Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Delight of Fall Reading

Fall is almost here, and I couldn't be happier about it. I'm a temperate-weather girl, and so fall and spring are my jam. Especially since I can just put on a light jacket, make a cup of tea and maybe get myself a slice of pie, and grab a book, and take it all outside to sit and read. Delightful!

That's what I'd do if I had more free time, at least. So this fall, I need you to step up, dear readers, and let me live vicariously through your reading lists. If you need a hand deciding where to start, Buzzfeed has pulled together a list of "28 Exciting New Books You Need To Read This Fall."

And if you have trouble deciding, Buzzfeed has even created a quiz to help you out.

 Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado 
[Machado] shows off her fresh new voice in Her Body and Other Parties, a genre-bending short-story collection that is part magical realism, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. In Machado's imaginative, unsettling, haunting stories, she explores the violent realities of being a woman and having a female body in our society. 
Publication date: Oct. 3
 My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
In [Tallent's] dark and gripping debut novel My Absolute Darling, Turtle Alveston is a 14-year-old girl who's lived in isolation with her survivalist father on the northern California coast since her mother's death. But when she finds a friend in a high school boy, she realizes she must escape her dysfunctional, abusive life with her father, using the survival skills he taught her and a whole lot of courage. 
Publication date: Aug. 29

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
[Rushdie] makes a return to realism in The Golden House, a novel about an eccentric billionaire named Nero Golden and his three adult sons — who make quite the splash when they mysteriously move to a cloistered community in downtown Manhattan — and their aspiring filmmaker neighbor who chronicles their undoing. A tale of identity, reinvention, truth (and lies), and terror, The Golden House also captures the climate of American politics and culture from the Obama era to today — including the rise of a "narcissistic, media-savvy villain wearing make-up and with coloured hair" who embarks on a presidential run. 
Publication date: Sept. 5

 Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks 
Who knew beloved, Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks could also write?! In Uncommon Type, his debut short-story collection, Hanks explores what the American dream looks like for a multitude of characters, from an Eastern European immigrant to a war veteran. And, of course, Hanks' love for typewriters makes a cameo through each of the 17 stories. 
Publication date: Oct. 17

An Unkindness of Ghosts by River Solomon 
In [Solomon's] highly imaginative sci-fi novel An Unkindness of Ghosts, eccentric Aster was born into slavery on — and is trying to escape from — a brutally segregated spaceship that for generations has been trying to escort the last humans from a dying planet to a Promised Land. When she discovers clues about the circumstances of her mother's death, she also comes closer to disturbing truths about the ship and its journey. 
Publication date: Oct. 3 

Mean by Myriam Gurba  
[Gurba's] Mean is a hilariously honest coming-of-age memoir about growing up as a queer, mixed-race girl in 1980s California. A fearless account of racism, homophobia, misogyny, sexual assault, and true crime that manages to be as funny as it is dark. 
Publication date: Nov. 14 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green 
[This is Green's] first novel since The Fault in Our Stars. Aza is a 16-year-old girl who finds herself investigating the mystery of a fugitive billionaire (for a hefty reward) with her best friend, while dealing with her own mental health struggles; at heart, a tale of the bonds of friendship and love. 
Publication date: Oct. 10

To see the full list, visit the original post HERE 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hello, It's Me.

So it's been over two years since I've posted directly on the Reading Between the Lines blog. I won't bore you with the details, but life has been pretty all over the place. In fact, a friend of mine recently came to this site for the first time and promptly informed me that I haven't blogged in a really long time.

I was immediately embarrassed, of course, but it got me thinking. And I realized that even though my life is insane and deadlines I deal with as an editor are sometimes ridiculous and incredibly stressful, I miss blogging, even if it's merely to share an article--something I also haven't even had much time to do. But maybe it's worth carving time out for. Life has changed so much in so many ways that I haven't been very good about letting myself have "me time." It's something I really need to work on.

In that spirit, I recently started going back to yoga (but very light, gentle yoga and restorative yoga only once or twice a week due to various medical conditions--they account for some of aforementioned craziness). And now I'm going to attempt to get back on the blogging horse, since really, it's an easy thing to do if I just do it.

Now, with all that said, I'm going to start off my sharing an article with you that the very friend who unknowingly nudged me back into blogging sent to me yesterday, written by his favorite indie writer, Hugh Howey, "What a Book is Worth."

