Monthly Archives: May 2011

Issue of May 29, 2011

With the last day of the Memorial Day weekend comes the first day of the summer season. At least that’s how most of us tend to think of it. Many newspapers and magazines like to publish a list of “beach reads” they recommend. Here at BiblioBuffet, we prefer to just talk about the books we have read and passionately endorse. And this week is no exception.

Rome did not die on August 2, 216 BC, but one of its most important events—the Battle of Cannae—took place on that day. A new book that makes not the battle “compelling, enlightening, and readable” is due, Nicki Leone says in History Rhymes, to its author’s “rare talent among scholars to bring remote and seemingly academic facts down from their rarified heights and put them, vividly and viscerally, right in front of the reader.”

Mothers (birth and step) inevitably play a very large emotional and physical role in our lives regardless of how long they have been there or what they have done. In her review of a new memoir about the effect that being adopted has had on the author’s adult life, Lindsay Champion finds a woman who finds the gift she sought—in an unexpected place in Seeking a Mother’s Touch.

One of the best things about the Internet is the number of blogs, websites, and forums devoted to books. This is where readers can learn far more about previously unknown books—old and new—they might want to read than ever before. Lauren Roberts, who is known to hang out at several book discussion forums, is always trying to introduce people to them, especially to BookBalloon. This time, it’s your turn in To the Forum!

Laine Farley shares a special bookmark that instead of being created for commercial purposes was instead created to provide a  “ unique experience for lovers of books and art in San Francisco for seventy years.” Learn all about this bookmark and the unique history behind it in Books and Cards Worth Giving.

It’s the holiday/memorial weekend of reading and dining and all is going well. Please indulge Lauren Roberts’s short note in The Weekend—though there are lots of other things to read in the letter!—so she can get back to her reading.

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The Right Direction

Since BiblioBuffet opened its doors on January 8, 2006, our policy for considering books for review has pretty much stayed the same. We consider trade books, that is, books from commercial or university presses in all genres except  books that are not self-published or vanity-published, in all genres except business, self-help, true crime, New Age and romance. Each one has its reasons for being on our “no” list.

More important, we do not review self-published or vanity-published books. The reason is that finding a book worth reviewing is like finding that needle in the haystack, and digging through mountains of dreck in search of the rare gem is not worth our time.

It still isn’t for the most part, but technological changes have wrought changes in industry practices. Recently, there have been a few literary agencies who have moved in directions from author representation to publishing. They don’t plan to compete with the publishing houses, but instead are moving to re-issue their clients’ backlists. In addition, some authors, including our own Carl Rollyson and Lev Raphael, are publishing new editions, both print and e-books, of their own works now that they have the rights back.

BiblioBuffet would not consider books like this to be self-published, though they technically are in their new editions. These books have been through what is termed the editorial gatekeeping process, that is, they were selected by a commercial trade publisher who believed in the book enough to put money, time, and editorial/design/sales/marketing/publicity talent behind it. What is being re-issued is not a raw book that only an author’s mother could love, but one that was successfully created for and marketed to the reading public.

We also have, thanks to Pete Croatto, our sports book reviewer, another aspect to consider—self-published books that are that rare gem. Belue to Scott! is one of them. It was written by Robbie Burns, a man with the passion for the team he wrote about but also with a professional writing background on sports and sports history. It made him uniquely qualified to write a self-published “gem.”

Those two reasons are why Nicki and I have been talking again about revising our “Submit Books for Review” guidelines, and this time it is going to happen. But we don’t want to open BiblioBuffet’s doors to everyone; we will continue to hold to our high standards for the writing we present and the books we talk about.

The revised guidelines will be some time within the next two weeks. Though they are still be written and edited, they will include the following so that we know the writers understands the process of writing a good book:

  • Was there an editor? If so, who? What else have they edited?
  • Has the author published anything else, either in print or online in a professional capacity? (Personal blogs don’t count.)
  • Is the book blurbed by anyone recognizable?

These are not the only considerations but they will be a part. And while we haven’t yet finalized the wording, we do know that we must open ourselves to these new changes that have arrived because our mission statement—Writing Worth Reading, Reading Worth Writing About—does not say, imply, or infer anything less than that we at BiblioBuffet want to show you a few of the best books out there. We cannot do that unless we utilize the best of the industry changes. Or as Nicki phrased it, since “the gatekeepers are gone from the kingdom, it probably means we need to step in their place.”

We’ve seen the new direction, and we are ready for what it will bring.

