BEA, Google and the future of books

In other news this week, Book Expo America (BEA) has been happening in New York City. And the hot topic for the week has been–surprise–ebooks! That’s not to say that the usual business of the show, the distribution of galleys for upcoming books, particularly lit fic, did not occur, but the biggest buzz seems to have been around the topics of ebooks and ebook selling, and how to replicate the experience of bookstore handselling in an increasingly ereader- and online-driven world.

Books, whether print books or ebooks, are sold in only a few ways. You have read the author previously, and you like their work, so you buy the next one. (Baen books exploits this by giving away the first couple of ebooks in their authors’ series for free in the Baen Free Library.) The book appears on a bestseller list, so you know that other people are reading and recommending it, so it might be worth reading. A friend or colleague recommends it, otherwise known as “word-of-mouth”. You go to a bookstore and someone there recommends it, known as “handselling”. Librarians also hand0-recommend books. Last, you go to a “bricks and mortar” bookstore and browse the shelves where you see the book, find the cover interesting, read the cover blurb, and decide to take a chance and buy the book.

According to the reports from BEA, that last one, the serendipitous discovery, is also the way that most people decide to purchase ebooks as well. My favorite comment was a quote from David Steinberger, the CEO of Perseus. He said that, “What e-book sellers have now, is a system that’s ‘good for hunters, but not as good for gatherers’: it’s easy to find a book if you know what you’re looking for, but the virtual world offers nothing for the casual browser comparable to the bricks-and-mortar experience.”

However, for the ebook producers, the revolution is a positive one. Sales are up. In fact, the mid-list sales are particularly up. Those hunters that Steinberger referred to are finding more of the stuff they are hunting for, because all those predictions about the long tail are not just working, but the long tail is even longer than predicted. And when hunters have the entire world to hunt in, niche publications turn out to have an even better chance of finding their audiences.

But that gets back to the question, “how do they know?” How does a new author get buzz? Amazon reported earlier this month, and the New York Times article about BEA echoed it today, that owners of ereaders buy more books. But how do they, how do we, decide which books to buy?

In the Publishers Weekly article about BEA, Tom Turvey, Google’s own director of strategic partnerships,  asked why “all book recommendation engines suck before answering his own question: “there isn’t an algorithm that can compete with a competent, real-life bookseller.” Something that could easily be added here is a competent, real-life librarian.

There are a lot of long-term issues here all the way around. Independent bookstores do a terrific job of handselling, but their ability to link into ebook selling is lagging behind. They can partner with Google Books (Powell’s Bookstore does) but Google doesn’t allow the independents to advertise, at least not yet. However, discovery on the Google bookstore is less than optimal, as I have discovered myself. If I know what I want, it works fine. If I’m browsing from my iPad, I use Barnes and Noble–their bricks and mortar experience helps a lot.

Part of the BEA story was that children’s books have not seriously moved toward ebooks as yet. Picture books just don’t lend themselves to the format, and if the goal is to read with a child, cuddling up with the kid on your lap to read from an ereader while looking at the pictures together just doesn’t work yet.

Another piece of the BEA story concerned regional availability. The publishers are still hung up on the idea that some books can only be sold in certain parts of the world, even when that world is online. There was some understanding that this concept’s days are numbered. I sincerely hope so. In the bad old days, meaning, Terry Pratchett’s books used to come out 6 months earlier in the UK than they did in the US. I don’t know how much revenue his US publisher lost to the UK the first couple of years after it became relatively easy for fans to simply order the new book from if you were willing to have it shipped. But the 6 month delay nonsense stopped pretty quickly. If I am willing to pay for an ebook, and an ebook exists in English, and is available for sale in Canada or Australia or the UK, but is not available for sale in the US, my first question is going to be why can’t I buy it here? My second question is going to be how can I solve this problem?

One last interesting possibility. Google threw out a teaser that they might rent ebooks a la Netflix. Is that the good news, or the bad news?

