland by Matthew Brzezinski
  • The Wars of Watergate by Stanley Kutler
  • Shelley: The Pursuit by Richard Holmes
  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
  • Russian Roulette by Giles Milton
  • Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower
  • The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism by David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen
  • Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer by Bettina Stangneth
  • Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
  • The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In by Hugh Kennedy
  • Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron, and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay
  • The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace by Lucy Worsley
  • Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II by Kieth Lowe
  • Edith Cavell by Diana Souhami
  • Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne

Fiction –

  • The Thousand Names and The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler (2 books)
  • Magician, Magician Kings, and The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman (trilogy)
  • Personal by Lee Child
  • The Tyrant’s Law and The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham (2 books)
  • Bye Bye Baby and Beautiful Death by Fiona McIntosh (2 books)
  • The Necromancer’s Grimoire by Annmarie Banks
  • To Kingdom Come and Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas (2 books)
  • The Path of the Sword by Remi Michaud
  • The Immortal Prince by Jennifer Fallon
  • Eye of the Red Tsar and The Beast in the Red Forest by Sam Eastland (2 books)
  • Traitor by Murray McDonald
  • A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison

Of course, if you are looking for books to give colleagues or would like someone to give you to help you with your freelancing business, you can’t do better than these books, which focus on the business aspects of the freelancing rather than on editorial skills:

Are you planning to ask for or give books this holiday season? If yes, why not share with us what books you are giving or asking for. If no, tell us why not.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 17, 2014

On Mourning the Passing of Barnes & Noble

After this week’s news that Barnes & Noble has lost money yet again, I decided that perhaps I should begin thinking about writing B&N’s obituary. After all, I am a B&N member and I buy a lot of books from B&N and I will miss it when the last store and website is finally shuttered.

But I was told not to don my mourning clothes yet. B&N has a plan. Great, I thought, until I realized that the same people who have brought B&N to its knees are the ones with the plan to save it. Not very likely.

The problem with B&N is simple: management that cannot see even a baby step’s worth of distance in the future. There are any number of relatively simple steps that could bring B&N back from the precipice, but each would have to begin with a recognition that today’s management team needs to be gone yesterday.

Start with customer service. How poor can customer service be? I don’t know but B&N is surely leading the way. Consider what happens when you call customer service. If you are lucky, you get someone who speaks English like a native and without a thick brogue that makes them incomprehensible. You know you are in trouble when the representative calls you “Mr. Richard.” The reason this is a problem is that the reps do not understand the problem you are trying to convey and so insist on a solution that is no solution.

For example, I recently ordered a book from Amazon Canada. I had to order it there because neither B&N nor Amazon US was showing the book except in their marketplace and the marketplace pricing for a clean copy was double or more the price Amazon Canada was asking. (The book cost over $100 to begin with, even at Amazon Canada.) When I received the book from Amazon, it was the right book but not the advertised book. The advertised book was for the correct print year and did not state that it was a print-on-demand reprint; in other words, I thought I was buying an original copy.

I realized that because of the book’s age, all that would be available would be like this, so I wrote Amazon Canada and told them I intended to keep the book but that they should note on their website that the edition they were selling was a POD reprint. Within a few hours I received a reply thanking me, telling me that the information had been passed on to the appropriate people, and because I planned to keep the book, Amazon was refunding 25% of the price.

The book from Amazon was the first volume in a nonfiction trilogy. Volumes 2 and 3 were available from B&N, and so I ordered them from B&N. Volume 3 was just released, so it was not a problem. Volume 2 was released several years ago but not so long ago that I should expect a POD reprint — but that is what I got. So I called B&N customer service (sending an email is, I have found, an utter waste of time). I got one of the “Mr. Richard” representatives. I tried to explain the problem and explicitly said I planned to keep the book and that my only purpose in calling was so that they could adjust their website to indicate that it is a POD reprint. After all, this was another very expensive book and the website implies you are getting an original.

I might as well have been talking in a hurricane for all that the representative either understood or cared. The rep “resolved” the problem by ordering another copy be sent to me because he agreed that website did indicate it was not a POD reprint that was being offered. I tried to prevent this, but after a few minutes, I gave up. I received the second copy of the POD reprint and sent it back with a detailed note indicating what was wrong and what I thought they should do. And so the tale ends.