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Issue of May 22, 2011

I am proud of all our issues because each one contains some of the best writing around. Regardless of whether it is an interview, a profile, a review, or an essay, BiblioBuffet’s writers tackle their subjects with passion, pride, and always with an eye toward producing writing worth reading. Because you, the reader, deserve only the best.

A life well lived does not always make for a life well written about, especially if the subject is also the author. Pete Croatto began the memoir of a man whose life should have made for reading as fascinating for readers as it was for him, but, alas, was not. The reasons why will be found in A Life Well Lived—and Poorly Told.

How do biographers make subject choices? Carl Rollyson, biographer of people as diverse as Marilyn Monroe and Thurgood Marshall, talks about the “inner dynamic” that leads him to choose subjects who are cynosures, people who “wanted the world’s attention” and got it in Clearing the Bar.

“I wanted to interview three fantasy authors who publish with the same publisher but live on different continents, just to see what would happen,” Gillian Polack says as she begins her fascinating interview that explores their work, their personal lives, and their reading to discover what influences their books. in Solaris’ Fantasy: Daniells, McKenna and Maxey.

The first holiday weekend of the summer is approaching, and with it her annual Great Memorial Weekend Read. Lauren Roberts shares some thoughts on remembering the day itself and her plans for the entire weekend—books and all in The Great Memorial Weekend Read.

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Issue of May 15, 2011

In a world that always seems to be at war, the stories of suffering and survival keep coming.  Lev Raphael looks at two extraordinary stories, one real, one based on real events, both of them rooted in the massive traumas of World War Two in “War Stories.”

What happens when an otherwise fine memoir is mislabeled leading to readers having one expectation and instead finding an entirely different result? Lindsay Champion was confronted with just such a question when she read what appeared to be a standalone book, but was instead a prequel in The River of Light.

A Montgomery Ward bookmark advertising its newest catalog that would be, at best, highly inappropriate today, was normal at the time of its issue in 1902. Lauren explores the company’s history—a volatile one—from its stunning beginning in the nineteenth century to its re-invention in the twenty-first century in The Mark of a Retail Giant.

Nicki Leone returns to the library of her childhood to remember, to savor, and to treasure her memories of that fountain of youth that lit the passion with which her life has since been infused. All readers have such memories even if their childhood libraries aren’t historic buildings. Travel with her into a building that was Bigger Inside Than Out.

A late Mother’s Day gift that was a complete surprise and the meal that made it so prompted Lauren to seek out a recipe at a time that proved to have unfortunate timing. Ah well, timing is everything—and fortunately that time will arrive soon in Eating by Proxy.

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Issue of May 8, 2011

Oh boy, do we have some reading for you! Books we recommend, a behind-the-scenes look at the intersection of life and biography, a visual trip through a sports nut’s bookshelves, and more. Join us!

When a passionate biographer finds a subject that interests him, he pursues it. But Carl Rollyson went beyond that when he found that his early obsession with a particular film meshed with his memories of his father, his early passions, and his professional writing as he shares in Biography, My Father, Dana Andrews, and Me.

“A genuine genius” is what Gillian Polack wrote about a writer who, she says, “has managed to capture Australia in his work in a way that shows who we are. Instead of making us look larger or smaller or stranger, we look like ourselves, with all the loneliness and all the whimsy and all the hurt and all the joy that mark us.” Get your cup of Australia in Celebrating Shaun Tan.

Filled-to-the-brim-and-then-some bookshelves are to writers what nails are to a carpenter. Pete Croatto decided to get naked in a literary sense by showcasing his bookshelves. The man writes about sports-related books as much as he can, but what do his shelves really say? Find out in This is Who I Am.

Author interviews and profiles saturate the Internet in quantities unforeseen even a decade ago. Yet they differ, often dramatically, from those of years gone by in several ways. Lauren Roberts explores those differences from a single writer’s perspective and how that affects readers in Walking the Talk.

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Content or Discontent?

Were Shakespeare alive today he might well have written the famous question this way because it seems as if many blogs and websites prefer “content” to thoughtful, well-written articles and essays.

BiblioBuffet’s editors see this in queries much too often. The worst ones even offer us “content” even though our guidelines are clear about our desire for writing that possesses not only quality but individualism and personality.

We are not looking for journalistic type of pieces that are “here today, gone tomorrow.” Because we are a weekly publication, we cannot and do not compete in breaking stories. Rather, we specialize in presenting thoughtful pieces that use personal perspectives and individualistic approaches to explore anything that catches our contributors’ interests.

