Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

“Google and Barnes & Noble Unite to Take on Amazon,” said a headline in The New York Times. The two were zeroing in on a fast, cheap delivery of books in Manhattan, West Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. Customers can get books through the Google Shopping Express.

The Times explained: “Amazon poses a persistent and growing threat to Google and Barnes & Noble. Its rise has contributed to lagging sales and diminished foot traffic in Barnes & Noble’s physical stores, and it dominates the online market for print books.”

Google uses couriers who pick up products from local stores and deliver them in about three to four hours. Service is free to subscribers of Google Shopping Express, and costs $4.99 per delivery for others. Amazon charges $5.99 for members of its Prime program and $9.99 for others.

ALL ABOUT JOYCE: The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, by Kevin Birmingham, an instructor in Harvard’s writing program, tells the story of the editors, benefactors, lawyers, printers, smugglers and a U.S. federal judge who were involved in Ulysses’s chaotic early history.

“At the center of it all is Joyce,” wrote an unnamed reviewer in the August 18 New Yorker, “and Birmingham’s greatest insight is the degree to which Joyce’s tormented ‘life in pain’—ill health, poverty, crippling eye ailments—shaped his consciousness and his writing.”

BESTSELLER: Deborah Harkness is the author of The Book of Life. It’s the third volume in her All Souls Trilogy, and it immediately grabbed the No.1 spot on the bestseller lists. A couple of the characters, an Oxford scholar and a vampire expert, do some time-travel from Elizabethan England to the present.

Harkness answered readers’ questions on her website. “I don’t actually feel that I have any secondary or tertiary characters,” she wrote.”All of my characters are ‘main characters’ to me.”

Harkness is a professor of history at the University of Southern California. She also writes a blog: Good Wines Under $20.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Anthony Doer’s novel All the Light We Cannot See is a bestseller and the author was quoted in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review.

“Maybe we digest stories. When we eat a pork chop, we break up its cellular constituents, its proteins, its fats, and we absorb as much of the meat as we can into our bodies. We become part pig. Eat an artichoke, become part artichoke. Maybe the same thing is true for what we read. Our eyes walk tightropes of sentences, our minds assemble images and sensations, our hearts find connections with other hearts. . . . We take in a story. We metabolize it. We incorporate it.”

A POPUAR THEME: “The idea of another world existing in mysterious parallel with our own has such claim on the popular imagination that it seems unlikely ever to be exhausted,” wrote children’s book critic Meghan Cox Gurdon in The Wall Street Journal. “Whether it is a world where young wizards attend magical boarding school or an ice-locked kingdom behind the door of a wardrobe, or any of a hundred other permutations, the seduction persists.”

Gurdon said she believed that we “have a persistent fascination with the impossible hovering just within reach of the real.”

LAW SUIT: Rick Perlstein is the author of The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, published last week. The New York Times said the author was being accused of “sloppy scholarship, improper attribution and plagiarism.”

Historian Craig Shirley’s lawyer has cited 19 instances of duplicated language and inadequate attribution from Shirley’s Regan’s Revolution (2004).

Perlstein and his publisher claim they have made the research more transparent by providing links on the Web to the books, newspaper clippings and news reports that the author drew on. Perlstein told The Times, “I want to expand this idea of history as a collective enterprise.”

In The New Yorker, George Packer discussed Perlstein’s book. “[Perlstein’s] favorite targets were . . . the leading commentators of the era—Richard Hofstadter, James Reston, Walter Lippman—who saw in Goldwater’s flame-out proof that conservatism had no future in American politics.”

EDITOR’S ADVICE: For its monthly Web page, Random House asked some of its authors to “share the best advice they have ever received from their Penguin Random house editor.”

Neither author nor editor was named, but one editor’s suggestion was: “Pacing can be just as important as a compelling plot or well-developed characters; try to identify—and remedy—passages or chapters in the book that slow the reader down and interfere with his engagement in the story.”

Another editor of nonfiction said to keep sight of the “so what?” The author is told to make sure the narrative illustrates a larger argument. The author wrote, “Now I keep a watchful eye to ensure that the text never wanders too far afield from the animating idea and builds to a conclusion that supports and advances the original thesis.”

UNQUIET: Susan Cain is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. The book was published in 2012 but is now back on the nonfiction bestseller lists.

Cain explained on her blog why she wrote Quiet: “I am not a natural self-discloser at all. It took me thirty years to realize the childhood dream of becoming a writer, partly because I was afraid to write about personal things—yet these were the subjects I was drawn to.

“Eventually my drive to write grew stronger than my fears, and I’ve never looked back.”

Later, in a list of eight ideas to help you through “disabling emotions,” Cain promised: “Coffee will deliver you from self-doubt.”

QUESTION: Funny man Ring Lardner wrote: “How can you write if you can’t cry?”

STORY OF A WORD: The word “tacky” caught the attention of columnist Ben Zimmer in The Wall Street Journal. Tacky (first spelled tackie) originally meant a scrawny or broken down horse. Zimmer said, “Within a few decades, ‘tacky’ had extended to humans, serving as a self-deprecating label for poor white Southerners who were identified with their equine counterparts.”

Then the word moved from noun to adjective and was used to describe people who are untidy, unfashionable or uncouth. Clothing was tacky if it was “cheap and yet pretentious.”

BEST DEAL: Oyster, Scribd and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited are offering e-book subscription services. Customers pay $10 a month or less for unlimited access to books available in the subscription catalogs.

The New York Times said, “many newer books are not available . . . because the services haven’t been able to reach deals with many of the major publishers, especially for new books.” Kindle Unlimited gives access to 600,000 titles but lacks many popular books. If a bestseller is what you want to read, “a library card . . . [is] still the best deal for consumers.”

GUEST LIST: Garrison Keillor was asked by The New York Times Book Review to name three writers he would invite to a dinner party.

Keillor said, “Jhumpa Lahiri, Ann Patchett and Louise Erdrich. With three women, you know they will carry the conversation completely….I love to hear women talk.”

MORE ABOUT WOMEN: A revised edition of Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography (1999) has just been published.

Angier, who writes about science for The New York Times and has won aPulitzer, was quoted in the Times Book Review: “If women demand to be treated as full thinking, complex, free-roaming human beings, who don’t appreciate being told what they’re really like, who may once have played with dolls and trucks, who may even be good at math, maybe there’s an evolved tendency around here somewhere that deserves serious consideration.”

FOREVER: When actress Gloria Swanson, seven times a bride, was almost 80, she said, “I’ve given my memoirs far more thought than any of my marriages. You can’t divorce a book.”

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