There was no follow-up from B&N and the rep didn’t understand the problem or the solution I was suggesting. (He did say that there was nothing he could do about the website. Apparently that includes notifying anyone of an error at the site.) Bottom line is that B&N customer service continues to be an example of what not to do and Amazon continues to be an example of what to do. This same complaint about customer service was made several years ago on AAE and elsewhere and the same management team continues to do nothing.

The second place for B&N to go is to improve the interaction between buyers and B&N. B&N needs to be innovative, especially when it comes to its members. How difficult, for example, would it be to let members create a list of authors in which they are interested and for B&N to send a monthly email saying that a new book by one of my listed authors has been announced; click this link to preorder.

Along with that, B&N should guarantee that the preorder price is the highest price I would have to pay (which it B&N already does do without saying so) but that should at anytime before shipment the price be less, B&N guarantees that the lower price will be the price I will pay. As it is now, because I preorder books months in advance, I need to constantly recheck and if a price is lower, I need to cancel my existing preorder and re-preorder. Can B&N make it any more inconvenient for the customer?

In addition, B&N should be sending me monthly emails telling me of upcoming or newly released (since the last email) books that are similar to books I have previously bought. I know they have the information because both online customer service and the local store management are able to peruse books I have bought. To entice me to buy from this list (or even to preorder), B&N should offer me an additional 10% discount on the listed titles, which discount is good until the release of the next email and the next list of books.

Members of B&N are the prize for B&N. Members are likely to be those who buy exclusively or primarily from B&N and not Amazon and are the people who are more than casual readers. If you buy 1 or 2 books a year, you wouldn’t pay for a membership; it is people who buy a large number of books who pay for membership (e.g., just before writing this essay, I preordered 1 hardcover and ordered 2 others). So why not reward members based on their buying? For example, buy 15 books and beginning with the book 16, you will get overnight shipping or an additional 5% discount or something. Buy 20 books and get a gift certificate. Think up rewards that encourage more buying and offer those rewards to members. Make membership valuable. It isn’t rocket science.

Much (but not all) of B&N’s problems are from a mismanaged ebook division. Even though ebooks aren’t the bulk of sales, B&N should not be conceding the market. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how to improve sales or get more Nook loyalty. A simple way is to make it so that when a person buys the hardcover they can get the ebook for $2 more if they would like both options. Buy the first ebook in a trilogy and if you buy books 2 and 3 at the same time, you get book 2 for 50% off and book 3 for free. Maybe these won’t work but they are worth exploring and cutting special deals with publishers to make them happen.

The publishers have an interest in B&N remaining afloat. Should B&N shutter its brick-and-mortar stores, publishers will lose showrooms as well as major sales outlets. Publishers should create special editions available only at B&N. They should make shopping at B&N and at brick-and-mortar stores worthwhile. Make these deals available only through physical stores.

There are a lot of things that B&N — and publishers — can and should do to rejuvenate B&N. Unfortunately, these things require imagination, something B&N has in very short supply. Consequently, because I do not expect any miracles at B&N, I will continue to prepare its obituary. Maybe I’ll be fooled and my masterpiece will never see the light of the Internet; if so, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. But until B&N calls me and asks me for my ideas and calls other members and asks for their ideas, I won’t get my hopes up.

What would you do if given the opportunity to turn B&N around?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 25, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XVI)

It hasn’t been very long since my last On Today’s Bookshelf (XV) was published, just two months. But it seems that I have had the (mis)fortune (depending on one’s perspective) to discover a lot of books that interest me. And so I have been spending money acquiring yet more books for my ever-growing to-be-read pile. Fortunately, many of them are in ebook form, although if I read a nonfiction book in ebook form and find I really enjoy it, I tend to buy a hardcover version for my library. (It would be so much better for me if publishers bundled the ebook with hardcover version for just a few dollars more than the hardcover alone. I’d always buy the bundle.)

I admit that I get a great deal of pleasure from sitting in my library and looking at the hardcovers on the shelves, remembering the books as my eyes slide over the spines. As much as I like the convenience of ebooks, ebooks fail to evoke in me the sensory pleasure (or the memories) that print books bring forth. Scrolling through a list of ebooks just doesn’t provide the same degree of pleasure I get from sitting in my library surrounded by print books.