Real person fiction

Real person fiction, otherwise known as RPF, is a term used in fanfiction to describe a story that uses the actors playing the characters in a TV show or movie rather than the characters themselves. And what is fanfiction, you ask? Fanfiction is when someone writes an alternative version of something they watch, read, or play and posts it somewhere that is fanfiction friendly like or There are also sites dedicated to specific interests. The number of sites devoted to Harry Potter is positively legion. Fanfiction is very definitely a violation of copyright, but, since no one makes any money off of it, most writers allow it.

But RPF is a breed all its own, and a lot of sites won’t touch it. There is a very big difference between imagining any kind of behavior one cares to between fictional characters, and applying that same imagination to real people–the tabloid papers at the grocery counter notwithstanding.

However, there is a growing trend in mystery writing of using real people as amateur sleuths. An amazing number of historic figures have been pressed into service in recent years, solving a surprising variety of dastardly deeds that history did not record.

One of my favorite books is The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey. It is a police procedural and a historic mystery, wrapped in a single package. In the police procedural framing story, Tey has her police detective laid up in hospital with a compound fracture. While he is unable to investigate real murders, and is bored out of his mind, he is forced by inactivity to find another occupation. Because the story was written in the 1930’s, her detective does not have the option of surfing the net, or even TV as mind candy, even if he were inclined to mind candy. A book someone brings him causes him to latch onto the idea of investigating the historic mystery of the Princes in the Tower–Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, who disappeared sometime after 1483.  Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, has pinned the crime of the Princes’ murder on their uncle and successor, Richard. Tey’s detective makes a different case.

Reading The Daughter of Time in my early teens gave me a lifelong interest in British history. The title is based on an old adage, “Truth is the daughter of time”. Whether Tey’s conclusion is the truth, no one knows. The topic is one that has been debated for over five centuries now, and Richard as the murderer has been fixed in the popular imagination. Although bodies purported to be the Princes were found in 1674 and possibly 1789, forensic testing has not been performed to date.

Imagine my surprise to discover that Tey herself had been “borrowed” as a fictional detective! Nicola Upson has begun a series of mystery novels using Josephine Tey as the center of a series of murders based in Tey’s real life as playwright Gordon Daviot. Ironically, both Tey and Daviot were pseudonyms, her real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh.

The first novel in the series, An Expert in Murder, revolves around the end of production of the play Richard of Bordeux in 1934. The play was Tey/Daviot’s most popular work, and was the theatrical event of its time. Many of the real participants left detailed memoirs of the period and their friendship with Tey (Sir John Gielgud, for example) and Upson’s portrait of the theatrical world in the 1930’s is fascinating. One does hope that not quite so many dead bodies turned up as in this mystery.

There are two more books in this series so far, Angel with Two Faces and Two for Sorrow. I plan to read both ASAP. But as much as I’m enjoying this series, there is something very ironic in this. Tey was, by all accounts, including Upson’s own, an extremely private individual. Making Tey the leading character in a mystery series is probably something she would have shied away from or made one of the suitably biting comments for which she was apparently famous. Too bad she can’t write this play, or novel, herself.


Strength in Unity

I’ve been following the debate about the potential “forking” of the Digital Public Library of America project. This is a project that is going to continue to generate a lot of intelligent commentary.

The name says it all. The excellent intention is to create a Digital Public Library for the U.S.  Based on following the listserv, there has been a lot of energy, which can sometimes seem to be more heat than light, invested in the determination of the definition of each individual word in that name–Digital, Public, Library, and I swear, sometimes even America.

But what would a Digital Public Library of America be? The phrase “Public Library” has a certain image in most people’s minds. For better or for ill, public libraries in America have become associated with best-sellers and helping kids with their homework, as well as storytimes for pre-schoolers.  That is not currently part of the vision of the DPLA.  So far, the Steering Committee has seemed primarily interested in more scholarly aspects of a potential DPLA, something more akin to an expanded American Memory project combined with Project Gutenberg and other out-of-print classic books.

This has led to discussions of a possible “fork” in the project, to dropping “Public” from the name, and to a therefore separate Public Library based DPLA-type project driven by Public Library needs.  The point-counterpoint argument on this topic was recently published by Library Journal.

