Monthly Archives: August 2010

Issue of August 29, 2010

As we head into the final week of August where children head back to school and vacations wind up, where the heat begins to break and leaves to turn, when the summer pleasures of cold chicken begin to give way to hot soups, what happens to our reading? Does it also take a turn to something different? Do we want something longer, shorter, classical or light, old or new? Pick your (literary) poison, as I believe the saying goes. In fact, you might just find it in one of our columns. We hope you do, but if not feel free to let us know what you would like to see. We might just take you up on it!

Ah, summer reading! Nicki Leone spent hers reading a newly republished “idiosyncratic account of traveling through Italy” whose author focused on the towns and villages that were the homes for some of the great Latin poets. In joining this particular tour, she also joined the author’s penchant for reading the old books, which she brilliantly describes in A Summer with Ancient Poets.

Some preparatory reading (for an upcoming review) has two pleasurable side effects for Lauren Roberts: reading another book that finally got off the To Be Read pile, and sharing with Mom a particular pleasure both have come to treasure. To be home reading is one of the joys in Reading Home.

What is abnormal becomes normal when looked at and dealt with courage. That is certainly true in the case of one family whose story has been told in a movie, but is better told in a new memoir according to Lindsay Champion in Chasing Miracles.

Back to the D.I. rack for Lauren Baratz-Logsted who found another writer to mercilessly grill with her disrespectful questions another best-selling author in The Disrespectful Interviewer: Dissing Adriana Trigiani.

Cereal is a ubiquitous food. We eat it for breakfast, sometimes for dinner, and occasionally as a snack-by-the-handful out of the box. One of the more unusual names for a cereal that is no longer in existence led Lauren Roberts on a circuitous journey through “breakfast-land” to learn about a curious bookmark in Good Morning!

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Has Anyone Seen My Jaw?

I dropped it this morning when I read this announcement by Publishers Weekly, the premier trade magazine for the publishing industry.

Yes, I know—believe me, I know—that magazines, even trade ones, are hurting for income. I also know that self-publishing and vanity-publishing are making inroads into what was once a tightly closed market. And I cannot say I am opposed to it. Electronic reading devices are slowly, but certainly, finding their way and their fans, and in my view that can only be a good thing. If anything, including format, encourages reading of books it is good.

Here’s what they are going to do: Introduce a quarterly supplement that announces the self-published titles that have been submitted to them within a certain period of time. The authors are going to be charged $149 as a “processing fee.” In return, their listing will include basic information such as author, title, price, ISBN (the unique identifier of each book). In return, PW promises that the “entire PW editorial staff will participate in a review of the titles being considered for review.” They will also include paid ads from companies offering services to self-published authors. What especially appalls me though, are two things. First, in addition to PW editorial staff who—call me cynical—are likely being dragged kicking and screaming into this PW says they will “invite agent friends and distributors” to be part of the process, “to have a look.” You can see their lawyers have been all over this because they add the caveat “no promises,” just “opportunity.”

Opportunity, my ass.

We briefly considered charging for reviews, but in the end preferred to maintain our right to review what we deemed worthy. The processing fee that guarantees a listing and the chance to be reviewed accomplishes what we want: to inform the trade of what is happening in self-publishing and to present a PW selection of what has the most merit.

First, PW is not doing any selecting at all. It is running ads from anyone who sends in a book and $149. True, they are choosing from those books those for which they will provide a review but that leads me to my second point: what if fewer than twenty-five of the books that come in have merit? Do they hold their noses and pick the least worst and review those? Will they force their reviewers to say nice things to balance out any criticism? (One review publication I applied to early on—and then turned down after learning of their rules—actually required this.) How can what they receive be indicative of any self-publishing trends in the industry? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say it is more indicative of what those who can afford the fee are writing? And my final point: who is going to read this supplement? Who will benefit by it?