Books are the armchair way to experience the world in which we live. Few of us have the resources, whether it be financial or time or something else, to spend years traveling our world and participating in discovery. Consequently, we rely on others to do the legwork and to share their experiences and gained knowledge. Books are a guilt-free addiction. Editing fills part of my craving; the rest of my craving is fulfilled by the books I acquire and read. Alas, there isn’t enough time to sate that craving and so I keep on acquiring.

Here is a list of some of the books that I am reading (or have acquired and added to my to-be-read pile in the two months since On Today’s Bookshelf XV was published) either in hardcover or in ebook form. I have already started On Today’s Bookshelf XVII.

Nonfiction –

  • Eyewitness to Genocide: The Operation Reinhard Death Camp Trials, 1955-1966 by Michael S. Bryant
  • Confronting the Good Death: Nazi Euthanasia on Trial, 1945-1953 by Michael S. Bryant
  • Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity by Prue Shaw
  • A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law during the Great War by Isabel V. Hull
  • Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen
  • The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
  • What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa by David E. Murphy
  • Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre
  • God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy
  • 1858: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and the War They Failed to See by Bruce Chadwick
  • Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Romeo Dallaire
  • Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister by Robert Hutchinson
  • House of Treason: The Rise & Fall of a Tudor Dynasty by Robert Hutchinson
  • The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor
  • Thomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIII by David Loades
  • Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force by John L. Allen
  • Vienna 1814 by David King
  • The Destructive War by Charles Royster
  • The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898 by Lisa Tetrault
  • The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914-1940 by Frederick Brown
  • How Could This Happen: Explaining the Holocaust by Dan McMillan
  • Heretic Queen: Queen Elizabeth and the Wars of Religion by Susan Ronald
  • Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics by Terry Golway
  • 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
  • The Last Alchemist, Iain McCalman

Fiction –

  • The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer
  • Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson
  • The Dark Citadel Trilogy (3 books): The Dark Citadel, The Free Kingdoms, and The Golden Griffin by Michael Wallace
  • The Mapmaker’s Daughter by Laurel Corona
  • Paris by Edward Rutherford
  • The Legend of Oescienne: The Awakening (Book 3) by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson (I previously bought and read book 1: The Finding and book 2: The Beginning)
  • Last Rituals (Thóra Gudmundsdóttir Series #1) by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
  • Power Down by Ben Coes
  • The Soul Forge by Andrew Lashway
  • The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
  • Blood Money by David Ignatius
  • Stone Cold by Joel Goldman
  • Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
  • The Increment by David Ignatius
  • In the Hall of the Dragon King by Stephen Lawhead
  • Agency Rules by Khalid Muhammed
  • The Scavenger’s Daughters by Kay Bratt
  • Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign (Books 1 & 2 of the Powder Mage Trilogy) by Brian McClellan
  • The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
  • Mirror Sight (Book 5 of the Green Rider series) by Kristen Britain
  • The Tattered Sword and The Huntsman’s Amulet (Books 1 & 2 of The Society of the Sword series) by Duncan Hamilton
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • The Night Birds by Thomas Maltman

As you can see from the lists, nonfiction and fiction are about equal. Interestingly, for the past 6 or so months, the majority of my reading has been fiction, which should have meant that fiction would greatly outnumber nonfiction. But I know that it won’t be long before I return to nonfiction to the near exclusion of fiction. More importantly, most of the nonfiction I acquire in hardcover, whereas the fiction is largely acquired in ebook format.

A goodly number of the nonfiction books I acquired I discovered from reviews or ads in the New York Review of Books. One of the things I like about the NYRB is that the book reviews almost always not only discuss the book being reviewed, but other books relevant to an understanding of the subject matter. Thus the reviews act as leads for me to acquire other, older books.