There are cogent arguments both for and against a “fork” in the road.  But the arguments for the “fork” all seem to be based on human behavior. Academic librarians and public librarians are used to thinking and behaving in certain ways, and so we tend to go on doing so. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When I worked in Alaska, there was virtually no division between the academic librarians and public librarians in the Alaska Library Association. There simply weren’t enough of us to not work closely together. Also, we all crossed over from one type of library to another too often to not know how the other half lived and worked. When a big state conference attendance means 300 people, everyone knows everyone.

Nate Hill makes the point in his posting on the PLA blog that the Digital Public Library of America needs to be a big tent.  It is the libraries that will determine how its resources get used in each community.  Academic libraries will use its resources for scholarly purposes. Public libraries and their users will use its resources for a variety of purposes;some will, in fact, be scholarly, but others will be self-help, recreational, or whatever flights of fancy the user chooses. But first the resource needs to be there. And to paraphrase that famous movie line, “If we build it, they will come.”

This is going to be the Digital Public Library of America. As a public librarian, I know there are a lot of things that are important to public library users that will need to be included to make this truly a public library. But usage patterns are changing, and we need to move forward. A “fork” is not the answer. There is strength in unity. All types of libraries are currently being questioned about future relevancy in the face of the digital onslaught. The Digital Public Library of America is our collective answer–our future. We need to face that future together, not argue over who has the best seats at the table. Let’s set a table we all can sit at together.

Holmes is everywhere

Every generation reinvents Sherlock Holmes to suit itself.  The current revision, Sherlock, was created by the same team that is also at the helm of Doctor Who. This is totally appropriate, as Sherlock beat Doctor Who for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for Best Drama Series. The announcement was made yesterday, on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday. Watson would have been pleased, especially since the actor who plays Watson also won for Best Supporting Actor.

Sherlock is either a reboot or an update of the Holmes canon. The premise updates Holmes into the 21st century, complete with cellphones, GPS, non-smoking restaurants, competition from modern forensics, and modern psychiatric diagnosis of Holmes’ quirks. Sherlock knows he is a high-functioning sociopath. This doesn’t stop him from solving crimes that the police can’t. Watson is still a police surgeon invalided out from the Afghan war.  It’s the same unwinnable war. Some things do not change.

I was astonished at how well this premise worked. It’s not the canonical Holmes, and yet it is. We forget that when Conan Doyle wrote Holmes originally, they were contemporaneous. Holmes was a creature of his times. It’s only to us that they are historical because the Victorian period is one that turned out to be a memorable epoch. And, ironically, part of the reason that the Victorian period is memorable is probably due to Holmes.

I also watched the Robert Downey Jr. /Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes not too long ago.  Once the main plot finally got going, I enjoyed the movie, and it was great steampunk, but…Downey just isn’t my Sherlock Holmes. The late Jeremy Brett still matches the portrait I see in my head when I think of Holmes, more or less.  But the “great detective” has lent himself to a multitude of portrayals over the years since Conan Doyle first published Watson’s stories, and every character in the canon has been given his, or her, due.

The original versions of the Sherlock Holmes canon remain cracking good stories, which is one reason why they have continued to be read and re-interpreted to this day.  But the fun is in the re-imaginings.  TV’s updated Sherlock is just the latest in a very distinguished line.

The resemblances between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Gregory House on House M.D. have been commented on too many times to be repeated. The creator of House has admitted that the show is an homage to Holmes in a number of ways.  Holmes=Homes=House just for starters.  There were even two episodes of Star Trek, the Next Generation where Data portrayed Sherlock Holmes on the holodeck.

Authors have continued to push the “world’s first consulting detective” into cases that his original biographer did not pursue.  One case in point, Holmes and Jack the Ripper, were, or would have been, contemporaries.  Had Holmes existed, Scotland Yard would surely have called him in to investigate such a notorious and inflammatory series of murders.  In Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay Faye, Holmes is both a suspect and an investigator into the Ripper killings, as Watson follows his friend into horror.

