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The perils of a book critic

“What do we look for when we want to read? What should we be looking for? I look for wit, authenticity, soul, a strong narrative, good prose; you might not be interested in any of those things. The point is that reading is too important, too time-consuming and too demanding to drift into. Choose literary friends whose taste you trust and who know you well and critics you respect. And watch what’s lasting, too — in the end, the canon chooses itself.”

Novelist Nick Hornby has been reviewing books for a literary magazine called The Believer for about ten years. He writes about books he’s read, without paying attention to new releases. The article has some interesting thoughts about what it’s like to review books, and how he chooses the books he reads.

via The perils of a book critic | The Sunday Times.

Save 50% on All Take Control Books in Back to School Sale

It’s time for Take Control Books’ 50% off back to school sale. Buy now to expand your ebook library at half off; it’s the perfect opportunity to polish your tech skills, and start working more efficiently. Grab my Take Control of iTunes 11: The FAQ, Take Control of Scrivener 2, or Take Control of LaunchBar […]

What makes Gormenghast a masterpiece?

“Why is it that the three books usually (and according to experts incorrectly) named the Gormenghast trilogy never achieved the level of success of that notable fantasy behemoth, The Lord of the Rings? I am not suggesting that the two works should be viewed as counterparts, and yet in very different ways they are two cornerstones of fantasy writing in the second half of the 20th century. One is universally known by anyone who’s ever become a reader; I’m lucky if I find one person who has even heard of the other in any given audience of two hundred or more.”

via What makes Gormenghast a masterpiece? | Marcus Sedgwick | Books | theguardian.com.

An interesting examination of this little-known series of “fantasy” novels. I recall trying to read Gormenghast a few decades ago. I think I read one and a half books then gave up. I do recall the intricately obsessive nature of the books, though, and perhaps it’s time to try them again. They’re available in one-volume editions; at 960 (UK edition) or 1160 (US edition) pages, they’re enough to keep one immersed for quite a while. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

And, I have a kitty named Titus (though he’s not named after Titus Groan, but Titus Andronicus).

Should Books Be a Commodity?

“…making books less expensive might benefit Amazon and its customers, but it sucks the life out of publishers and the authors who need their services. Big publishers bear much of the blame for their troubles. They pay out vast sums for dubious projects, often ignore their “midlist,” publish far too many titles, and generally treat the book trade as if it were a business like TV, when, in fact, it’s closer to an artisanal craft.”

via Amazon Vs. Hachette: What Would Orwell Think? – The New Yorker.

Glenn Fleishman gave a good explanation of the Amazon/Hachette dispute in a TidBITS article, but one of the broader questions here is whether or not books should be a commodity. As both a reader and author, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I want to be able to get books for less; I have a couple thousand of them, and any savings I can make on one book allow me to buy more.

But as an author, what’s happening is a bit chilling. I buy the occasional Kindle ebook from Amazon at prices from £1-2 (I live in the UK), and I know how little authors get from these. Yes, some are loss leaders; for example, my friend Peter Robinson has a new mystery out Abattoir Blues, (Amazon UK), and, to get readers into the series, one of his older books, Wednesday’s Child (Amazon UK), is currently on sale for £0.99.

The real problem here is that the value of books is being cheapened; when you can get books for a buck or a quid, you’ll be less likely to pay full price for any other books. Sure, the ones by your favorite author will still tempt you, even in hardcover, but if books get too cheap, authors won’t be able to afford to write.

Untangling the Amazon/Hachette Dispute

“To break Amazon’s lock on ebooks, publishers could insist that DRM-free EPUB become the format of choice, eliminating the connection between reading on a Kindle and purchasing from Amazon”

via TidBITS: Untangling the Amazon/Hachette Dispute.

Glenn Fleishman, writing at TidBITS, gives a clear explanation of the current kerfuffle around Amazon and Hachette regarding ebook pricing.

I have to say, it’s because of the superiority of the Kindle that I buy all my ebooks from Amazon. Reading on an iPad is only good indoors, but I can read on a Kindle anywhere. If I could buy ebooks without DRM and use them on my Kindle or iPad as I choose – which I do now, using the Kindle app on my Apple devices – I would certainly not be wedded to Amazon for my ebook purchases.

This happened to music, in large part through EU regulators looking at the lack of interoperability of digital music files. I wonder why they haven’t done the same for ebooks.

Beckett’s Bilingual Oeuvre: Style, Sin, and the Psychology of Literary Influence

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of Waiting for Godot’s English publication — Beckett’s self-translation of his original French play, En Attendant Godot, back into his native language. Godot was not Beckett’s first attempt at French composition; he had begun writing poetry in French as early as 1938 and translated Murphy into French in 1939. But Waiting for Godot was Beckett’s major foray into what would become his career-long routine of composing in French and self-translating into English.”

via The Millions : Beckett’s Bilingual Oeuvre: Style, Sin, and the Psychology of Literary Influence.

Back when I was studying French, before I moved to France, I was also discovering Samuel Beckett. I was fascinated that he had written in a second language, then translated himself back into his mother tongue. Some of the first books I read in French were by Beckett, because his style is very simple.

I lived in France for 28 years (I now live in the UK), and, having become bilingual, was especially interested in authors who write in another language. There are many of them, from Joseph Conrad to Vladimir Nabokov, and even Jack Kerouac, whose first language was Canadian French.

And Milan Kundera, who is Czech, wrote a number of novels in his native language before immigrating to France in 1975. He then oversaw French translations of his works, and now considers those to be the definitive versions of his novels, and, from the 1990s, wrote only in French. He only allows translations from the French versions, not the original Czech texts.

Beckett forged a different identity in French. He famously said that in French, it was “easier to write without style.” He certainly had a unique style, in both French and English.

Book Review: The Science of Shakespeare, by Dan Falk

There’s always room for books aimed at the general public examining some obscure element of Shakespeare’s life or thought. Since we don’t know much about his life, or his thought – other than through the plays – there’s plenty of speculation in books like this. Some succeed in being interesting and thought-provoking; and some don’t. […]

Book Review: Give My Regards to Eight Street, by Morton Feldman

Composer Morton Feldman was a voluble man, but he didn’t write much down. He taught and gave lectures, but his collected writings fit in this book, Give My Regards to Eight Street (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). At just over 200 pages, it contains articles about art and music, and liner notes and program notes for some […]

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