An American Editor

December 9, 2015

On Today’s Bookshelf (XXIII)

It’s the holiday season again and time to be thinking about gifts for family, friends, even clients. What could be a better or more appropriate gift from an editor than a book?

I have three books in particular to recommend: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski; SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard; and The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff. As I write this essay, I have completed The Fellowship and am nearly done with the other two.

From reading The Fellowship, I finally discovered why Lewis and Tolkien (especially) were such great fantasy writers, something I will never be. The change in education, especially what is taught at the university level, from their school days to mine is dramatic. They were literate in Greek and Latin and well grounded in mythology, especially Norse mythology, and religion. The strengths, weaknesses, and meandering paths that the lives of Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield, and Williams took are fascinating.

SPQR (which stands for “The Senate and People of Rome”) is a well-presented, fascinating look at one of the foundations of Western civilization — ancient Rome. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of that history for a nonhistorian, but I was constantly surprised at what Mary Beard had to teach me and at how off-track my education of 50 years ago in this area was. If you want to understand and learn about one of the foundational pillars of Western civilization without being hampered by dense annotated academic writing, then SPQR is the place to start. (If you prefer a broader world view in survey style, then the best bet would be The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer, which can be followed by her books, The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade and The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople. All three of Bauer’s books are excellent.)

Americans are fascinated by the Salem witch trials. The story has been told many different ways — in novels, histories, plays — and I have read several variations on the theme. I originally didn’t think there was room for yet another telling, but I was wrong. Schiff’s The Witches is one of the best nonfiction histories I have read on the invasion of Puritan Salem by the Devil through his witch emissaries. The Witches is a well-crafted story of this American moment.

Aside from those three recommendations, my acquisition of new titles to read never ends. 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 essay:

Nonfiction –

  • Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation by John Ferling
  • Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors by James D. Hornfischer
  • The Story of England by Michael Wood
  • Caligula: A Biography by Aloys Winterling
  • The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg
  • Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English by John McWhorter
  • Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
  • Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric by Veronica Buckley
  • The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
  • Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad by Brian A. Catlos
  • The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789 by Edward J, Larson
  • For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789 by Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon
  • Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion by Harold Holzer
  • It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches by Orin Hargraves
  • The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama (volume 1 of 2)
  • Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama (volume 2 of 2)
  • Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David by Lawrence Wright
  • The Reign of Arthur: From History to Legend by Christopher Gidlow
  • Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler by Antony Sutton
  • The Killing Compartments: The Mentality of Mass Murder by Abram de Swaan
  • Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed
  • Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose
  • The British Execution: 1500-1964 by Stephen Banks
  • The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass
  • Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 by Frank Dikötter
  • Ada’s Algorithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger
  • A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico by Amy Greenberg
  • Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron, and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay

Fiction –

  • The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry
  • Archive 17 by Sam Eastland
  • The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen
  • Pines, Wayward, and The Last Town by Blake Crouch (3 books)
  • The Book of the Maidservant by Rebecca Barnhouse
  • The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
  • Island Madness by Tim Binding
  • Black Fly Season and By the Time You Read This by Giles Blunt
  • The Hidden Man by David Ellis
  • Hell’s Foundations Quiver and The Sword of the South by David Weber
  • A Call to Arms by David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and  Thomas Pope

For those of you who have young children or grandchildren, there are three educational toys I recommend for gift giving or for having around the house: Kids First Amusement Park Engineer Kit, Kids First Automobile Engineer Kit, and Kids First Aircraft Engineer Kit. These are designed for ages 3+ years (Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in the toys or the toys’ manufacturer.)

We bought these kits to have as projects for us and our granddaughters to do together when they visit. Each kit comes with a storybook. As you read the story to the child, the child is presented with instructions to build, for example, an airplane, to help the children in the story get to their next destination, where they will need to build yet another airplane (or automobile or amusement ride).

The Aircraft and Automobile kits each build 10 models; the Amusement Park kit builds 20 models. These are great teaching toys. And, because storage is important, each comes in a plastic storage container.

For additional book suggestions, take another look at past On Today’s Bookshelf essays.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 29, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XVIII)

Filed under: On Books,On Today's Bookshelf,To Be Read — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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The past week has been a very busy week. Clients have inundated me with new work that needs to be done on a short schedule, and thus at a higher-than-normal pay rate. More importantly, I have been forced to do something I loathe doing — I’ve had to turn away a fair number of projects.