There is something otherworldly about a book, something absolutely magical. This one simple container is somehow full of unlimited potential — you never know what awaits inside. What will you learn? What world will you be transported into? Whose life will you inhabit?
Nonfiction books teach us new facts, but the real magic is fiction. Here, we zip another’s skin over our own bones and suddenly see through their eyes, learn what it feels like to be someone other than ourselves. Fiction imparts the gift of empathy. It’s also a vehicle for satire, for warnings, for reflection, and most importantly . . . for hope.
An obsession for books binds millions of us together, all the avid readers and book collectors. In antique stores, we’re the ones ignoring the furniture and trinkets as we rummage through piles of musty tomes. We’re the ones at dinner parties standing in front of shelves and running our fingers across a stranger’s spines. We steal glances at jackets on subways. Used bookstores are mandatory stop signs. Piles of books stand like teetering monuments in our homes and on our bedside tables. Floor joists creak, bookshelves groan, and we sigh in contentment to be surrounded by all these stories and bound words.
My dream job was to work in a bookstore, something I was able to do in college and again while trying to make it as a writer. I couldn’t believe I got paid to open boxes of brand new books fresh off the press. I got to arrange them prettily on shelves. I also had the pleasure of working as a book critic, which lead to publishers sending me an unrelenting stream of advanced copies right to my door. Books newer than new! Not even out yet. I read and reviewed a book a day and still couldn’t keep up. The teetering monuments around my home grew taller, and I covered every wall of my house with bookshelves.
At some point, it becomes a fetish. The heft and feel of an old leather-bound book sends chills through me. I remember when Barnes & Noble came out with faux leather-bound books of old classics for $19.95, and I wanted them all. Poe, Swift, Shakespeare, Twain. I would gladly pay a premium for books I’d already read, just because they were more booky than other books.
I won’t admit to having a problem, because I don’t see it as a problem. Books have defined and shaped my life. I always had one in my hand as a kid, and these days I pick out my clothes based on my reading habit. When I try on a pair of cargo shorts, the first thing I do is make sure my Kindle slips easily into the lower right pocket. That’s my holster; there’s an entire library locked and loaded.
Transitioning to ebooks was not easy for me, I’ll admit. I resisted. But the advantages eventually won me over. My Kindle allows me to read more books, more often, and more affordably. I started traveling for work, and now I could take plenty of books with me and also buy more from anywhere in the world. Living on a boat, this portable library is crucial. It also means a lot of thought and care goes into which physical books I keep. Most of my reading takes place on my Kindle, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop loving books. If anything, my appreciation has grown.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about books and the book trade. As a reader, a bookseller, a writer, a publisher, an editor, and as a book designer. I ask myself questions about the value of books, the value of reading, the cost of publishing, and sometimes these questions lead me to weird answers. I’ve blogged about much of this over the years, and I’ve shared my strange ideas about books and bookselling as I describe my ideal bookstore or what I think publishers should do to reverse their falling fortunes.
My quest to understand the value of a book and reading has led me down many different and unusual paths. When it comes to my own work, I’ve long embraced piracy. I don’t see piracy as any different than a friend borrowing a book from a friend, or a single book making its way through a household or a school classroom. To me, the value is in being read. The danger is in losing an audience. I do not speak for other authors or condone stealing in general; I’ve just never had a problem with it when it comes to my own works.
I also think books are both priceless and that they should be free if possible. I love the Gutenberg Project, where you can download out-of-copyright classics at no cost. This website and an old ereader means a lifetime of reading and learning without spending another penny. My bestselling work of all time – the story that allowed me to become a full-time writer – has been free for years. You can get it here for nothing.
But I also believe in supporting writers and paying what you can for a good book. When authors try to give me their books for free, I usually decline and buy a copy for my Kindle. I’ve paid more than cover price for an early edition, or a signed copy, or an especially beautiful binding. I guess I think books should be readily accessible to all, and those who can afford to be patrons should support the medium and the artists. And this is precisely the world I believe we’re heading towards.
Small bookstores with full-price books are rebounding, largely because affluent readers understand the value of these bookstores in their communities, and they are choosing to pay extra to keep them open. Amazon, meanwhile, is doing gangbusters with their discounted print book sales, ebooks, and Kindle Unlimited, because not everyone can afford current retail book prices, and not everyone lives close to a bookstore. Different needs and different means for different readers.
If you haven’t heard of Kindle Unlimited, it’s basically an all-you-can-read book binging buffet. $9.99 a month to access a metric ton of ebook electrons. Programs like this place a very high value on reading by making more reading affordable to more people. And here is where the bizarreness of my philosophy on books arises: A high value for reading means a low price for books. A high value for books means the opposite.
Here’s a Venn Diagram for avid readers and book nuts [below left]:
On the right side, you have people who decorate their house with books they’ll never read (There’s actually a company that sells books by the linear foot for decorating your home. They arrive in all kinds of foreign languages. Beautiful and unreadable). On the left side, you’ve got people who will gladly mainline books into their neck veins once Amazon perfects the technique; these are the readers who are causing ebook and audiobook sales to explode while print sales stagnate.
And in the middle, you have addicts of both. Here is where I think we’re missing some potential in the book trade.
The publishing market is bifurcating between those who are obsessed with reading and those who are obsessed with books. While there is common ground between the two sides, important differences remain. I know people who read several books a week, year after year. They can’t afford to buy full-priced books to support this habit. Libraries, used bookstores, ebooks, free books, Amazon discounts, and programs like Kindle Unlimited are what they need. If you look at this bolded list, you’ll see all the things publishers regularly complain about. And yet these are the readers publishers need the most. Again, these readers can’t afford their habits any other way.
The right side of the Venn Diagram also thinks of reading as a defining characteristic of their lives, and quite rightly. Reading a book is an enormous investment in time. These people might read a dozen books a year, or twenty books a year. Spending full price at the local bookstore, and working through a chapter a night, these readers attach a lot of significance to reading and to books. They have home libraries. They’ve even read half of what’s on their shelves. They can’t resist a bookstore and always find something new to purchase. They just wish they had more time to read. They aspire to be like the first group, but life gets in the way. Publishers absolutely adore these readers and their value systems, even as these readers constitute a dwindling percentage of publishers’ profits.
The difference between these two crowds explains some conflicting headlines. You may have seen that most people still read physical books. You may have also seen that most books sold today are ebooks. These two facts are neatly explained by the fact that ebook readers consume far more books per person. It doesn’t matter how many people prefer physical books if they’re only buying a handful of them a year. A handful of books is a slow week for the group on the left side of the diagram. And ignorance of the existence of this group explains much of the ignorance and confusion within the book biz.
But what about the group at the intersection of these two groups? That middle slice of the Book and Reading Venn Diagram? Here is where you find the people who are both obsessed with reading and obsessed with books as objects. Here is much of the YA crowd and young readers in general, where solid objects provide highly prized substance for the expression of their individual selves. Here is where people who love one book in particular seek out signed copiesold copies, and multiple copies. This is a crowd that ebooks can’t sate. For this group, current print book standards are falling short. In the pursuit of profit margins, the margins within actual books are suffering. Fonts are shrinking, whitespace disappearing, paper and bindings getting cheaper, some formats disappearing altogether. Choices in print books are diminishing.
It need not be so.
Always one to experiment, I decided to take these ruminations and questions and put them to the test. I started asking myself what I would pay for my favorite books, the ones that truly shaped me. Years ago, Barnes & Noble showed me that I would gladly pay $19.95 for a fake leather-bound copy of a book that I could otherwise legally download and read for free. That’s amazing when you think about it. It speaks to the value of the book as an object. The reading aspect costs nothing. The $19.95 is all about the packaging. How far can we take this?
There’s a Harry Potter hardback box set that comes in a special chest and sells not as a route to cheap and quick, but as a route to one-off and exquisite. A technology that publishers have avoided and frowned upon is one that they could instead use to cater to that overlap in our Venn Diagram.
for around $130. This doesn’t seem unreasonable at all to fans of the series. For some of my readers, hundreds of dollars for a first edition of WOOL seems reasonable to them, even though the ebook is free. This got me thinking about print-on-demand technology 
Print-on-Demand (POD) means unlimited or zero copies, and both ends of this spectrum are important. Unlimited means never running out as demand goes up. Zero means not wasting a penny if there is no demand at all. POD is an end to guessing what readers want and constantly getting those guesses wrong.
Check out this Print-on-Demand book:
That’s a copy of MACHINE LEARNING, a complete collection of my short stories. It will be released on October 3rd by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in hardback, paperback, and ebook. It was edited by John Joseph Adams, who also came up with the idea of publishing it. Before now, my short fiction has been scattered to the wind, published in so many places that I doubt anyone other than my mom has read them all. Some of these stories used to exist only on my old website; they became unavailable when I redesigned my homepage. Two of the included stories are brand new for this collection.
In addition to the stories, I wrote new thoughts about what each story means to me, or what I was thinking about or going through when I wrote them. These tidbits follow each story, and I think they add something to the reading experience. For those who are familiar with my work, you know how much the short fiction medium means to me. My success as a writer has mostly come through my short stories. I doubt any novel over my career will ever be as meaningful to me as this collection.
Which is why, when I needed to print out a proof copy of the manuscript to look over the final draft for changes and typos, I decided to do something a little different. Instead of going to Kinko’s and binding this as cheaply as possible (my normal practice), this time I went all-out. I tried to marry my love of the contents with an exterior to match. And here’s what I learned from this project:
I learned that I would have paid a week’s wage for a book like this, if it was the right book. As a bookseller, I used to make $10 an hour, and I worked thirty hours a week. Yeah, I was poor. But I spent what money I had on books, and I would’ve paid an entire week’s wage for a copy of ENDER’S GAME that looked like this – a one-of-a-kind hand-bound leather edition of my favorite read, signed by the author if possible. And I would’ve treasured that book for life and passed it down to a loved one. I’m one of those book freaks. I don’t think I’m alone. And I think it would cost precisely zero dollars for publishers to target this demographic using print-on-demand technology and by employing the fine folks who are keeping the art of bookbinding alive.
Here’s how I would make it work: I would convince a publisher (or a number of them) to enroll a ton of books into this program. I would especially go after the books that have sold millions of copies and have meant so much to so many readers. But really, just make every book available. It costs nothing, and millions of books are someone’s absolute favorite of all time. I bet every self-published author would add their works to the mix, and I bet Amazon would include their imprints as well.
The next thing you do is sign up a handful of book binders and crafters to meet whatever demand arises. I think you could get the cost of these books down if the people making them had steady sales. The crafter I used was Lindsey of BooksForAllTime. Lindsey is a true artist, and working with her was an absolute joy. I got to pick out the leather, the type of paper, the design on the cover, the gold leaf inlay, all of it.
So the program would work like it does with BooksForAllTime: You pick out your favorite book, customize it to your delight, and it shows up on your doorstep a month or two later. Slow. Expensive. The opposite of ebooks. But tapping into the same market of avid readers. That overlap in our diagram.
You might only own a dozen of these sorts of books in a lifetime. Or perhaps just one. Maybe you make a wishlist of your favorite books and make that list public for friends and family, so they know what to get you for Christmas or your birthday. Perhaps you have book clubs and programs that send you books on your wishlist every three months. Whatever you can afford. Maybe authors order one of each of their releases to have a library of their own books on display in their homes.
These books might cost $200 to $400 bucks apiece. Crazy? Then you aren’t part of the crowd I’m thinking of. I’m thinking of the crowd that collects these slowly, saving up, to see a row of Harry Potter books on a shelf that look like they came from Hogwarts itself. A Tolkien trilogy that even an orc could love. A Foundation Saga that could last from one foundation to another. The ultimate copy of Dune, Cosmos, or To Kill a Mockingbird. Eventually, after decades of a reading and collecting life, a small bookshelf of absolute treasures emerges. If you’re smiling at this imagery, then you are the crowd I’m thinking of.
But here’s where it gets very interesting: What if the author agrees to take a very small slice of that sale, a slice that would still be double the amount they make for a hardback (say, $3.00). And what if the publisher agrees to take the same measly cut (this would be a first). And what if the retailer did the same?
In other words: What if the book binder kept most of the profit?
Why would this make sense? Because I think there would be enough demand for these books to employ a good number of book binders like Lindsey. I think keeping the price of these books as reasonable as possible would expand the number of people who fit into the middle of the Venn Diagram. These exquisite books will expand the love of reading, the fetish for books and stories, and they’ll last for ages.
The ridiculous and ultimate fantasy is that we parlay the untapped money in the pockets of book lovers worldwide, and we move that money into the pockets of people whose jobs are being displaced or upended by changes elsewhere in the global economy. Books being bound in developing countries. Books being bound by former coal miners. Would global demand for bespoke books be enough to move a million leatherbound titles a year? If so, that’s a living wage for thousands of people. Much more if you’re talking about developing countries.
This might sound crazy, but community bookstores are made possible in part by the willingness of some readers and gift shoppers to pay extra for something they love. The reason books make such great gifts is that we feel like we’re buying something that is good for the recipient, as well as bringing them joy. Parents of book-loving kids know what this feels like: it’s like having kids who beg for their veggies.
Imagine buying a loved one a book they’ll cherish forever, and knowing that the person making the book is having their life changed as well. Imagine spreading the joy of reading and the joy of books by using a technology that removes the risk from publishing, that allows us to create something not cheap and expendable, but rather exquisite and irreplaceable.
When I’m done with this book, I’m going to do what we often do with physical I’m going to pass it on. It’ll be a gift to someone who has furthered my writing career. If you want your own copy of MACHINE LEARNING, you’ll have to settle for the regular hardback, paperback, or ebook, which you can pre-order here. Or if you’re interested in something leather-bound and special, I own the print rights to lots of my works. Maybe Lindsey could make you a special edition of MOLLY FYDE AND THE PARSONA RESCUE or HALF WAY HOME. Or perhaps other indies will open their works, and other bookbinders will get in on the fun.
This won’t be for everyone. Just the nuts in the middle.
So what would your favorite book be worth to you?
Howey has written an interesting piece here, and a lot of it I wholeheartedly agree with and find hopeful. However, I do think Howey is being a bit too idealistic when it comes to some things, particularly the cost of publishers creating POD books. The truth of the matter is, every book and every step of said book's sale, has overhead. It isn't free for publishers to do this sort of thing. So many people have the same view as Howey when it comes to things like POD and e-books because they think that once the book is written and formatted, there aren't anymore costs. Even turning an e-book into a POD requires more work and cost.