On the other hand, if you prefer villains as heroes, Michael Kurland has written a series where Holmes is a bumbling, drug-addled idiot, and Professor Moriarty is the actual hero of the piece.  The Great Game concerns the “Great Game” of European politics in end of the century—the 19th century, that is—Europe, as the great powers tried to stave off, or speed up, the advent of the “Great War” that we know as World War I.

Holmes has featured in other worlds, particularly in the recent collection The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which includes the award winning story by Neil Gaiman, “A Study in Emerald”, where Holmes and Moriarty join forces in a parallel universe in which the Cthulhu Mythos of Lovecraftian invention has taken over Victorian England.  Very improbable indeed!

Last, but absolutely not least, the series which contains the answer to the question, “What did Holmes do after he retired to keep bees in Sussex?”  His last recorded case (His Last Bow) takes place in August, 1914.  And then?  According to Laurie R. King, in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, he kept bees, took way too much of his 7% solution of cocaine, and was slowly killing himself in boredom.  One afternoon in 1915 a fifteen-year-old girl tripped over him on the Sussex Downs with her nose buried in a copy of Virgil.  And the second act of his life began.

The hits to the book just keep on coming

There  have been a lot of announcements this week that have made an awful lot of folks in an awful lot of places sound like Chicken Little announcing that, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!”

In Publisher’s Weekly, there was a report that ebook sales were up 169% in January and February 2011 over previous year sales, and that March was also up 145.7%. In real money, for the first quarter of 2011, e-book sales were up 159.8%, to $233.1 million for the 16 publishers who report figures to the American Association of Publishers (AAP). And mass market paperback sales were only $123.3 million for the first quarter for the same group. Still money I’d like to have in my pocket, but the trend line is pretty clear.

Also yesterday, Amazon announced that sales of Kindle books have outstripped sales of hardcover and paperbooks combined.  For every 100 print books that they sell, they sell 105 Kindle books. And Amazon was very clear in the announcement that they meant sell, not give away.  Free Kindle books were not included in that 105 number, only actual sales. It does seem to include sales of Kindle books where there is no print edition, but that would be perfectly fair, since the print sales would include books where there is no Kindle edition. As Amazon points out, the Kindle was only introduced in November 2007. This revolution has happened in only 3.5 years.  Gutenberg must be absolutely spinning in his grave.

Ironically, the place I first saw the announcement was on aarlist2, a yahoo group that discusses romance novels. And most of the commentary was negative.  This is ironic because the romance genre readership as a whole has embraced electronic publishing, and there are several publishing houses that are e-only. Harlequin‘s entire current catalog is published simultaneously in epub and print, and they have an imprint (Carina Press) that is e-only.

Which brings me to the third announcement of the week. Early in the week, Library Journal and NetGalley announced that LJ would be including reviews of ebook only releases in Xpress Reviews, starting with romance.  Romance ebooks are the hottest genre among ebook readers in public libraries.  At my LPOW, romance ebook circulation was double-plus the next nearest contending genre. Anything I purchased circulated, and the hotter, the better. But without any review source whatsoever, I was purchasing based on tiny blurbs in OverDrive. It was pretty much guesswork. Getting something out there in the review space should be a good thing. (Full disclosure, I am one of the reviewers for LJ)

As a side note to the Amazon announcement, they also touted that the new Kindle with Special Offers, in other words, the Kindle with lots of advertisements, is now the best selling Kindle on the market. In order to save $25, people are willing to have ads pushed at them with their books. Indefinitely. There is an article in the latest issue of Fast Company about Morgan Spurlock’s new movie. The article is called, “I’m with the brand,” and it’s all about how product placement works in movies and TV. This new Kindle is just more of the same, except it’s not just a one hour TV show or a two hour movie, it’s every book ever read on it. I’d pay an extra $50 to be let out. But then, that’s why I bought an iPad. I only have to gaze at the little Apple every once in a while.

Who am I this time?