[W]e believe that BiblioBuffet’s strength lies in the personalities of its writers. So what we are looking for are those who are interested in writing about books, reading, and related issues with voice, passion, and individualism. The standard book review of “here is the plot and this is what I think” is not for us. If you are writing a review, we want to know about the book through you. Our writers, past and present, have been selected not only because they have excellent writing skills but because they have a intriguing point of view or a unique personality from which they write. It is that style that is BiblioBuffet’s strength.

The reason, we think, that more writers are writing with an eye to content is that more websites are demanding it. Quantity over quality. More. Faster. Cheaper. There are blogs I no longer read and websites I no longer to go for this very reason. One popular bookish blog in particular has no fewer than one link in every sentence. It’s impossible for me to read because she demands that the reader go off, come back, go off, come back, ad infinitum. And websites and online publications are heading in that direction.

Lindsay Champion, one of BiblioBuffet’s contributors, recently submitted a knock-your-socks-off review. It was obvious she had been not only working very closely with Nicki but had taken her editorial suggestions under her wing and been working hard on her beginnings and endings (formerly weak areas). Her response to my congratulatory e-mail was touching:

Wow, I am completely bowled over by your kind words. Thank you so much; it comes at a time when I’m feeling particularly discouraged. I think this is one of those emails I’m going to have to print out and save forever. Thank you so much for giving me the chance to learn so much while I’ve been writing for Bibliobuffet. I’ve had so much fun!

Don’t be discouraged, I told her in response.

Easy to say, I know. I’ve been there from a writer’s perspective, and I find myself there from an editor’s. Rejecting submissions is my least favorite part of being part of the editorial team. But it’s a necessary part if we are to keep our standards to the level we’ve set.

But for her and for other writers, however, the search continues for places to publish.

I’m sure most writers and editors are all feeling the recession right now, combined with the influx of content mills and that more and more employers have decided they’d prefer bad-quality writing in exchange for lower rates. When I first started submitting my writing, everything was going like clockwork—probably because the economy was good! I remember the editor of the Village Voice having a long email discussion with me about how to get my idea to work in the paper, even though I had just started and had no idea what I was doing. It seemed like everyone was interested in hiring new writers. Now, it’s the complete opposite. It feels like I’m in the Twilight Zone. I’m so glad to have supportive and nurturing editors like you and Nicki to keep me on track through the rough patches.

She’s right. The quality of writing in far too many places is low. Some writers accept that. But Lindsay hasn’t, and I am proud of her for that. Even though she was a good enough writer to capture our attention when she first came aboard, she has dramatically improved. I told her I expect to see her name in some major publications in the future, and I do. It’s why, regardless of how discouraging her search might be right now, I am insisting she and our other columnists maintain their pursuit of places seeking excellent writing rather than sites and publications that prefer content. Then the question of “content or discontent” will remain, as it should, a moot one.

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Issue of May 1, 2011

If April showers bring May flowers, what does May bring? At BiblioBuffet it brings some damn good books. We loved them. We know you are going to  love them too.

“God, what a book,’ Nicki Leone wrote in her e-mail that accompanied her column this week. What she’s speaking of is a book re-issued by the New York Review of Books in 2001, a book that somehow has bypassed most fans of travel literature. What is it? Find out in A Stranger in a Strange Land.

In a powerful no-disclaimer-need memoir by Andres Dubus III that she loves, Lindsay Champion finds the finds a “deeply personal exploration of one man’s violence, told not with rage, but with disarming vulnerability and wisdom.” Why this is very much worth reading, even if you haven’t yet read his novels, she shares in Like Father, Like Son.

Laine Farley returns to BiblioBuffet with a thrilling yet disturbing history on a bookmark from H.D. Cushman issued in the late nineteenth century for its cigar-shaped menthol inhalers designed to combat “sneezing, snuffling and coughing”—and many other illnesses as well in Sells All the Year.

Guest columnist Katharine Hauswirth ponders two books that focus on how people endure the aftermath of tragedy, one that offers a “brave attempt to address the age-old mystery of what larger, unseen truths may be behind, or perhaps hover above, it all,” and a second, a book of poetry that “builds a case for deep appreciation of the natural world and the experience of being human in it” in What’s It All About? Two Offerings.

And Lauren Roberts wishes you all a fine beginning to May. As for her, things are not quite so “spring-y” this week so she begs your indulgence. Be sure to check out the book festivals, publisher of the week, reading image, and the rest of the editor’s letter in May Fever.

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