Am I the only editor whose TBR pile keeps growing and who cannot stop buying books? What are you reading/stockpiling? I know I ask that question with regularity, but it would be nice if more of you listed books you are buying/reading in the comments — it would expose the rest of us to books and authors we haven’t read.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 23, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XV)

Here is a list of some of the books that I am reading (or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post) either in hardcover or in ebook form:

Nonfiction –

  • Harry Truman and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Shogan
  • The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492 by Maristella Posttiani & Zvi Eckstein
  • Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
  • The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election by Zachary Karabell
  • The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision by Henry Kamen
  • Ghettostad: Lodz and the Making of a Nazi City by Gordon J. Horwitz
  • Eichmann’s Jews: The Jewish Administration of Holocaust Vienna, 1938-1945 by Doron Rabinovici
  • The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997 by Piers Brendan
  • The History of the Renaissance World by Susan Wise Bauer
  • The Heavens are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod by Avrom Bendavid-Val
  • Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy
  • Would You Kill the Fat Man? The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us About Right and Wrong by David Edmonds
  • A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination From Persecution to Genocide by Alon Confino
  • Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg
  • The Internal Enemy: Slavery and the War in Virginia 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor
  • Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America by Owen Matthews
  • An Idea Whose time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Todd S. Purdum
  • The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD by Simon Schama
  • The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America by Gerald Horne
  • Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson
  • Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
  • Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
  • The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today by Kevin Bales
  • Red Mutiny: Eleven Fateful Days on the Battleship Potemkin by Neal Bascomb
  • Wilson by Scott A. Berg
  • Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte by Carol Berkin
  • Lucrezia Borgia by Sarah Bradford
  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
  • To Kill Rasputin : The Life and Death of Gregori Rasputin by Andrew Cook
  • The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era by Douglas R. Egerton
  • The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519 by Christopher Hibbert
  • Voting for Hitler and Stalin: Elections under 20th Century Dictatorships edited by Ralph Jessen & Hedwig Richter
  • Social Democratic America by Lane Kenworthy
  • Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King
  • The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici by Elizabeth Lev
  • Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin’s Plot for Global Revolution by Giles Milton
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Fiction –

  • Blood Land by R.S. Guthrie
  • Cauldron of Ghosts by David Weber & Eric Flint
  • Rex Regis by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • Like a Mighty Army by David Weber
  • The One-Eyed Man by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
  • One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
  • The Complete Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson (a 10-book omnibus)
  • The Bat by Jo Nesbo
  • The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin
  • Death Is Not the End by Ian Rankin
  • The Ludwig Conspiracy by Oliver Potzsch
  • The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
  • The Dark Monk by Oliver Potzsch
  • Freeman by Leonard Pitts
  • The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
  • The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter
  • Witch Wraith by Terry Brooks
  • Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

I acquired most of the nonfiction books in hardcover and most of the fiction books in ebook.

Alas, I wish I could say that the above list represents all of the books I have added to my library since the last listing, but it doesn’t. I calculated that if I retired today and read four books every week, I would need more than 30 years to read all of the books I have acquired. Fortunately, most of the books are in ebook form (I have acquired more fiction than nonfiction) and I am trying to restrain my purchases.

I have found this to be the primary negative to my being an editor — I never seem to have enough books on hand, always want more, and spend much more than I should on books. On the other hand, editing provides me with a sufficient income to support my book addiction.

I admit that feeding my book addiction was less costly before ebooks. The ease of storage of ebooks encourages me to acquire books for future reading that I wouldn’t acquire if I had to acquire them in print form; in the latter case, I would wait until I had reduced my to-be-read pile significantly.

I also note that once I started acquiring ebooks, I also increased my hardcover acquisitions. My son claims (tongue in cheek) he will be able to have a comfortable retirement just from the sale of my library.

What books have you acquired in recent months that you would recommend being added to the TBR pile?

February 18, 2013

Are eBooks the Death Knell of Authorial Greatness?

I was sitting in my library and my eyes scanned the bookshelves filled with hardcovers. I occasionally would pause on a title and think about the book’s contents. It is not that I remember every book in my library sufficiently that I can recall the content of each as if I had just read the book yesterday; rather, it is that I can recall having read each book and for many of the books, I can recall the content at least generally.

I then thought about my ebooks. The number of ebooks I have read since buying my first ebook reader far exceeds the number of pbooks I have read in the same time frame, yet I can rarely recall an ebook like I can recall the hardcovers on my library shelves.

Part of the problem, I think, is that recalling my library books involves a visual scan of its shelves, something that is easy to do with shelves of hardcover books staring at me and difficult to do with ebooks because that casual eyescan is not as readily accomplished. This visual scanning acts as a stimulus to my memory because it thrusts the title to the front of my mind, which triggers the content recall. (This is also why good cover design is important. Covers — even ebook covers — act as memory triggers.)