The above is the title of a surprisingly sweet made-for-TV movie starring Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon from before Walken was firmly entrenched as the weird crazy evil guy. It was a long time ago. The movie is a romantic comedy, and the two characters are rather shy and nerdy in different ways. They both get talked into joining a small community theatre group, and turn out to be great actors. They lose their extreme shyness only when playing their parts. As long as they have other people’s lines to say, they’re fine. Unscripted, they’re lost. They can only express their growing love for each other, by acting. They end up spending their lives together, living theatrically. If you can find a copy, it’s worth an evening’s popcorn.

I have a sign in the kitchen that I bought when we moved here, that reads, “I only have a kitchen because it came with the house.” I used to say that I cooked in my last life. Or that the microwave cooked, I didn’t. After coming home at 6, or 7, or occasionally later, cooking simply wasn’t worth bothering with.  But in the last couple of months, while we’ve been here packing up, the priorities have shifted.  My old recipes have come in handy again, and we found some new ones.  There’s nothing fancy involved, but yes, I do cook in this life, and no one has died. I may need a new sign. I wonder if there’s a source for “Dinner will be ready when the smoke alarm goes off”, since that’s already happened a couple of times.

But some parts of my previous lives are not coming back, and going through the books and boxes is making that abundantly clear. I’ve moved my needlework patterns and books and supplies from Chicago to Anchorage to Tally to Chicago to Gainesville, and I have shoved them into deeper and deeper closets each time.  It’s a hobby I enjoyed when I did it, but it’s time to acknowledge that I’m not going to pick it back up in the reasonably foreseeable future.  Or even the unreasonably foreseeable future.  I used to do cross-stitch when I watched television, and, considering that vast wasteland, I don’t do that either. Social networking, video games and the internet in general have taken over that time. But letting all that go and giving it to a friend who will use it, that’s difficult.

Even harder, I have a truly big collection of Star Trek books.  I think I have all the mass market paperbacks, trade paperbacks and hardcovers up until last year. That’s the point where I finally realized I was never going to catch up to reading all the ones I had, let alone any new ones published.  I have all the episodes of all the series on DVD, and all the movies.  I’ve seen every movie on the first night, even the bad ones.  But the books are dead weight at this point. I have a few collectibles mixed in there, including a copy of Trek or Treat, which still grabs the funny bone even decades later. The really good stuff like that will be hung on to. I still love the Trek universe, and I wish the rights-holders would do something good with it again.

Getting rid of entire swaths of stuff feels like losing parts of my identity. It’s hard to separate what we own from who we are, which sounds stupid when written, but is very different in actual practice. I’ve always believed I’d go back to cross-stitching someday, but if that day hasn’t come in 10 years, realistically, it’s not likely, and it’s time to move on. I know someone who will get more good out of what I’ve been carrying around than I have, no matter what postage to her is going to cost.

I watched the last season of the initial run of Star Trek with my dad. He passed away 20 years ago this coming October. Star Trek was the first science fiction I ever got interested in, and without that first taste, my life would have gone down a very different leg of the trousers of time, to mix in a Discworld metaphor. But I have to keep telling myself that all the mass market paperbacks are available as ebooks if I really want to read them.

Sometimes, it’s not the thing, it’s the memories attached that make all the difference.



Reading is a solitary pursuit

Reading is generally a solitary pursuit, but there are exceptions. I started to write that people who love to read generally learned by being read to as a child. I realized that the other way of learning to love reading is by using books as a way of retreating from the world. Losing yourself in books can become a very safe haven for a child who is lonely, bullied, or just plain different in some way. A lot of us who read science fiction and fantasy probably came to it that way.

Audiobooks are not necessarily a solitary experience. Anyone within earshot can listen. This is particularly true on long car trips. But not everyone enjoys listening to a book. I can’t drive long distance without one, and I prefer not to drive anywhere familiar without, not even for fifteen minutes. Yes, there’s radio. NPR talk is good. Classical music puts me to sleep. I love Classic Rock, but the thing about Classic Rock is that they’re not making any more of it, and I already own what I like. I’d rather have someone tell me a story, and there we are, back to audiobooks.

