The Math of Book Sales

A couple of notes here for writers:

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The most recent episode of Publisher’s Weekly gives a veritable mathematic analysis of what’s being sold in books lately, particularly print books. So – bottom line? Juvenile and YA are decreasing in sales. Mystery and suspense are selling well in print. Romance is selling in both hardback and paperback. Academic and university press book sales are (supposedly) booming. I insert the parens because I keep hearing that U presses are in dire straits. Perhaps this is because these presses aren’t being managed well, or their subsidizing by the universities is drying up.

And how are e-books doing? Well enough, among mystery, but their percentage of sales hasn’t yet pushed past 20%, for the most part. Perhaps taking chances on new writers writing innovative pieces? Are you listening, e-book publishers.

To get the straight numbers and deeper details, go to Publisher’s Weekly.

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Why TV Is Pummeling the Movie Industry/TheAtlantic

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The article linked below is an indication of just how technological innovation can drive artistic fertility – and vice versa. Whether or not you like the tone of some things appearing on U.S. TV, this is where the experimentation is. Experimentation is always edgy, creative (of course), and usually a peg too honest for people’s comfort. And it’s always in retrospect, it seems, that we come to appreciate this edgy honesty.

 

The Atlantic

Vulnerability and Glamour, Past and Present

 

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Sutton, by J. R. Moehringer

 

Well, well. A Pulitzer-winning journalist that writes excellent historical fiction. One of the things that draws writers to historical fiction is a compulsion to fill in the unknown/unknowable gaps about events or characters and make the made-up gap fillers seem right in keeping with the known. But I should give a bit about Moehringer’s story at this point.

Willie Sutton, notorious bank robber of the early twentieth century, has just been let out of Attica Prison and is in his sixties. He’s suffered a life of hard knocks and it’s clear he won’t last much longer. A New York reporter and photographer corral him as he’s let out of Attica, and he cons them into driving him around the city so he can relive the significant events of his life: brutal beatings from his brothers, his life-long obsession with a girl named Bess, banks robbed, places he’s stayed on the lam, bars he’s drunk in. He’s trying to summarize his life at these two lads’ expense. But the jaunt ends, and with great irony involved, Moehringer allows the reporter to become obsessed with Sutton’s life.

It would have been easy to have cast Sutton in a society-done-me-wrong role, or to have written the story with an alternate version of Sutton’s life hovering over the famed robber’s – and the author’s – lives, an “I wish I’d done this here instead of that” rueful telling, but that wouldn’t have been in keeping with Sutton’s life. Instead Sutton simply wants a retrospective before he settles in to wait for the Grim Reaper.

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Moehringer’s prose is wry to the point of tartness in portraying Sutton, and his dialogue is as good as any by the best crime novelists. His alternating past with present in a way that allows them to be as seamless as past and present can be is excellent. In the end, the author gives us a stellar story and a sensitive character rendering.

 

My rating: 19 of 20 stars

 

 

 

Saving U.S.

Okay this post is going to be a bit of a thematic stretch, but it really does edge into my media theme for this blog.

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The missus and I have been watching a lot of British TV programming lately, and I find myself comparing it to the domestic TV fare. Of course any casual watcher of British TV will notice the subtleties of plot and characterization that are in large part missing in U.S. TV programs. But there are other differences – let’s call them nuances – that separate the tone of these two English speaking nations’ TV shows. The two main themes of twenty-first century voyeurism are the obvious ones: sex and death, so I’ll mention only those.

But to the cultural te differences: violence on U.S.  is blatant, explosive (Can you think of a cop show recently without at least one explosion per episode?), extravagant. In the Brit versions (sure, there are exceptions to this), there’s a plot-and-character build-up to killings and a simple BANG! usually does it.

And sex: gay sex has gone mainstream in both, and sex in general is a topic that enters almost any sort of TV conversation. The U.S. versions are titillating; sophomoric, virtual burlesque – the sort of tone we broached in junior high as we were just beginning to feel our sexual oats. The British shows we’ve seen deal with the same gamut of sex as ours, but, well, there’s not a better way of saying this: it’s handled more maturely. Sex there can occur as a human foible, can be extramarital, gay, or whatever else. But, again, there are character and plot build-ups to these “events” that give them human depth, no matter the end result.

See where this is going?

In the U.S., as the new season begins, we’re seeing a conflation of violence and sex that tends to be sado-masochistic in tone. One show we viewed had an hour-long segment of dialogue between a kidnapped woman and her male captor that veered back and forth between torture and sex. Another constantly deals with mentally disturbed individuals that kill victims in the most heinous and extravagant of ways. Both shows are on the surface trying to be psychological dramas, but at their root they’re appealing to our baser instincts that are essentially carnal, emotional – cruel and superficial in both categories.

As Warhol wondered, does art imitate life, or vice versa? In the case of TV programming, and in this most modern of times, we’re finding it hard to separate real life from that which purports to imitate life in the form of art. In other words, we’re becoming deeply affected by our virtual worlds, and we’re finding it harder and harder to separate reality from the virtual image. And what’s the effect of this difficulty? We’re psychically confused, and when we’re in this state, we fall into self-absorption, a state that leaves little room for considerations of anyone else.