I do wish it could be as easy as he says, though, and that more people who can afford it would be willing to pay extra so that people who can't can pay less. But honestly, I don't think that's going to happen. People who can afford it may buy more expensive editions of books, but that doesn't affect people who need to buy less expensive editions. It doesn't work like a subsidy does, and publishers aren't going to have an expensive and a cheap edition for each book. And if they did, people are going to pick the cheap one, often even people who can afford the expensive one. So then we'll be right back where we are now, and publishers will continue to price books the way they need to in order to cover their overhead, advances, and make a profit. Because publishing is, after all, a business, even if it's one that has art at its core.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Does (Book) Length Really Matter?

It always surprises me when I poke around a bookstore and see super thick hardcover or even trade paperback bestsellers. I've noticed this particularly in the past year or so with books such as We are Not OurselvesThe Girl on the Train, The Forgotten Garden, and The Goldfinch. And quite frankly, it baffles me. I've read two of the aforementioned bestsellers, both of which I struggled to get through. Not because I have an issue in general with "long books," but because neither of them needed to be as long as they were.

As an editor, I am keenly aware of these things, and it makes me cringe when novels meander and go off on tangents that are entirely irrelevant to the story. In fact, when I was working at Simon and Schuster, I once was tasked with taking a 700+ page women's fiction novel from overseas and paring it down to 400 pages at the most. Crazy, right? But the craziest part is that I actually accomplished it. Not only could the language itself be tightened on a sentence level but whole paragraphs could come out because they didn't tie into anything or have any real purpose. What was really shocking, though, is that I kind of killed off a character. o_O There was entire plotline and POV that was unnecessary to the story. It didn't weave into the main plot or character arcs at all, other than that character being related to one of the other characters. While the character certainly still "existed" in the story, every section with her POV narrating lifted right out. It was interesting plotline in and of itself, don't get me wrong, but it was its own story, not the one this book was telling. That plotline alone took up about 200 pages long and it wasn't needed.

This is something I see a lot in early drafts of manuscripts and it's my job to address it, to make sure a reader is engaged from the first to the last page, that the pace is moving at a readable clip, and that the story is clear, tight, and moving along with each scene. So the fact that so many books go to publication with these sorts of issues--and do well sometimes--makes me kind of sit there and blink at the wall. My first question is always "what did the editor even do, then?" and second, "how on earth are all these readers getting through these books, especially in today's world of ADD?"

Of course, classic literature has always been on the longer side, so there's certainly a precedent of it. Just look at the unabridged versions of Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Don Quixote. They were all over 400,000 words. But note something I just said...these are unabridged versions. There are abridged version of all three of those classics. Meaning, if you think about it, that extra length...? Yeah, it wasn't necessary. It might have lovely language or a nice lesson or tangent behind it, but it wasn't telling the story the book was meant to tell.

Now, don't get me wrong, it is incredibly impressive when people can write such tomes and find a way to keep readers' attention. But why is this mini-trend happening right now? Is it something people really like or is it just happening because of good marketing and reviews that focus on only the strong points? Just because people buy the books doesn't mean they enjoy them. It doesn't mean they didn't skim over half the book to get to the good parts (what I did with both those novels I mentioned earlier).

A recent article by the BBC (and what do you know, like this blog post, it's a super long!) takes a look after hearing about the UK publication of  an 800+ page novel called Death and Mr. Pickwick by debut author Stephen Jarvis. (They also mention an upcoming book that is one million words long. Yes, one million words. That is not a typo.)