This led me to wonder about authorial greatness and the problem of out of sight, out of mind. Authors like Dickens, Twain, Steinbeck, and Hemingway carved their greatness in an era in which their books would appear on library shelves (personal and public) and each time a person scanned the library shelf looking for a book, one of their books would present itself. This has begun to change with ebooks, especially with those books that are published only as ebooks. (Books that are also available as print-on-demand books but not as mass distributed pbooks are, for all intents and purposes, available only as ebooks and should be viewed that way.)

I think most ebookers probably store read ebooks and never peruse them again. I wouldn’t be surprised if many ebookers simply delete read ebooks from their devices. The devices are designed to highlight new purchases, not to scan library shelves. When we are faced with new ebooks that we have yet to read, I suspect that most of us quickly choose the next available not-yet-read ebook and go no further. This is unlike the experience with a library of pbooks that are physically always in front of you and reminding you that a book is available for rerreading (or even for reading for the first time), even if we rarely reread a book. The point is that the library of pbooks constantly acts as a stimulus for recalling the content of the pbooks, and this phenomenon is lacking with ebooks.

Getting back to the great authors like Dickens, Twain, Steinbeck, and Hemingway, I think part of their lasting greatness is a result of their pbooks being always in front of us. I grant that the bulk of their greatness lies in their writing, but even great tomes can fall into obscurity when they are absent from the eyes of readers. Part of the reason I think this is truth is that I have tried, unsuccessfully, to identify any ebook-only author of the past decade who is viewed similarly to Hemingway or Steinbeck.

I am not talking about sales numbers; I am talking about backlist longevity and how readers talk about the author and the author’s ebooks. I understand that an ebook can sell hundreds of thousands of copies and earn an author millions of dollars (need we look any further than Shades of Grey?), but popular sales within a short time span are not reflective of longevity, quality, or any other characteristic that one might apply to a Dickens or a Steinbeck.

Which makes me wonder whether ebook-only publishing is the death knell of authorial greatness?

Whether Steinbeck is a great writer or a hack is a subject for debate. Similarly, whether J.A. Konrath is a great writer or a hack is a subject for debate. What is not a subject for debate is that if one were to ask knowledgable readers to name 10 authors who are recognized generally as being great authors, the likelihood is greater that Steinbeck will appear on the list than will Konrath. Readers over the decades have coalesced around certain writings that are considered timeless for one reason or another, with the result that the books by such authors are repeatedly recommended over decades and generations.

At least to date, each of those “great” authors’ books were published as pbooks and mass distributed — and continue to be available as pbooks and mass distributed, even if also available as ebooks. Perhaps this will change as ebooks become more commonplace, but I wonder if ebook-only authors will ever reach that pantheon of greatness populated by Dickens and Hemingway, and if the reason why they do not will be that they are ebook-only authors and thus lack the library eyescanning that reminds a reader of a book’s (and author’s) existence.

There are a lot of reasons why an ebook is viewed as superior to a pbook, but none of those reasons addresses the issue of future generations recognizing authorial greatness. Are there any of us who think 30 years from now any of J.A. Konrath’s ebooks will be required or recommended reading? Do any of us think they will even be remembered? Do we think, however, that A Tale of Two Cities may well be required, recommended, and remembered?

Again, I am not knocking ebook-only authors like Konrath who sell hundreds of thousands of ebooks. Rather, I am wondering if authorial greatness — something that very few authors attain —  that lasts decades and generations is obtainable in a world in which eyescanning of a pbook library’s shelves is absent. Will the transition to ebooks and ebook-only authors decrease the pool of authors available for authorial greatness? Will the transition distort authorial greatness so that it is very time limited and transitory, resting primarily on sales numbers?

I do not have the answers and it will be many years before the answers are available, but I do know that when I sit in my library and scan its shelves of hardcovers, I can recall having read the books and the pleasure they gave me, whereas with my ereader, I generally only see the newest books I bought that I haven’t yet read and never see the ebooks I bought and read 4 years ago.

November 28, 2012

The Holiday Gift: To eBook or to Hardcover?

Filed under: Books & eBooks,Miscellaneous Opinion — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

Increasingly, the reader in the family is reading ebooks and many of us are thinking that an ideal gift for the ebook reader is either an ebook gift certificate or some desired ebooks themselves. In my case, I was thinking about asking for ebooks (as opposed to asking for hardcover books), but then I got to wondering: If I give an ebook as a holiday gift, what message am I sending to the gift recipient?