I thought with the close of the week such “troubles” would end, but that was/is not to be. Two clients have informed me that I should plan on next year being a repeat of this year. Of course, there are no guarantees, but based on their prognosticating efforts, next year will be very busy again for me. (I had to prepare my financial reports for my accountant for the third quarter tax filings and I was pleased to note that business was up a little more than 50% over last year.)

Finally, the weekend came and I thought I could devote some time to preparing an essay for An American Editor. Alas, when I opened my e-mail Saturday morning, I had a request to submit a bid for editing work. The problem was/is that this work would be year-long and would range in size from 20,000 to 200,000 manuscript pages. Accompanying the request to bid were several lengthy documents that detailed the editing requirements. Combine the need to prepare the bids with my desire to enjoy my weekend, and I decided it was time for another On Today’s Bookshelf article.

These are easy substitutes for me because books are added to the list as I acquire them; I do not need to sit with a blank canvas. There will be at least one more On Today’s Bookshelf before the holidays, in case you are looking for ideas of books to buy as gifts — whether for yourself or someone else.

Here are some of the books that I have 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 –

  • The Pope’s Daughter by Caroline Murphy
  • Empires of the Sea by Roger Crowley
  • “Non-Germans” under the Third Reich: The Nazi Judicial and Administrative System in Germany and Occupied Eastern Europe, with Special Regard to Occupied Poland, 1939-1945 by Diemut Majer
  • The Marcel Network: How One French Couple Saved 527 Children from the Holocaust by Fred Coleman
  • Believe and Destroy: Intellectuals in the SS War Machine by Christian Ingrao
  • The Dreyfus Affair: The Scandal That Tore France in Two by Piers Paul Read
  • The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind — and Changed the History of Free Speech in America by Thomas Healy
  • Desperate Sons: Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and the Secret Bands of Radicals Who Led the Colonies to War by Les Standiford
  • Why We Fight: Congress and the Politics of World War II by Nancy Beck Young
  • A Secession Crisis Enigma by Daniel W. Crofts
  • The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era by Douglas R. Egerton
  • A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy by Helen Rappaport
  • The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport
  • Daily Life During the French Revolution by James M. Anderson
  • The Psychology of Lust Murder: Paraphilia, Sexual Killing, and Serial Homicide by Catherine Purcell and Bruce A. Arrigo
  • The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, the Model, and the Murder that Shook the Nation by Harold Schechter
  • The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise D’Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon by Veronica Buckley
  • Intelligence in War: The Value–and Limitations–of What the Military Can Learn about the Enemy by John Keegan
  • The First World War by John Keegan
  • Divine Fury: A History of Genius by Darrin M. McMahon
  • Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O’Connell
  • Sun Tzu at Gettysburg: Ancient Military Wisdom in the Modern World by Bevin Alexander
  • The Grand Chorus of Complaint: Authors and the Business Ethics of American Publishing by Michael J. Everton
  • Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 by Jefferson Morley
  • Hitler’s Spy Chief: The Wilhelm Canaris Betrayal: The Intelligence Campaign Against Adolf Hitler by Richard Bassett

Fiction –

  • End Game by John Gilstrap
  • Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder
  • Soldier of God by David Hagberg
  • Kingmaker’s Sword by Ann Marston
  • American Coven by Amy Cross
  • The Veiled Assassin by Q.V. Hunter
  • Soul of Fire by Caris McRae
  • Close Call: A Liz Carlyle Novel  by Stella Rimington
  • Property by Valerie Martin
  • Bye Bye Baby by Fiona McIntosh
  • Beautiful Death by Fiona McIntosh
  • My Real Children by Jo Walton
  • Edge of Eternity: Book Three of The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett
  • A Stranger in the Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher

As usual, most of my acquisitions are nonfiction. What I find is that much of fiction is the same. I do not mean the presentation or the delivery, but the general pattern: boy meets girl (or girl meets boy), love ensues, they live happily ever after (replace this pattern with another appropriate pattern such as scientist stumbles on plot, tells authorities who ignore scientist’s warnings, scientist decides to save world, scientist turns out to be the new James Bond and saves world). Same theme, different characters, but essentially the same storyline. I do not mean to imply that I do not enjoy well-written fiction, because I do. This is just an explanation of why my primary interest runs to nonfiction.

Nonfiction tends to have greater diversity. There is so much of the world, of nature, of science, of history, of language, of philosophy, of many things that I have yet to discover that nonfiction can provide me with both knowledge and entertainment and keep my interest.

I suppose if I had to say what makes nonfiction books unique as a form of entertainment, it is that it always has surprises, it is not formulaic, and it is not predictable except in the sense that we already know the broad outlines (e.g., the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires ceased to exist or that the Great Depression was the bane of the 1930s).