Not the reading public who will almost never see these books in bookstores. Not trade or university publishers or literary agents who have enough publishable books coming to them that have not lost their literary virginity (AKA first rights). Not the authors who will be out $149 for an ad that very few people will see and even fewer care about. What about those lucky twenty-five? Good for them, but I suspect not so good for their books. Unfortunately, PW is not the first publication to take money from authors that the regular publication disdains. Another trade magazine, Kirkus, did it with their Kirkus Discoveries (KD) program for what they termed “independently published authors.” Their charges were a breathtaking $425 or, for express service, $575. For that you get an “experienced reviewer” who specializes not only in certain fields but has been “segmented” into genre specialties. To their credit, they clearly state that KD is “a caveat emptor service that gives honest, impartial evaluations of the titles we receive.”

Points for honesty.

KD reviews do not end up in Kirkus—they are online only, and the professionals who subscribe to Kirkus don’t see them unless they look specifically for them. Most don’t.

The problem I have with KD and now PW’s supplement is that they are marketing these programs to authors who are seeking publicity to get their books in front of readers and/or trade publishers who will buy rights to publish the books themselves. Many are frantic, even desperate, for good reviews, and their emotional vulnerability can lead them into situations where they can be taken advantage of.

To me, this move by PW is no different from sleazy online sites that run reviews and charge for “expedited” service. The only difference is in the name. PW and Kirkus are known names in the industry; sleaze sites—oh, how I would love to name some of them—are not. But regardless of their name value websites and publications that charge money are not looking out for their readers; they  are looking at their bottom line. They are taking money from self-published or vanity-published authors, most of whom have not written “publishable” books but who are desperate for publicity. This makes me gag, PW. You know why? Because once you sell your reputation you can’t take it back.


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Issue of August 22, 2010

As we move into the latter part of August (watch out for those Christmas items in the stores!) and the peak of the heat, books never looked better. We have a lot for your to consider this week too, regardless of your interests. So plow ahead—and take advantage of our recommendations!

Into sports? Pete Croatto has a book (well, he has several but one in particular) that blew his socks off—or at least caused him to lose sleep, nearly miss assignments, and almost neglect his personal hygiene. What was the book (and what other books does he recommend) for the final summer weeks? Find out in A Summer Reading List.

It’s been the Summer of Shakespeare for Lev Raphael who finishes out his 2010 obsession with the man, the plays, and the Shakespeare Deniers in a passionate essay that talks about First Folio and its extraordinary importance in From Folio to Fantasy.

So often American readers are ignorant of literature outside their own country (excepting perhaps British literature). Gillian Polack’s interview with three Australian science fiction/fantasy authors, including an Indigenous one, is an trip into the worlds of speculative fiction and great authors in The Baggage Writers Carry: Interviewing Janeen Webb, Jack Dann and Yaritji Green.

Where we are today as readers has been shaped by what we read as children. David G. Mitchell likes looking back at those books that influenced him, and lays out his personal literary history in  While My Shelves Gently Weep.

When Lauren Roberts first discovered an annual bookmark project called Bookmarks (I, II, III, IV, etc.) she was enthralled. In September BiblioBuffet will join the project when the eighth one goes live because the bookmarks to be given away by us arrived last week—and they are perfect miniature literary art. While they cannot yet be seen, you can read about them in The Book in Bookmarks.

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The World of “e”

I am a member of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC), which recently sent a e-mail request to its members asking its members to write a guest post for their “Next Decade in Book Culture series.” The question was: Are you using e-galleys? If not, are you ready to make the switch?”

E-galleys are electronic versions of galleys or ARCs (advance reader copy) of books. These are often sent out to reviewers in advance of publication date, hoping that reviews will begin before or not long after the books hit the consumer market. There is something of a debate over them going digital. Certainly they are more cost effective for the publisher, but how many reviewers and review publications accept them?

Naturally, I turned to BiblioBuffet’s contributors for their answers. But let me begin by noting that at BiblioBuffet, the consensus from reviewers on e-galleys is a near-universal “no.” A few books being published now are going straight to e-book (just as some books are now issued as trade paperback originals, a relatively recent development). They will not be issued in any other format. So we at BiblioBuffet will miss those, but we also wonder if doing that is going to knock out a lot of readers as well as reviewers who might otherwise read them.