My off-the-cuff answer is “I love you” or “It’s great that you are my friend” or some similar positive message. But after mulling the matter over for a while, I wonder how positive the message really is. Yes, I know that many readers prefer to read ebooks and that increasingly readers only want to read ebooks. Yet the question arises because this is a message-bearing gift, even if the message is left unsaid.

When I give a reader a hardcover book, I give the reader something they can see constantly. As it sits on the bookshelf, it acts as a reminder that I cared enough to give them a gift. Depending on the book, it may also have a visual presence that is much more than a reminder that the book was a gift (think of a book about paintings, for example). Plus, if given to, for example, a grandchild, I can inscribe the hardcover with something pithy, like “Happy 9th birthday. Love, Grandpa.” The hardcover is a constant reminder that I care. A few years from now, when the grandchild loses all sentimentality and wants to raise some cash to buy the latest video game, the grandchild can sell the hardcover on the used book market and get a few more dollars toward the purchase price — the hardcover gives again.

The hardcover also is returnable and exchangeable. I bought the book that promotes being a carpenter but mommy and daddy want the child to have a book that encourages a career in quantum physics. I think dragons and fairies are great for 8-year-olds; mommy and daddy think a grounding in reality is better.

The ebook, on the other hand, doesn’t really have a presence. It becomes one of hundreds on the reading device; it doesn’t stand out and remind anyone that this was a gift given with love. And let’s face it, the ability to inscribe something pithy in an ebook just doesn’t have that “magic” ring to it. Of course, since I am buying the ebook for someone else, I also have to hope — with all fingers crossed — that the ebook is properly formatted and isn’t riddled with errors. Giving a poorly formatted, error-riddled ebook as a gift is like giving a TV without a remote control — it will work but the recipient will be a bit grumpy about how well it works.

Plus when I give an ebook, what am I really giving? A license that can be revoked on a capricious whim by the seller (consider the recent Fictionwise debacle); a book that can be here today and gone tomorrow because a cloud failed; a book that cannot be exchanged or returned should it turn out to be the wrong book or inappropriate because about midway through it has a steamy erotic scene even though the book has been rated great for 8-year-olds (or, in today’s vitriolic political environment, the book discusses evolution and the parents are creationists).

I suppose the answer is to give an ebook gift card but how impersonal can one get? That is OK for a business associate, but is that what I really want to give my child or grandchild? What thought (and effort) goes into giving a gift card? I think of gift cards as the gifts of last — last resort and last minute — the gift that says I ran out of ideas; I can’t think of anything for you (what message does that send!); I ran out of time to do shopping; I got lazy; and so on. Besides, how memorable (or exciting) is it to receive a gift card? I can’t ever remember dragging a friend to my bedroom to show him the gift I got from Granny when it was a gift card.

I guess I could avoid my dilemma by simply not considering buying books at all as holiday gifts, but as an editor, I’d like to support my industry in hopes that it will continue to provide me a livelihood for years to come, and, more importantly, books are the gateway to knowledge and there is nothing better than spreading knowledge. Additionally, when that remote control race car finally has seen its last days and joins the scrap heap of once-loved toys, the book I give should still be available.

If my child or grandchild is like me, he or she will treasure books they receive and think of holding them for future generations. Few of us do that with the busted light saber we received for last year’s holiday. That’s another positive to hardcover books — they can be passed on to subsequent generations and evoke the same positive emotion in that generation as was evoked when the gift was originally given. They are the gift that can keep on giving.

Yes, the same is true of ebooks. The text file can be given again and again, perhaps for hundreds or thousands of generations to come and each giving will be in pristine form — assuming that 100 years from now there will be devices available that are capable of reading the file. We assume that today’s text file will be forever readable, but that may not be so. Today’s popular or dominant formats may simply be echoes of the past in the future. A hardcover book, however, we know is likely to be readable 500 years from now because we are reading books from 500 years ago.

(Remember this video of a monk being introduced to the wonders of the new-fangled gizmo called the book?

Even if this is how it has to be done 500 years from now, it at least can be done, which is something that cannot be said with certainty about an ebook file.)