I hope you find that On Today’s Bookshelf essays stimulate your reading interests. Please add your contributions to books by naming books you think colleagues would be interested in reading.

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?

July 21, 2010

On Today’s Bookshelf (IV)

After my recent post about too many books in my to-be-read (TBR) pile, one would think that I would wise up and simply stop adding to the TBR pile. Alas, books are an addiction for me. I truly believe that every book I obtain I will read in the not-too-distant future, but the rational part of my me knows better.

So, I’ve decided to base my acquisitions on a new rationale: I will be going into semiretirement when I’m 70, which isn’t that far away, and my income will decrease while my time available for pleasure reading will increase. A decreased income will mean less money available to purchase books, so I best build up my collection of reading materials now. Increased time for reading means I will get through more books more rapidly. Seems like a good rationale to me :).

No matter how I cut it, however, I love to read. I read all day for work (after all, it would be tough to edit a manuscript without reading it), and when the workday is done, I like to read for pleasure. I don’t watch TV, the kids have moved out, and there is only so much time I am able to spend puttering around the house. So my escapism is books.

Since my last On Today’s Bookshelf (III), I have added these hardcover books to my TBR pile:

  • Henry Clay: The Essential American by David S. Heidler and Jeanne Heidler
  • Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack Rakove
  • Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England by Anthony Julius
  • Betsy Ross and the Making of America by Marla R. Miller
  • Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century by Ruth Harris
  • A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad by Robert S. Wistrich
  • American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People by T. H. Breen
  • Imager’s Intrigue: The Third Book of the Imager Portfolio by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

In addition, I have added the following ebooks to my TBR pile on my Sony Reader:

  • Brechalon by Wesley Allison
  • A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
  • Amsterdam 2012 by Ruth Francisco
  • Last Legend of Earth by A.A. Attanasio
  • The Quest for Nobility by Debra L. Martin
  • Amber Magic by B.V. Larson
  • Fall of Thanes and Bloodheir by Brian Ruckley
  • Call of the Herald by Brian Rathbone
  • Merlin’s Daughters by Meredith Rae Morgan
  • Miss Anna’s Frigate by Jens Kuhn
  • The Orffyreus Wheel by David Niall Wilson
  • Truitt’s Fix by Rex Evans Wood

I believe I have said this before, but perhaps not. One advantage to my ebook reading device (i.e., my Sony Reader) is that I tend to read both more books and more quickly on it. I have yet to understand why this phenomenon is true, but other ebookers have told me that they, too, experience the same phenomenon. Many ebookers have also said that where they bought 1 or 2 books a month when they were reading print books, that number has tripled and quadrupled with ebooks — and the ebooks are getting read, not just piling up! Consequently, I expect I’ll be able to get through many more of the ebooks — that is, once my wife returns my Sony Reader to me (assuming she does; she has fallen in love with it) — than I will of the hardcovers.

Of the hardcovers in the above list, the only one I have managed to get through is Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England by Anthony Julius. It is an interesting history of antisemitism and well worth reading if you have any interest in the subject matter. I will warn you, however, that I found it to be a bit dry of a read. It was quite detailed and focused, although long (approximately 850 pages) but in comparison to A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad by Robert S. Wistrich, which is sitting on my bookshelf, a short read (A Lethal Obsession comes in at approximately 1200 pages). Julius’ book was reviewed in the New York Times earlier this year by Harold Bloom. Subsequently, Edward Rothstein did a comparative review of the Julius and Wistrich books in the New York Times.

Currently, I’ve turned my attention to American history and am reading Henry Clay: The Essential American by David S. Heidler and Jeanne Heidler. I find this to be a well-written book about a fascinating American. One tidbit that I learned: The reason why the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is so powerful is that Henry Clay, upon ascendancy to the position, found himself frustrated by how powerless he was as speaker and decided to change things. His innovations changed the speaker’s position from essentially a parliamentarian’s role to the powerhouse it is today. If you like biography, I’d recommend this book, even though I am only about a third of the way through it at the time of this writing.

As I have noted before, free time may be more precious in the summer months when the outdoors beckon, but there is nothing like a good book to stimulate the mind — and a good ebook reader on which to read.

July 15, 2010

Aquiring Books for the TBR Pile: The Special Problem of eBooks

Avid readers are easily identified by the size of their TBR — to-be-read — pile: The bigger the list, the more likely the avid reader has crossed that fine line from avid read to avid hoarder. And ebooks are a special problem in this mix. But let’s begin at the beginning.