Debut novels don’t come more heavyweight than Stephen Jarvis’ Death and Mr Pickwick. Twelve years in the writing, it tells the story of the creation and afterlife of Charles Dickens’ own first novel, The Pickwick Papers, one of the world’s most written-about works of fiction. Pickwick was the book that made Dickens a celebrity, and it was published in monthly installments starting in March 1836, using his pen name, Boz. 
Out this month in the UK and next month in the US, Death and Mr Pickwick is a gloriously meandering tour of 19th Century London that has already been dubbed “a staggering accomplishment” by Publishers Weekly
Yet it’s heavyweight in another, more obvious sense too. Lug this book to the beach and back every day, and you’ll be getting a full-body workout. Drop it, and you risk breaking a toe. Weighing two-and-a-half pounds, it’s a whopping 802 pages long – an audacious claim on readers’ time in an age when our attention spans are supposedly being whittled away to nothing by ever-more insistent digital distractions. 
There is plenty of longer fiction, of course. Kelidar, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi’s Persian language novel following a Kurdish family in the wake of World War II, is 2,836 pages. The Son of Ponni, a historical novel written in Tamil by Kalki Krishnamurthy, and published in the 1950s, is barely any shorter at 2,400 pages. And then there’s Proust, whose In Search of Lost Time is 3,031 pages long. 
Don’t think it’s just a 20th Century phenomenon, either. Nothing compares to the 17th Century French novel Artamène. The tale of a shepherd’s son who’s really a Persian prince, its 2 million or so words (the average 280-pager contains just 80,000) fill 13,095 pages. Originally credited to Georges de Scudéry, these days it’s more commonly attributed to his sister, Madeleine. 
A bulky bedfellow 
Though it can’t quite compete in terms of pagination, Jarvis’ novel is part of a mini-trend that seems to be gathering momentum – and bulk. In the next few months alone, playwright Larry Kramer publishes the first of his two-volume fictionalised history, The American People, which comes in at 800 pages (he’s been working on it for 40 years and at one point the manuscript was 4,000 pages long), Amitav Ghosh completes his Ibis trilogy (the final installment is 624 pages), and review copies of Hannah Yanagihara's A Little Life have been sent out filled with Post-It notes attached to flag representative passages, presumably because the book’s girth is so daunting (at 736 pages, it’s really not so little at all). In July, you can expect to hear bookshelves groaning as William T Vollmann’s new novel, The Dying Grass, is published. Set in the Wild West during the 1870s, it totals 1,376 pages. And next year, British graphic novelist Alan Moore publishes his second non-graphic novel, Jerusalem, which is billed as a fantastical exploration of his hometown, Northampton. It’s said to be a million words long. 
Together, these bulky books call into doubt the received wisdom about our besieged attention spans. They might also make you wonder what editors are up to. And they question, too, the evolving role of the literary novel in the wider culture. Doesn’t there come a point at which the sheer scale of these works is so out of kilter with the reading time available to even the most dedicated bookworms, that they have to be seen as wilfully marginalising themselves? Think of this as well: every purchase of a novel over 600 long pages may well come at the expense of two or three others. 
If you wanted to pinpoint the start of all this, you could do worse that looking to 2013, when 28-year-old Eleanor Catton became not only the youngest author ever to win the Man Booker Prize, but did so with the longest book. The Luminaries is 832 pages long. Did the judges not deem its length problematic? Not according to their chair, author and academic Robert Macfarlane. 
“Length never poses a problem if it's a great novel”, he insisted. To prove his point, that same year, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (760 pages) sold and sold. 
As a reader, you know what you’re in for when you begin a long book. It’s not that we necessarily expect more – after all, as much can be said in a poem, never mind a short story – but we do tend to indulge the author a little, allowing for the fact that in a longer work time can be taken establishing characters, and the subplots layered on with plenty of scope for resolution. It’s a different relationship. A novella may be read in a single sitting, making for a more intense reading experience. The bulky epic, meanwhile, inveigles its way into your life over a period of weeks or even months, becoming a travel buddy and bedfellow. 
Is bigger better? 
In genre fiction, big has never fallen out of fashion. Fantasy novels especially tend to run long, and plenty of airport paperbacks are so dense they look almost square. But then those tend to be vastly pacier affairs. In the US, too, there’s an expectation that a great literary work will also be physically imposing. Still, how many of even those wouldn’t be improved by a judicious nip and tuck here and there? The Goldfinch is one of my favourite novels of this century, but if I were forced to come up with a quibble, it would be that Tartt spends too long in Las Vegas in the middle section. 
“Very few really long novels earn their length. My fingers are always twitching for a blue pencil,” Ian McEwan told the BBC last year. He was speaking on publication of his own most recent novel, The Children Act, a work so slender it might almost be called a novella. The story of a high court judge who must decide whether to compel a young Jehovah’s Witness to receive a life-saving blood transfusion, it radiates brilliance, and yet weren’t there a couple of passages that felt too research-heavy? Sometimes, authors themselves simply become too big to cut. Remember how the Harry Potter books grew as JK Rowling’s fan-base exploded? 
In an age of 140-character tweets and six-second Vine videos, it’s hard not to view the abundance of fat books as a throwback trend. A tome so heavy it’s barely portable is, after all, the ultimate anti-e-book. Novelist Naomi Alderman is well placed to comment, as she also creates video games, most notably the top-selling Zombies, Run! 
“The trend towards long books is a fascinating counterpoint to the suggestion that we're all becoming iPhone-junkies, with minuscule attention spans, twitchily unable to concentrate on anything longer than a tweet,” she told BBC Culture. In fact, she suggests, technology might be making us more ready to sign over large chunks of time to a novel. As well as the oft-cited influence of TV binge-viewing, made possible by streaming, she points to the fact that AAA video games – those with the highest development and promotion budgets – frequently demand upwards of 100 hours of gameplay. 
“The death of the ‘attention span’ might have been declared prematurely,” she adds. “But at the same time, novels are competing with other entertainment forms that provide a lot of instant thrills. To start a long novel these days, I think the reader needs to feel certain that the tale will be worth the journey.” 
Of course, Stephen Jarvis, who’s 57 and lives in Maidenhead in the south of England began writing his novel in 2001, in a world before Facebook. It was influenced, he says, by reality TV’s Big Brother. ‘It strikes me that there are parallels between Big Brother and The Pickwick Papers – both of them are plotless things which just sort of ramble along. There’s an emphasis on character and you don’t really know what’s going to happen.’ 
At one point, Death and Mr Pickwick rambled to 800,000 words, but he cut it back by over half in order to have it fill 802 pages – the exact same number as Dickens’ novel.
Jarvis has no worries about readers being put off by the novel’s length, though he does admit this wife has vowed never to read it. “She has special dispensation – her excuse is she doesn’t need to read it because she’s had to live it,” he says. She supported him while he wrote, and so it seemed only fair that he let her type the letter ‘d’ of the ‘The End’ before they went off to the pub to celebrate. When finished copies arrived, however, the words had been cut. Turns out it’s not house style. 
See the original article HERE