In balancing the pluses and minuses of to ebook or to hardcover, I come to the conclusion that for gifts I will give, I will give hardcover books, not ebooks. eBooks send the wrong message and not enough of the message I want to send. Even for gifts to me, I will designate hardcover desired. I want to be reminded regularly from whom I received “this” book and for what occasion. I do not want the gifted book to simply become another file among my many thousands of already-owned ebook files — a file that once read will most likely never be seen again. I want to know that someone cares and be reminded that they care.

What are your gifting plans?

August 13, 2012

On Books: Value in an eBook World

eBooks have changed the way we think of value in regards to books. For myriad reasons, ebookers think that the price of ebooks should be no more than the price of a mass market paperback, and often less. Price is a reflection of value.

Much of the thinking revolves around a central point: unlike pbooks, ebooks are intangible — just a collection of bits and bytes. Yes, there are other reasons, too, such as the lack of secondary market value, lower production costs, restrictions on usage, and the like, but the reality is that most of the conscious and unconscious reasoning revolves around the matter of intangibility.

When I buy a pbook for $15, I have something solid to hold in my hand. I can put it on a shelf and admire its cover beauty; I can open the book and feel the pages as I turn them. An ebook lacks all of the sensory qualities of a pbook — it is intangible. The sensory experience lies with the reading device itself, not with the ebook.

I am aware that many ebookers pooh-pooh the sensory argument, but it really is not so easily dismissed. Many of the things that ebookers complain are restrictive about ebooks are not restrictive about pbooks because of the sensory experience. More importantly, it is difficult to become enamored with bits and bytes, yet the beauty that a pbook can project addresses the needs of multiple senses.

I think it is this sensory deprivation that drives the value argument. eBooks are of less value because they provide less of a sensory experience. We pay $100 for an ebook reader without a great deal of thought because it appeals to multiple senses; we complain about a $14.99 ebook price because it appeals to a limited number of senses.

Think about a rose. Do we value the magazine photograph of a rose the same as we value the physical rose in our hand? The photograph will last longer than the physical rose, yet we value the physical rose more than the photograph rose because the physical rose provides a more complete (and better) sensory experience.

Or consider this. Many more ebookers are willing to pirate an ebook — regardless of the rationalization given for doing so — than are willing to steal a pbook from a bookstore. Why is that? If the value is the same, the willingness to pirate/steal should be the same, yet it isn’t. I think it is because ebooks are intangible and thus viewed as of little to no value — ebooks simply do not ignite the same sensory experiences as pbooks.

Of course all of this ignores the fact that real value of a book — p or e — lies in the writing, not in its physical structure or presence. Yet when we talk about the value of books, the value of the content is rarely addressed. There is good reason for this. If we were to address the content value, then ebooks and pbooks should be equivalently valued. After all, the word content is the same, only the physical wrapper is different.

Another problem with addressing the content value is that the content value is not altered one iota by production costs (excluding editorial). If we value the content, we should value the content identically whether it cost $1 or $100 to produce. The production (excluding editorial) costs are wrapper costs, not content value.

eBooks have upset the valuation process. Prior to ebooks, value was determined largely by content. With the rise of ebooks, the wrapper has come to dominate the valuation argument and there is little to no discussion of content value. And this has consequences for the pbook world. This is what lies, I think, at the heart of the fear of the publishing industry: the idea that content will have little to no value, only the wrapper will determine pricing.

This tension between content and wrapper valuations is further fueled by the rise of the indie author. Readers are unwilling to gamble large sums on indie-authored ebooks from authors with whom they have little to no familiarity. If an indie author publishes a pbook and prices it similarly to other pbooks in its genre, readers are willing to pay that price even if they do not know the author because the price is aligned with what they expect to pay.

Yet this does not translate to indie-authored ebooks, where there is resistance to paying the higher pricing found with traditionally published ebooks. Consequently, indie-authored ebooks tend to be drawn to the lower end of the pricing scale. With the large number of ebooks found at that lower price point, that lower price point becomes a standard for the ebook. Again, valuation is based on the wrapper, not the content.

The next few years will be interesting as regards ebook pricing. Will the valuation of ebooks change so that content is the decider or will the wrapper valuation continue to dominate and also make inroads in pbooks? Although it is often heard that content is king, ebooks appear to be the exception. For ebook valuation, the wrapper is king.

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