The Friday Buzz - Booksurge

Announcing a new tradition at The Literate Kitten! The Friday Buzz will examine one literary area – schools, fiction, genres, authors, booksellers, publishing, whatever – to report latest news and emerging trends.

Today, I’m taking a look at Amazon.com’s “books-on-demand” service, Booksurge. Have you seen this? According to the site, with Booksurge, “you can build a market for your books, create sales and control your books' trajectory while keeping your options wide open.”

Authors also, for $399, can buy a "personally crafted review" written by "New York Times bestselling author, Ellen Tanner Marsh." (Slate, of course, rips into this idea.)

The question isn’t, for me, whether or not Booksurge is a good idea. Like it or not, Amazon and the Internet are changing the face of publishing, and services like Booksurge are here to stay. With indie booksellers going down in the face of retail Goliaths and uber corporations swallowing publishers whole, the chances of becoming a published author slim down each day; why not give authors another venue to send their work into the world? And if a writer wants to shell out bucks for a “personally crafted” review (versus an objective one), well, caveat emptor.

To me, as both writer and reader, the issue is quality. Will Booksurge and similar self-publishing ventures disseminate valuable work that otherwise would not see the light of day? Surely, at some point, another Celestine Prophecy phenomenon will occur, making headlines for a new cause celebre and causing all sorts of speculation about the wonders and evils of self-publishing. But that’s simply pop-culture trendiness.

The real hallmark of quality is this: Will Booksurge lead a modern version of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to rise above the drek to propagate new ideas that could lead to worldwide reform?

That’s the true power of the written word. And that would make Booksurge an agent of change, not just another pretty marketing tool.


Thoughts for Thursday - Magical thinking

Why can't I finish Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking? I have two copies: one I bought myself and one I got for Christmas. Yet, twice I've started it and twice have failed to complete, though I have managed to get about 3/4 of the way through.

I love Joan Didion. And the subject matter is compelling. I have to admit the inadmissable: I think I get bogged down in the morbidity of it. Maybe I don't truly understand because I have not suffered the loss of an intimate through death. All my family members, close friends and relatives are still living. (That hasn't applied to other novels and books, so why this one?) All these psychobabbly reasons surface in my brain: I'm disassociating to protect my psyche, I'm unempathic, I'm ADD...

And, most of all, I wonder why I am so bothered that I haven't been able to embrace this particular book.

Just makes me wonder why some works appeal and others, even ones we really WANT to like, don't penetrate through to the soul.


Love of reading e-newsletter

Hi, folks, I don't know where I found this, but it's pretty cool. Free book raffles!



Apropos of nothing

This is how you really know you are mortal:

1. You wake up to find a patch of stinging rough skin on your right eyelid, a phenomenon you have never experienced before and which gives you a clear idea of how at least one eye will look if you make it to 80.

2. You have to look up the spelling of "apropos," a word you could spell in your 30s with your hands tied behind your back and in a drunken stupor.

3. You discover you enjoy something like Sudoku.

4. Your friends discover they enjoy knitting.

5. You discover you can enjoy something like Sudoku only when you work with a pencil.

6. You schedule more doctor's appointments in a single month than you have in the previous decade of your life, appointments where the doctors sigh and shake their heads and prescribe either Vitamin E, back-strengthening exercises or stool softeners.


My Uncle Napoleon

A funny farce that keeps numerous balls in air until the absolute end, My Uncle Napoleon is recommended reading for anyone interested in 1) what makes for good satire 2) how to illustrate character through dialogue 3) a slice of Iranian history.

I am, much to my regret and fear, Eurocentric in my knowledge of history, which I am attempting to remedy by focusing on Middle Eastern fiction. So, I started the novel with no knowledge of contemporary Iran.

My Uncle Napoleon (written in the 70s) takes place in 1940s Tehran. One of the plotlines involves Dear Uncle Napoleon, a petty tyrannical family patriarch who propagates his fantasies of having fought the British and at the same time fosters paranoia about the British returning to seek revenge against him. He imagines British spies and plots all around him (even a lowly shoeshine boy becomes a British agent in his mind), and both he and his family members use these fantasies to further their own ends, either by propping up Dear Uncle’s ego or deflating it.

What I didn’t know when I began reading the novel was that, under the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907, Britain and Russia agreed to divide Iran into spheres of influence. Essentially, these two powers would benefit from Iran’s natural resources while shunting Iranian’s own citizens to the sidelines. When Britain and Russia became allies during WW2, they naturally turned their attention to Iran. Thus, Uncle Napoleon’s fears, while transmuted into paranoiac fantasies, have a basis in reality.

A second plotline follows the love of a 13-year-old boy for his young cousin. The book is carefully structured; the author brings back the love affair whenever family fortunes are to take a turn, and the love affair not only reflects the hopes of the larger Iranian community, but also provides a positive and pure counterbalance to Uncle Napoleon’s negative influence.

To me, the book satirizes a hyper-masculine society, where conquest (military and romantic alike) is a dominant factor. I don’t want to spoil the denouement, but I will say that the two plotlines (and many subplots) are satisfactorily resolved at the end of the book.

While the characters are very clearly drawn (with astonishing use of dialogue), they don’t deepen or develop over the course of the book. (And female characters are marginalized.) I wonder if the lack of character development is not so much a fault of the author but a restriction of the satire genre. I can’t think of many successful and biting satires that have really strong character development; satires tend, by their nature, to deal with the archetype. (Jane Austen does some witty satire on her society, but I would say satire tends to be secondary to Austen, not central.)

I would be interested in others’ thoughts on satire and character development, with any suggestions on works that might do both well.

Finally finished a book

Hallelujah, I finished My Uncle Napoleon! Feels like a true accomplishment -- there is something to be said for sticking out a book, even when your short attention span is just dying to move on to the next thing. And I'm finally onto Atwood's Cat's Eye, which is fabulous -- many thanks to my fellow bloggers who recommended it.

More later ...