But reading a book is something one generally does alone.  There are some notable exceptions. For example, neither of us is allowed to read Terry Pratchett in bed.  Sir Terry is simply too laugh-out-loud funny. Laughing out loud is detrimental to the good night’s sleep of the party on the other side of the bed. Even a suppressed laugh, if there are enough of them, is problematic at 2 or 3 am.

Reading on an iPad in the wee hours has some advantages. It provides its own light.  This is much better than a bedside lamp.  This is good. But last night, one of the unintended consequences of sharing ebooks turned up.

As the collection has been weeded, we have sold as many books as possible to Powell’s Books in Oregon. This has built us a nice credit balance, which can be used online at Google Books. This is pretty terrific. Since Galen and I “married” our book collections a long time ago, we fully intended to share the credit balance, without worrying about whose books generated how much of it. But the whole balance happened to be tied to his Gmail account. So, the Google Books account also got tied to his Gmail account, which is, of course, not shared.

Back in the olden days of print books only, sharing a credit account like this would be easy. We’d each order books until it was gone. A book is a book. Some we would both read, like the Hunger Games, or Native Star by M.K. Hobson, and some only one of us would read. But it wouldn’t matter.  Now it matters.  The credit account can only be tied to one Google identity at a time. So we’re going to have to switch it back and forth to use it. It’s a nuisance that doesn’t exist with “dead tree” books.  And yes, we will pass the iPads back and forth. And we’ll set up a new account at Powell’s for the next batch of books we sell.

What amazes me most is that the “olden days” when we set this account up are less than three years ago.

Are eTBRs easier to forget?

A thread in rec.arts.sf.written that was discussing the merits of ereaders vs. “dead tree” books raised some interesting corollary questions that don’t seem to have anything to do with the technology per se.  They seem more like unintended consequences.

Bookshelves have inherent browsability. Many people commented on the pleasure involved in just looking at the books they have, and seeing what is available to read, or re-read. I know that’s true for me. Also, there’s the added benefit of thinking that Galen might like something, and knowing that I have it and can simply go to the shelf and pull it out, even at 2 am. He can read it or not, because it’s already here. John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is a book I know I introduced him to, because I had the whole series on hand. Likewise, Tanya Huff’s Valor series. Not all my introductions go that well, but when it works, it really works. There’s just something about handing someone a book that you know they will absolutely love, and then watching them just absorb it, and by absorbed by it, that is simply marvelous.

Handing over my Nook doesn’t quite have the same feel to it. It only contains my B&N stuff, not the rest of my ebooks on my iPad. And it duplicates everything–so it includes all the trashy romance novels, not just the book I want to give Galen to read.  I’m not sure who is going to be more embarrassed!

And, as someone on the list pointed out, it is much easier to lose your TBR list on an ereader than it is in the “flesh”.  A physical TBR pile has weight and heft–it piles up–sometimes literally.  My remaining “dead tree” TBR pile takes up three bookcases, plus the 200 or so books that were interfiled during the last move we made. And it continues to increase in my B&N wishlist, since that’s where I keep it.

But my ereader TBR list is even more invisible. The Locus Awards finalists were announced last week.  Connie Willis duology Blackout/All Clear was nominated Best Science Fiction Novel, and it was already moving up my TBR list after having been nominated for the Hugo last month. Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest book, Under Heaven, was nominated for Best Fantasy Novel, and it has been hiding on my Nook and then my iPad for over a year. I usually read him as soon as his stuff comes out, but the ebook was too easily buried compared to a physical object.