Our disagreement with only issuing the book in one format, particularly the electronic version, is that it eliminates a portion of the book’s audiences, and I am speaking of both the reviewing and the reading ones. If a book is issued only issued in hardcover, price will eliminate some readers. If it is issued only in trade paperback, publishers might miss those who prefer hardcover or e-book formats. If it is issued solely in mass market paperback, that would eliminate a lot of readers who don’t like the throwaway quality of these books. And if it is issued in e-book format only, and especially in only one version like the Kindle, the non-electronic audience—for whatever reason—is entirely dismissed.

We believe that it is foolish to eliminate certain aspects of your reading audience when readers themselves are not a large portion of the population. Can publishers afford to throw away readers? Can they afford to throw away reviewers?

We at BiblioBuffet are not for the most part using e-galleys, nor do we anticipate doing so in the foreseeable future. We do use online catalogs, which I view as a wonderful thing. They save money, time, and paper, and are easy to update. The only thing I would like to see is publishers sending links to them to reviewers on a regular basis because they know when a new one is out. It’s being pro-active about notifying reviewers, and with a database and e-mail groups it’s a relatively easy thing to do.

There is a site that reviewers can register at and request these electronic review copies—NetGalley. I have tried it. I found it most unsatisfactory. I work on the computer all day. Our publication is online. I read industry news, keep up with readers’ forums, and chat via e-mail—all on the computer. It is a relief when I can turn it off and open up a book with nothing electronic to distract me. It’s a a real mental, physical, and emotional break from that world into the one we call life where reading has always existed.

On the other hand we, as reviewers, are inundated with books. At BiblioBuffet, we hold that the books sent to us, whether ARCs or final versions are not to be profited from. Part of our official policy is that they cannot be sold. Would e-books help alleviate that deluge? As Nicki Leone, Managing Editor, put it:

I’m not against using e-galleys. In fact, ARCs and review galleys were the one thing I could originally see as being ideal for e-reader use, precisely because they are so transient and liable to change. (And because real, dead-tree review copies and galleys become something of a problem for an active reviewer in short order—you get so many of them, you can’t ethically sell them or give them away, it’s hard to destroy them, etc.)  But I haven’t adopted the practice yet because e-readers aren’t in my price range and the technology behind e-book formats hasn’t settled into any kind of real standard. Once that happens, though, and once the price of the technology comes down under $100, I’ll probably adopt them. Not for my “real” books I want to own—those have a lasting, permanent presence in my life that electronic media just can’t touch. But for better handling the literally dozens of books I am sent every week—a workable e-reader would be a godsend.  And once that happened, then I wouldn’t be adverse to reviewing e-book originals, as long as they met the same editorial standards BiblioBuffet requires of all the books it considers for review.

I also asked our other contributors to weigh in and got these responses:

David Mitchell, who focuses primarily but not exclusively on history, and World War II in particular, was more succinct: “I would not review an e-book unless there were NO bound books available anywhere in the English or French languages. I have tried the Sony Reader, Nook and Kindle. Unless the technology improves materially, I find that I cannot immerse myself in anything on one of those screens.”

Lauren Baratz-Logsted, a prolific children’s and young adult novelist, also has strong feelings that are applicable to reviewers who are also authors: “I’ve never used e-galleys and have no interest in making the switch. I spend all day in front of a computer as it is, writing, and have no wish to read review copies or pleasure reading on yet another electronic screen.”

Author Lev Raphael, is open to the possibility of e-readers but not for reviewing: “I have not been using them yet, and here’s why. I dislike the Kindle, don’t think it’s at all close enough to reading a book. I have, however, liked what I see with the iPad and intend to get the next model, because Apple will have to make one with Flash, HD Video, and a camera. My DroidX has those—why should I buy a reader that does less? I still do like physical galleys and though I can imagine turning to e-books some day, when I purchase the next model of iPad it will primarily be for reading on the road, not for review reading.”

Lindsay Champion, a writer and contributor to various publications, also opposes  electronic reading any  more than she does: “I spend my entire day staring at screens, and I read traditional books to allow my strained eyes to relax. The last thing I want to do is increase the amount of time I look at a computer, Kindle, or other electronic device. If I am considering a book for review, it may be helpful to check out the e-galley first to see if I’m interested in the writing style and subject matter, but when it comes to sitting down and reading the book, I would prefer to read a traditional, printed copy.”