As my latest hardcover acquisitions were delivered by the post office, I decided it might be time to take a long, serious look at my TBR pile. The problem was that there were no spots available on my primary TBR bookshelf for these new books (only 2 this time, but I have several more due this month). My system isn’t scientific, but what it is, is this: When new books arrive, I put them on a top shelf because these are (supposedly) the books that are of most immediate interest to me and the ones that I think I will get to shortly. (Many, but not all, are added to my On Today’s Bookshelf articles, On Today’s BookshelfOn Today’s Bookshelf (II), and On Today’s Bookshelf (III).) But to add them to that shelf means that a book or two have to be moved from the shelf. Room is limited.

So now I have moved a couple of books off the primary TBR shelf and into the vast stacks of TBR. Perhaps I’ll get to the books moved, perhaps not — at least that is what I am finding. I currently have more than 200 hardcover books in my TBR pile and on my TBR shelf. And as I note, that is just my hardcover books.

Which brings us to the special problem of ebooks. Yes, ebooks are a special problem because they take up virtually no space — just a bunch of bits and bytes, digits if you will, on a disk that can store gigabytes of digits. And so that TBR pool steadily grows. I looked this morning and I have more than 300 TBR ebooks, and that pile keeps growing.

What happens is that I read an ebook from the TBR pile and discover that I really like the particular author’s style. So rather than picking up another book from the TBR pile, I go buy other books from this liked author and read them. Not only hasn’t my ebook TBR pile declined by more than the one book, it has likely grown as I’ve added more to it while reading the like author’s books. Of course, if I discover that the author is terrible (sadly, a not uncommon finding with ebooks), then I not only stop reading the current ebook, but I tend to remove the author’s other books from the TBR pile. But they don’t disappear; they are still in some ebook zip file on my hard drive, just no longer in my TBR pile.

But unlike the hardcover TBR pile in which each hardcover book was purchased for money — definitely, one would think, an incentive to actually open the book and at least try reading it — I discovered that a good 80% (and probably closer to 85%) of the ebooks in my ebook TBR pile cost me nothing — they were freebies. This represents another problem or two.

First, it means that I am relentlessly adding to my TBR because it doesn’t cost me anything to do so. But that also means that the author hasn’t received any benefit. The author can’t receive any benefit until I actually read the ebook and discover how truly great the author is (we can only pray and hope). But, second, it also means that what was at the top of last week’s ebook TBR list because it was the most recently acquired, is now lost somewhere down the list, and unless it has a catchy title, there isn’t anything about the ebook to move it up the list.

That is a distinct difference between an ebook and a hardcover in my two TBR piles. Even a hardcover that I haven’t yet read although I bought it 8 months ago has a good chance of being the next book I read from that pile. The cover can attract me as I glance over the stack or the title can catch my eye as I rapidly skim the pile. With ebooks, that is much harder. Covers are often so amateurish that they are a turn off rather than a turn on. And it isn’t easy to skim covers or even titles. Finally, let’s face it, few books — e or p — really have great, catchy titles. Titles are the last bastion of the great marketer and few of us are great marketers.

So when does the TBR pool become so overwhelming that one says “Stop!” It’s easy with my print books because they cost me money and require space to store and I can rationally (although I have yet to do it) give those books the old Clint Eastwood make-my-day squint and say, “Enough! No more buying of books until I read 50 of these books!” But that moment never comes with ebooks, especially with free ebooks. There is no cost and no storage problem.

Consequently, ebook authors are disserved by readers like me. They get rewarded if I actually read and like their book because I will then immediately buy and read nearly everything else they have written. But that is the problem — they need to get read in the first place, and the only way to do that is to be at the top of the list, which is itself nearly impossible. An ebook TBR is like the drowning pool.

I have to admit that part of the problem is the poor quality of so many ebook offerings. I want to hedge my bets and make sure I have plenty of choices because of every 10 ebooks I acquire, I am certain that 8 or 9 will be trashcanned within the first 30 pages of reading. (In case you wonder why, take a look at some past articles that can be found under the tag Professional Editor, such as On Words & eBooks: Give Me a Brake!)

eBooks are a special TBR problem. I’m not sure how authors can solve it. It is truly a Catch-22: If you don’t offer a book for free, who will sample your work but if you do offer it for free, how can you know it will ever be read as opposed to hoarded? I suppose if you develop a reputation for quality that would help, but getting the word out that your writing is quality is tough. At least in my case, my ebook TBR pool is begging for a reliable solution.