I’m discovering that the less obvious a TBR is, the more likely it is to wind up on a back burner. My library books get read first because they have the highest nuisance value. I do not mean that in any negative way, merely that there are so many built-in reminders. I keep them easily visible on the kitchen counter, so I don’t lose track of them. They have to be renewed, and I can only renew them so many times. If someone else wants them, I can’t renew them at all. Of course, any library books from here are going to have to be shipped back if I haven’t finished them before we move, and I’ll have to pay for shipping. Physical books that are on countertops are more in the way, and are more likely to get read next. Books in those TBR bookcases in the living room just cry out “read us first!”. The TBR bookcase in the Florida Room is “out of sight” and therefore, “out of mind”.  The TBRs that got interfiled have blended into the books I have already read.  Finding out there were over 200 of them was quite a shock.  The eTBRs are just a tiny part of my iPad. Compared to all the other books clamoring for my attention, they’re almost invisible.

So many books, so little time.

Docking the ARCs

It turns out that ARCs are surprisingly difficult to give away.

What’s an ARC? An ARC is an Advance Reading Copy of a book. They are usually ugly, and their mother dressed them a little funny, to make them instantly distinguishable from their grown-up sibling, the published book. They are also known as review copies.

A FPOW was located in a major metropolitan area where the local newspaper still had a separate “Books” section on Sundays. The newspaper received TONS of review copies. ARCs are not supposed to be sold, it says so right there on the front or back cover. Also, they are usually uncorrected proofs, so they are may have typos, the illustrations are missing, the index isn’t done yet, etc., etc.

Said newspaper, instead of pulping all these lovely books, donated them to the local library. On the order of an industrial pallet load or two every month. Some of the review copies they received were “real” books. Those were added to the library’s collection. But most were ARCs. Because the ARCs are not quite the real book, the library didn’t add them to its collection. And the library couldn’t sell them either, see the disclaimer in the above paragraph. So, they were distributed to the staff. Particularly for fiction, they make excellent reading copies.

ARCs are also distributed at library conferences. I’ve generally stopped picking them up as not worth the weight, but I used to. In the continuum between free beer and free kittens, with the added charges for luggage these days, too many ARCs have tipped towards the free kittens end of the bar. I already have 4 of those, and I know how free they aren’t.

Publishers are now doing eARCs, and there is a site that specializes in eARCs called NetGalley which absolutely loves librarians.  Also, for anyone interested in Science Fiction and Fantasy, Baen Books Webscriptions sells eARCs ahead of publication for some of their authors.

But the weeding project has passed the end of the alphabet for the fiction, and has now journeyed into non-fiction. I used to bring a lot of non-fiction ARCs home for Galen from that FPOW, as well as keeping some for myself. It turns out that a lot of those were of the “read once” persuasion. We’ve turned up a couple of dozen so far, that need to be properly disposed of. And it’s more difficult than I thought.

I don’t feel right selling them. Legally, I’m pretty sure I can in spite of what it says on the cover. I own them. I just don’t feel right about selling them. I can give them to the Library Friends, but, there again, I don’t feel right about them selling them, either. And I’m not sure if they will. They might just throw them out. I already know that the library will not add them to the collection.

Book Mooch will not let me add any more inventory until I accept books from people. I am way too much of a net giver to be permitted to give any more books away. Period. End of discussion. I tried. The fact that I am moving in two weeks and just plain don’t want any more books right now, and really, truly want to get rid of books doesn’t seem to matter. That I honored all of my previous commitments doesn’t seem to matter. I’m violated some kind of un-posted community norm by having a massive credit balance, and therefore can’t add any inventory, no matter how much I want to give stuff away. My account was suspended until I agreed to this.

Paperback Swap will only deal with ARCs on an unofficial basis, through their forums. This looks like a really good service generally, but it’s going to be more difficult to get the ARCs placed through the forums than through the regular listings.

The process of organizing the library has been fascinating but bizarre. According to Library Thing, we’ve been through over 2,600 books. We kept 1,700, and have sold or given away over 800.  There are 5 boxes of that on the floor of my office to be run through Powell’s Books, to see what they will take. We have a massive credit with them, which will end up being spent on ebooks through Google. I love technology!

But, like kittens, my ARCs are free to a good home. And just like the kittens, I’m having a difficult time finding loving homes for them. I was looking for a place where I could give them to people to read them one more time. It shouldn’t be this hard.