Australian contributor Gillian Polack is actually the only reviewer who does use e-galleys, and the reason is that she is a historian (going for her second doctorate). “I use quite a few electronic reproductions of historical texts in my research. I just gave Nicki an article where I read all the books from downloaded versions. I think that the accessibility of nineteenth century books through libraries online has been a major factor in me being willing to review using electronic galleys,” she noted. As for the books she reviews:

I review using e-galleys, but I way prefer the print version and will choose it whenever I have that option. I also limit the number of e-galleys I’m prepared to accept in a given time—never more than four a month until they’re more reader friendly. I don’t have a dedicated e-reader—just use my desktop or netbook. The netbook means I can take work with me when I travel and settle down to read a review book on the bus. It’s not perfect by any means and my ideal interface is still with dead trees and rags, but if it means someone will let me see a UK or US book I would like to review and that otherwise I wouldn’t even be able to buy locally after release, then I’ll say “yes, please.” In my current to-be-reviewed pile I have five paper books (three academic, two SF) and one e-book. This is a good ratio.

Pete Croatto, who is a longtime reviewer and now focuses on sports books for BiblioBuffet, noted: “Would have to agree with everyone else. I find that I read a book with more depth and care than what’s on a screen. In fact, Nicholas Carr in The Shallows pretty much says as much. Plus, I find that a relationship with a book—whether it’s a galley, hardcover, whatever—is one that’s pretty intimate. And that’s one I’d like to maintain.”

For me, the founder and editor-in-chief of BiblioBuffet, I can say I was one of the earliest sign-ups with NetGalley. But I have no intention of printing out books and sitting down with unbound pages. And while I have had the opportunity to see, admire, and try both a Kindle and the iPad, and I like both, I have no interest in reading on another screen. It’s possible I might do it if I traveled a lot. Even if I did I doubt I would buy fewer books than I do now. It’s important to me to have them in my home. And it’s equally important to have the books I do review in bound editions. I find it easier to make notes, to mark passages, and to remember when I can flip through pages, make mental connections, and check things. (Yes, I realize e-readers can do all these things too, but having done it this way for so long I have to say that practice makes perfect.) But the primary reason I will not review e-galleys is that I want to get away from screens—and temptations like e-mail—when I can.

In addition to our reviewers, our audience seems to favor books over e-books too. But the fact that many of the books are available in both formats is a plus since an enthusiastic review of a good book gives interested readers a choice of format based on their preference—and giving readers what they want is key. To me, that means more choices, not fewer. But as far as our reviewers go? At BiblioBuffet, e-books, whether original or just another version of the paper book, will not be eligible for review consideration. Not now, and probably not for a long time. But we’re not worried. Given what Bowker said about the number of traditional books published in 2009, we have a long way to go before we run out of review possibilities.

And if all that is not a good enough reason to stick to books rather than electronic gadgets, there’s this from writer Diane Lefer:

Several years ago–and this is a warning to all you writers out there–I lost my eyesight for eight months when too much staring at the screen made all the focusing muscles go slack. When I could read, write, and drive again, I began to limit my hours at the screen. This spring, when my right eye started going blurry, I panicked. This time around, the doctor says my muscles are physically fine, but my brain is no longer communicating properly with my right eye. My left eye is good. I limit my hours at the computer. I function.

There really is life and health outside the virtual world. Let’s make sure we keep our hands and eyes as healthy as our minds.


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Issue of August 15, 2010

This week BiblioBuffet offers you a look at a new heart-to-heart memoir, a peek into one bibliophile’s journey with her books from one house to another, a stimulating ride-a-long on books you should read but may not be find-able in your bookstore (and why), and link trips to challenging, amusing and educational places. We hope you enjoy it.

Nicki Leone turns her pen back into time to recall when she moved herself and her books—all 8,000 of them—into her current home. Her first surprise was that her organizational plan fizzled halfway through the first shelf in the first bookcase. Her second was finding books she didn’t remember having. But it all turned out well as she describes in Rooms Full of Books.

A memoir that seems a bit too good to be true that is also good for you? Lindsay Champion finds that despite a flaw or two a new book by a California heart surgeon, written primarily with women in mind—more women than men have died from cardiovascular disease every year since 1985—is educational, entertaining, and, well, heartwarming as she shares in A Heartwarming Tale.