So what do you think, dear readers? Would you pick up (and read in its entirety) an excessively long novel? If so, what would compel you to do so?

I am truly curious...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Scholars Discover 150 Unpublished Stories by Mark Twain

Just when you thought classic American Literature couldn't get any better with the upcoming second novel from Harper Lee, scholars at the University of California, Berkley proved that thought wrong. Just this week the news broke that they discovered over 150 unpublished stories by Mark Twain.

The Guardian tells us more:

Scholars at the University of California, Berkeley have uncovered and authenticated a cache of stories written by Mark Twain when he was a 29-year-old newspaperman in San Francisco. Many of the stories are 150 years old. 
Twain wrote some of the letters and stories at the San Francisco Chronicle when it was called the San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle, where his job included writing a 2,000-word dispatch every day and sending it off by stagecoach for publication in the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada. 
His topics range from San Francisco police – who at one point attempted, unsuccessfully, to sue Twain for comparing their chief to a dog chasing its tail to impress its mistress – to mining accidents. 
Bob Hirst is editor of the UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain project, which unearthed the articles by combing through western newspaper archives and scrapbooks. The author’s characteristic style authenticated some of the unsigned letters. 
Hirst told the Guardian the digitisation of newspaper archives had been like “opening up a big box of candy”, allowing as it did Twain’s articles to be tracked down in a way that was not possible when archives were all on microfilm. 
The articles were written, Hirst said, at a time of great uncertainty in Twain’s life, when he was trying to decide in which direction to take his career. 
“It’s really a crisis time for him,” Hirst said. “He’s going to be 30 on 30 November 1865, and for someone not to have chosen a career by that time in this period was quite unusual.” 
Twain had been resisting becoming a humorist, according to Hirst, because at the time humor was considered a lower order of writing. He was in debt and drinking heavily, and even wrote to his brother that he was contemplating suicide, saying: “If I do not get out of debt in three months – pistols or poison for one – exit me.” 
Nonetheless, the articles, Hirst says, are brilliant examples of Twain’s inimitable style. 
“He knows the city, he’s a bohemian of a certain kind, he’s interested in what’s going on,” Hirst said. “He simply weaves that all together with the greatest clarity and the greatest humour that you could possibly imagine.” 
See the original article HERE

I don't know about you, but I'm itching to get a look at these stories. Here's hoping his estate allows for posthumous publication!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I'll Be There For You: A Harry Potter Promise


I have been MIA, and I'm extremely sorry, dear readers. Life has been beating me up over the past year, making it quite difficult to stay on top of things. *hangs head in shame*

Please allow me to give you this fun and straightforward peace offering and promise:

"Tumblr user Jeremiah Rivera got 'bored' and made this absolutely perfect remix of the Friends intro, but with the characters from Harry Potter." (Buzzfeed.com)

Friday, January 23, 2015

National Readathon Day Takes Off Tomorrow

Happy friday, fellow readers! This upcoming weekend is an exciting one for the book world, so I hope your week has prepared you to curl up on the couch (especially for those of you who are expecting a snowstorm this weekend!) with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book. And while I wish that type of relaxation for you all the time, there is an additional reason this particular weekend is so special...