How to pill a cat

Google can be so pedantic sometimes.  The search for “How to pill a cat” returns “About 17,400,000 results”.  I was not filtering out the jokes.  I was serious.  Last night was the first time I had to pill a cat in a long time.  And it was about as much fun as I remembered.

First of all, they know. Whenever you approach them with the intent to do something they won’t like, they are gone in a flash. I was expecting “All-Star Cat Wrestling”.  I had forgotten that it would be the second act of the double-bill, preceded by that ever-popular favorite, “The Amazing All-Star Cat Chase”, co starring the local versions of the Keystone Kops, namely Galen and yours truly.  The process is never helped by the fact that the humans do not really want to hurt the cat, and the cat firmly believes that he, in this particular case, is being tortured.

Erasmus used to be a 16 pound cat. That was generally considered by vets everywhere (and we’ve been everywhere) to be a bit on the pudgy side, even for him.  He’s a rather big-boned, long-bodied cat.  He should be big, just not that big.  But since January, he’s turned into an 11 pound cat, and we don’t know why.  He’s 12 years old, so a healthy middle-age for an indoor cat. Galen and I suffered from different, equally horrible fears about what might be wrong with him. We lost Scheherazade to hepatic lipidosis in Anchorage. It was sudden and devastating. My baby Licorice lived with diabetes for more than 5 years, and I lost him when he was 17, after he survived my first marriage, moving across three states, and he let me cry into his fur when I lost my dad.  For those who believe, Licorice is the cat waiting for me at the Rainbow Bridge. And Jennyfur, who died of cancer at 14, is with him, because she was Licorice’s cat.  Not my cat, HIS cat. She thought he made the sun rise.

But right now, Erasmus has a problem. Actually he has two problems. First, something is medically wrong. He is too thin. His hipbones and spine bumps are visible. But he acts as if he’s fine.  But the vet checked him out, and so far, all we know is what it isn’t.  It isn’t diabetes.  It isn’t his thyroid.  Nothing showed up on the x-ray.  But his white cell count is elevated. Hence the pills.  If it’s an infection, then maybe antibiotics are the answer.

The problem with him being skinnier, is that now he can run.  And he has LOTS more places to hide.  And all the boxes we’re getting together have created even more hiding places than normal.  After chasing him around the house, twice, we blocked him in the Florida room (Florida rooms are finished porches in, well, Florida) and wrapped him in a towel.  He squirmed out.  Then he squirmed into the towel, and buried his face.  Then out. Over and over.  He dug his claws into my leg, even through my jeans.  This was one of the times when I was sorry dragonhide wasn’t available.

After this came the truly disgusting part.  Clamping the cat’s head in your hand, forcing its mouth open, with all those lovely carnivore teeth, and poking the pill as far back you can with your very vulnerable finger.  Then you hold the cat’s mouth firmly closed and massage their throat until you hope they’ve swallowed the damn pill.  And you are inevitably wrong.  As soon as you let go of the cat’s jaw, they WILL spit out the pill. And it’s slimy and disgusting.  And you know you have to go through the whole process again.  We were lucky.  We only had to poke the icky pill into his mouth twice more, and we didn’t let him go between tries.  The third time I just kept his mouth closed until the stupid pill melted in his mouth, since it was halfway there already.  YUCK.  And we have to do this 13 more times.  Is this Friday the 13th or what?

Meanwhile, the human who has just committed the torture is practically in tears.  I was terrified that he would never forgive me for tormenting him.  But this morning, he hopped into my lap just like he always does, and dropped off for his morning nap.  So far, all is well on that front.

Erasmus’ second problem is his sister LaZorra.  Because Erasmus went to the vet and she didn’t, LaZorra goes into her “Growltigger” act every time she sees him.  Erasmus, big baby that he is, has no idea what he’s done wrong. LaZorra has earned herself a trip to the vet on Monday when Erasmus gets an ultrasound and a checkup on his bloodwork.  Maybe if they both come back home smelling like the “awful vet place”, she’ll stop acting like a witch.  But maybe not.  I’m firmly convinced that she IS a witch.