Witness our fascination with guns in light of the accelerating mass killings in the U.S. Witness the lack of political concern with “the other,” in our winning-is-all mindset, while schools, culture, infrastructure, are crumbling about us. A significant portion of the population sees though all this, yes, and pushes us to resolve our macro-problems. Yet another portion is caught up in cognitive dissonance, and falls back on social, political, and religious fundamentalistic precepts – sort of a “let’s stop-and-start-all-over-from-scratch,” approach to life while the rest of the western world goes on progressively, solving its social problems, admittedly in a slap-dash fashion.

I don’t purport to resolve our issues here for the U.S. of A. Sure, problems have to be resolved on the level of the individual and allowed to grow into a collective consciousness sort of thing. But do we have the moxie to do this? Do we, in fact, have the time? I don’t know. All I can do is express my concern and hope that amounts to something.

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Of Ornamentation and Avoidance

Jonathan Franzen Karl Kraus illustration

 

After reading (hurriedly) this jeremiad of Jonathan Franzen’s, a couple of recurring themes jump out: Yes, we writers – and everyone else, it seems – want to adorn ourselves with superficial things (and what could be more blatantly so than Miley Cyrus’ latest butt-waggle). We struggle, not so much for relevance, but for adulation (or perhaps simply notice), and that’s what Franzen’s on about here. Without some form of adulation (the roar of an approving crowd, a host of praise by whatever in-crowd you aspire to), we see no success in being competent, relevant cogs on society’s larger wheels.

But why do we seek thusly? We seek the ornamentation, the glitz, because relevance has become so uncomfortable. We live in a world in massive flux, and it’s damned complicated out there. So why not settle for oversimplified adulation? We can idolize some divinity without delving into the complexities of what might’ve made that phenomenon divine, and we seem compelled to idolize a writer, a book, without assaying the writer’s limitations, the books flaws.

Franzen seems to sense all this in his saying he’d not a Luddite. He’s surely not, in the strictest sense. But we conflate that cliched term with our desperate need to oversimplify everything in life these days. Franzen bemoans Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s hold on publishing, on aspiring writers, not because there’s not talent brewing out there under Amazon’s aegis (maybe it is, maybe it isn’t) but because life under the Amazon umbrella looks damned complicated to a writer sitting atop the ever-precarious literary pyramid.

If Franzen is going to be worried about such things, maybe he should start where he resides, in the bailiwick of idolized writers, rather than with the huddled writing masses. I’m thinking here of Jhumpa Lahiri and Thomas Pynchon being nominated just now for a Booker prize and a National Book award before their books are hardly out to the public. Yes, the New York Times Book Reviews are probably more sophisticated than many Amazon reviewers, but doesn’t the public’s view of the books count for something? Or are these big name writers writing for the reviewers’ benefit, hoping book clubs and individual readers will glom onto them once blessed by NYT, Harper’s, The Atlantic, and others, without the word-of-mouth meritocracy? Is this not a leap into ornamentation at the cost of relevance? Are we as readers and writers not avoiding the flaws in the perhaps not well thought out works, the glaring, wasted pages, by these big names? Shouldn’t we be looking as critically at Franzen and Pynchon and Lahiri as some agent or editor might look at what we’re writing?

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

A Breath In A Windstorm

There are some 150,000,000 blogs on the Web and well over 100,000,000 websites. Ever wonder how you manage to get any hits at all on yours? One seems to be a breath taken in a windstorm, and yet some have tons of followers.

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Now, this isn’t a how-to to draw traffic to a site; I do all the right things and still I’m not ready to sell advertising on mine. What this is, though, is a reflection on what this phenomenon means.

We’re all different; we dress uniquely (more or less) and we all have our quirks (lordy, lordy, don’t we?), and what we choose to put up on the Web is likely just as unique. We might be hate fueled, spewing invectives, or we may be be bliss-ninny New Agers. Or dumb (or otherwise) jocks. Or movie fans. Or religious types trying to out-Jesus everyone else on the web. Whatever. We put out there what makes us feel at home with ourselves.

But what does the mosaic look like? The composite snap of all of us clamoring, slavering, trying to be…something to ourselves and one another?

Well, it seems to change a lot, by my view. It takes in our external environment, and the one closer at hand. It has its lulls and its jumping-bean extravagances. It has its beautiful moments and its pissy attitudes.

It would be hard to catalog or depict all this in even a relative microcosm, but one thing does describe it: expressiveness. We’re all out there in cyberspace expressing. And I’m going to leave it object-less. What we’re expressing isn’t as much to the point as the fact that we’re expressing. That’s us. That’s human nature.

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Common Sense and Happiness

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What Happy People Know – How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life For the Better, by Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth

 

I don’t normally post on such books; I don’t normally read them, in fact, but it was a birthday gift, and I thought, what the heck, people should know about these common sense principles.

We do live in an OCD society, a greedy one, in fact, and whether you’re upwardly mobile, a day laborer, or a professional content in one’s own skin, we’re pushed every day to do more, be more. It’s a society that panders to our insecurities, a society that only accepts fame and fortune as normal. But as we find in the book, normality as it applies to the human condition is in how to feel complete as a person. That might mean family for some, creativity for others, professional status for still others…and on and on.

This book gives the authors’ case histories as supporting evidence for knowing who and what you are and finding a comfortable position for that self in today’s society. The problem? Externally, you’re going to seem a bit abnormal when truly happy, but that’s the value of happiness: It tells you that inner contentment will govern over those outer compulsions.

It’s worth reading; it summarizes what you probably know inside and encourages that. Sort of a guerrilla approach to success in living life.

 

My rating 15 of 20 stars

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.