Tomorrow is the first annual National Readathon Day!

Initially created by the recently merged Penguin Random House, National Readathon Day is about more than just reading a book, though. It's also about fundraising for literacy, GalleyCat points out:

Proceeds will support the National Book Foundation’s education programs, including an after-school reading program called BookUp. Fundraisers will win prizes from The National Book Foundation. 
More than 200 bookstores and libraries across the country will be participating in the event. To find out where to participate in your local area, check out this map. 
Fifteen bestselling authors including: Khaled Hosseini, Jacqueline Woodson, Delia Ephron, Harlan Coben and Simon Doonan have supported the cause in this #timetoread video.
See original post HERE 

The National Book Foundation website tells us more about the celebration:

Consider this: 53% of 9-year-olds read for pleasure daily, and by the time they turn 17, that number drops to 19%. Without your help, book worms may soon become an endangered species.  
That's why Penguin Random House and the National Book Foundation are launching National Readathon Day. We're asking book lovers across America to pledge to read for four hours starting at noon (in respective time zones) on January 24, 2015. 
Make your commitment here on FirstGiving and fundraise to support the National Book Foundation's efforts to create, promote, and sustain a lifelong love of reading in America. Proceeds will support our education programs, like BookUp, our after-school reading program which has given away over 25,000 books to middle schoolers since 2007. 
To show our appreciation, we're delighted to offer some exciting rewards at a variety of fundraising milestones. 
Individual fundraising premiums for National Readathon Day are awarded at the following levels:  
$100 - an I Love Reading tote bag  
$250 - a copy of a 2014 National Book Award winning book   
$1000 - a tote bag plus all four 2014 National Book Award winning books. 
$2500 - 2 tickets to the invite-only 2015 National Book Awards ceremony, dinner, and after-party  
$7500 - 2 tickets to the invite-only 2015 National Book Awards ceremony, dinner, and after-party plus hotel and airfare (from anywhere in the continental United States) 
Additionally, the top fundraising team will have the opportunity for an exclusive reading (in-person or online) with Phil Klay, author of Redeployment, the 2014 National Book Award Winner for Fiction. 
Thank you for joining us for National Readathon Day and in celebration of how important reading is to American culture.

The mission of the National Book Foundation is to expand the audience for literature in America. Its programs include BookUp, 5 Under 35, the Innovations in Reading Prize, and the National Book Awards. 
If you need more information about the National Book Foundation or National Readathon Day, email bsamuel@nationalbook.org. And for press inquiries, email syoung@nationalbook.org.
See original post HERE

As of a week ago, there were already more than 120 teams that had "raised more than $20,000 as part of the event" (GalleyCat).  As of today there are 153 teams, raising more than $40,000 according to the FirstGiving website. There is still time to get involved and get excited, so hop to, folks!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Perfect Cookie for the Perfect Book

Lately I have been hearing an awful lot about Girl Scout cookies. And I always hear an awful lot about books, of course. So when I saw that someone over at Book Riot put the two together, pairing different GS cookies with certain reads, I was delectably intrigued:

Girl Scout cookies are great no matter what they’re paired with, but I think we can all agree that everything is better with books. As a former Girl Scout, I know that people have their favorite cookies (Reppin’ Samoas, what what!). After some extensive taste tests, we here at Book Riot have found the perfect book/cookie pairings – no matter what your cookie preferences may be!
 See the original post HERE

Some of these pairings are utterly fantastic, I must say. Others, I admit, I don't quite get because I don't know enough about the book. :( Buuuut I do think a fun pairing for Savannah Smiles, though, would be "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" by Aimee Bender. :-p Ahh irony. Gotta love it.

What would YOUR perfect pairing be?

As a side note, my littlest sister, who has been selling GS cookies for years, won't be doing so this year. But I'm stoked that GS has finally moved some cookies sales online, so those of us who don't know any Girls Scouts aren't missing out on the deliciousness itself and on helping out such a great organization!