May 18, 2010

On Today’s Bookshelf (III)

As always, I keep expanding my to-be-read pile. Since my last report, I have added several books, including these hardcover books:

  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch
  • Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaind MacCulloch
  • The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought by Eric Nelson
  • Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam by Fred M. Donner
  • Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. The Supreme Court by Jeff Shesol
  • Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England by Anthony Julius
  • Secret of the Dragon (Dragonships of Vindras Series) by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
  • The Shadow of Saganami (Disciples of Honor Series #2) by David Weber
  • A Mighty Fortress (Safehold Series #4) by David Weber

David Weber is one of my favorite scifi/fantasy authors and so when I get a new book from him, I drop all else to read. Weber continues to entertain me and I enjoyed both of the books in the above list.

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman used to be favorite authors in that same genre, but their last two books have ended that relationship, particularly the one listed above — that one, I couldn’t even finish, I found it dull and boring.

The remaining 6 books are nonfiction (you probably guessed that from the titles) and just recently arrived. I haven’t broken any of them open yet, as I’m still reading through earlier purchases (hardcover novels tend to get read immediately because they are quick reads for me; nonfiction takes longer, especially if the author has a lot of footnotes, as I often get sidetracked checking out books cited to see if I want to purchase them for my library).

I recently finished reading For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus by Frederick Brown (see On Today’s Bookshelf (II)). I have a particular interest in the Dreyfus Affair. I admit, however, that For the Soul of France was not a particularly engaging book — I struggled to get through it. Another book that was on my first bookshelf that I struggled to read is Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp by Christopher R. Browning. The writing style simply didn’t resonate with me. I should have known that I would find the book difficult because I also had difficulty getting through his book The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942. It isn’t that the books are poorly researched — they’re not; they are well researched. It is simply the style of writing that I found difficult.

I am currently reading A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerillas in the American Civil War by Daniel E. Sutherland, which is a well-written and interesting book from my first On Today’s Bookshelf list. I plan on reviewing the book in the future, but for anyone interested in the Civil War, here’s an advance thumbs up recommendation.

But, as I’m sure you may know, I also read a lot of ebooks. Up to this point, all of the books I have cited in the On Today’s Bookshelf articles have been hardcover pbooks I have added to my collection. Beginning with today’s article, I will also mention some of the ebooks I have purchased.

eBooks for me are a different being altogether. Rarely will I buy a nonfiction ebook. The few I have bought have been problematic, including foot-/endnote links that don’t work, not-well-reproduced illustrations and figures, and the like. Consequently, nearly all of my ebook purchases are fiction. Unfortunately for you, my taste in fiction runs in cycles (cycles that last many years) and the current cycle is science fiction/fantasy. Someday it will switch to mystery or action or some other genre (alas, never romance or vampires for those who like those genres).

In addition, because the traditional publishers tend to cripple their ebooks by overpricing them, I often buy from unknown authors, many of whom have provided me with hours of enjoyment, others of whom either bored me or annoyed me with poor everything (spelling, grammar, character development, plot, etc.).

Rather than give you a list of what I’m waiting to read, I’ll give you a list of a few titles or series that I have already read and that I enjoyed. None of these are great literature — all are good reads and inexpensive. All are available without DRM and in multiple formats from either Fictionwise or Smashwords.

  • The Chronicles of the Necromancer (a 4-book series) by Gail Z. Martin
  • The Asphodel Cycle (a 4-book series) by Celina Summers
  • Lord of Wind and Fire (a 3-book series) by Elaine Corvidae
  • To Find a Wonder by Jennifer Carson
  • The Lords of Dus (a 4-book series) by Lawrence Watt-Evans
  • The Demonstone Chronicles (a 7-book series) by Richard S. Tuttle
  • The Sword of Heavens (a 7-book series) by Richard S. Tuttle
  • Forgotten Legacy (an 8-book series) by Richard S. Tuttle
  • The Targa Trilogy (a 3-book series) by Richard S. Tuttle
  • Promises to Keep (trilogy plus sequel) by Shayne Parkinson

The last listed series by Shayne Parkinson is neither scifi nor fantasy — it is the story of a New Zealand family in the 1880-1910 era. It will be the subject of a separate review. It is not normally a genre I would read, but this is one of the best written series of books in fiction I have read in several years. I highly recommend it. It is available at Smashwords and is comprised of these 4 books: Sentence of Marriage, Mud and Gold, Settling the Account, and A Second Chance.

With summer coming, reading time may become more precious, but there is nothing like a good book to stimulate the mind.

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