Why are some books shelved in specialized sections when they are really just damn good fiction? Literary segregation? Who does that help? Certainly not readers looking for excellent books that just happen to have gay (or African American or Hispanic or women’s themes). Lauren Baratz-Logsted ponders the loss to readers in Straight Reading Gay (On a Bench).

Let’s take a little tour this week of several online articles (and one video) that Lauren Roberts found to be of particular interest and reveals in Sharing Things.

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Socially Correct

Facebook came into my life courtesy of a contributor and now friend, David Mitchell. Both David and Nicki Leone are social “networkers.” They have accounts not only on Facebook but on Twitter. I do too. The difference between us is that they actually use theirs, and I try to forget I have them.

It’s weird to find myself wondering if this is how my parents felt when the electronics revolution broke out in the last sixties with stereophonic sound, quad speakers, reel-to-reel tapes and so on. (Am I dating myself or what?). It wasn’t confusing to me, but anything beyond a console record player was something that baffled and confused them. Now I think I know how they felt.

I am not afraid of or dread learning new technologies. Heck, I learned how to work a website. I put up the new issue each week. I can format it, and I am comfortable moving around the administration portion of the website. But I have been resistant to the idea of joining the social networking world for two reasons. First, I was once stalked. It happened many years ago but that terrible fear and terror in which I lived for several months is still with me. Second, I have always been a rather private person. I am generous with my time, my help, my home, and my books, and I love meeting new people, but I tend to move slowly in developing close friendships. But I feel that what is private should stay private.

Social networking goes against all that. No one need reveal all of course, but the more one puts online the less private everything is. Still, it is a good way to promote, and as a result I am becoming slightly more involved.

The result is that BiblioBuffet has a Facebook page thanks to David Mitchell who set it up and manages it. Currently, there are 488 fans to date. I am amazed and admittedly thrilled by this. And thankful to all of them. If you haven’t joined and if you are a Facebook fan I invite you to join us. I don’t often post there but I do check in regularly. And I’d love to see you.

Twitter is something still foreign to me though I do have an account. Since the character count is so limited and I refuse to use that awful textspeak As of a few minutes ago I just began using it to post one piece of literaria each day. Maybe there will be other things too.  (Our name: @BiblioBuffet).

Nicki, David, Lindsay, Lev, Lauren, Laine, Pete and I all encourage you to visit our social networking pages and “friend” us or “tweet” us or just leave comments. I love hearing from you, and maybe stretching my wings a bit, socially speaking, might allow me to get to know you a bit better.


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Issue of August 8, 2010

This week’s issue roams rather far afield in time, location, and interest. From a distinctive bookmark to a distressingly excellent novel, and from a surprising encounter to a cultural prodigy our contributors explore the world around us. We hope you enjoy it.

Public libraries almost always play a large role in the lives of passionate readers. But if it hadn’t been for one man they might not have existed. A unique bookmark specially made to commemorate one library’s opening is the one of Lauren Roberts’s favorites and the focus in The Key to a Library.

As she digs into her past for this column, Gillian Polack explores the experience she had of meeting author Chaim Potok, who had been merely a favorite author when she met him but who, when they parted, had become much more in The Many Shades of Jewish Culture.

Fiction fulfills many roles, some forgettable, some memorable, a very few life-changing. For David Mitchell, his most recent novel proved to be one of those moments that provided “a roller coaster ride of gratuitous emotion” and left such a powerful impact it may well be his best book of the year as he shares in Hell is Murky.

What happens when a talented athlete comes of age too early and finds too much success? Pete Croatto explores that question in a biography that attempts to decipher and interpret the fame of LeBron James, but he isn’t actually sure if the book is “a genuine attempt to bond with the public or a savvy stroke in . . . [his attempt to be] an everyman” in Too Much Too Soon.

Getting rid of unwanted books is not hard. It can be done through donations to thrift stores and nonprofits’ book sales, through garage sales and online exchange sites, and more. Lauren Roberts has used them all, but has found one resource (aside from friends) that ensures books chosen homes in The Cycle of Books.


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