Under the Tree: Happy Chrismukkawanztice!

Book-Christmas-TreeHappy Chrismukkahwanztice Everyone! Regardless of your spiritual persuasion, Chrismukkahwanztice in the United States is essentially a celebration of capitalist excess. One in which gifts are de rigueur. Which really does make this the best time of year for us Book Pushing Book Lovers. Not only do we get lots of books – we get to force them on others! It doesn’t get any better than this!

In honor of this holiday – and assured that this post won’t go live until after the presents are already opened (no spoilers!) – Reading Reality Proudly Presents: Under Our Tree!


Grizzly MazeFor Mom: This last summer, my mother came to visit me up here in the Frozen North, and all she wanted to do was go rustle up some grizzlies. Ah, how about no? I am exceedingly opposed to being eaten. Tried directing her towards the Live Bear Cams (just as good without being eaten) to no avail. She wants to stalk the grizzlies.

The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell’s Fatal Obsession With Alaskan Bears by Nick Jans & Grizzly Man (documentary). Happy Holidays, Mom! You’re not allowed back in Alaska until you provide me with a full report of both the book and film (included because there is a recording of his death).

HogfatherFor Cass: Oh come on, you know perfectly well that friends and family have long since learned to adhere to ISBNs when buying books for us Book Hoarders, or just give gift cards. This year I have made a series of extremely special requests from my international contacts.

Small-Gods1The Terry Pratchett Discworld Collector’s Library! Look at those glorious covers. Not available in the United States. AS IF THAT WOULD STOP ME. Plus, I needed to upgrade to hardcover. I’ve read through three copies each of Hogfather, and Small Gods.

For Grandma & Grandpa: Anyone who has ever lived here in the tundra understands that though we have an overwhelming bounty of fresh fish, we have no decent fruit. At all. By the time it gets here, it’s already going bad. To cope with this disparity, my grandparents and I have come to an understanding. I send them boxes of fresh Alaskan salman, halibut, scallops, and crab, and in return, they send me boxes of fresh apples, peaches, and pears. It really is a beautiful system. Right up until  grandpa tells me that he breaded and fried fucking halibut cheeks as though they were goddamn fishsticks!

Alaska CookbookThe New Alaska Cookbook by Kim Severson. Okay, grandpa? You have no more excuses. If you’re just going to bread and fry everything, I’ll start sending dogfish.

For Dad: My dad and I share a love for political science fiction. I first introduced him to Robert J. Sawyer with a Father’s Day gift of the Neanderthal Parralax. Which he dearly loved. He’s an easy mark this year.

Calculating GodCalculating God by Robert J. Sawyer. Science Fiction for the politically minded atheist! I could have gone with something by Dawkins, but it turns out he’s a misogynist motherfucker. Not giving him any of my money. We’ll try some PZ Meyers or Skepchick swag for your birthday.

For Nicki: You are unhealthy invested in Twilight. It’s a sickness that I’ve done my damnedest to cure you of, but just keep falling short. I blame the cocaine in the library books.

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan. Enjoy! Perhaps fiction can reach you in ways the Power & Control Wheel could not.

persuasion-teeFor Becky: I know that Pride & Prejudice is your favorite book of all time, and no author could ever compare to Jane Austen. How about we take some Jane Austen and make it aesthetically pleasing since I can’t slog my way through any of it?

Persuasion by Jane Austin via Litographs. That’s right. Your book is on a shirt. How awesome is that?! Just don’t get mad at me if people start squinting at your boobs. And on that note, Susan is getting Alice in Wonderland, and Rachel needs The Great Gatsby…..


How about you? What books are under your tree?

Bookish Rants or Raves: What happened with my 2012 anticipated books?

gmail_scrshot_smLists are fun. Unless they are lists of housekeeping chores, and then, well, never mind. (Move along, nothing to see here)

Book lists are fun. How many “best books of 2012” lists have you checked out? If you haven’t gotten your fill yet, Largehearted Boy is collecting every “best of 2012” book list he can get his virtual hands on. The list is positively ginormous, and guaranteed to do major damage to your wish list and/or TBR pile.

As I created my own “best of 2012” list at Reading Reality, I did a couple of other things. The natural thing is to create the accompanying list of “most anticipated books for 2013”, which yes, I also did.

Then I had this horribly guilty flash. How many of 2012’s most anticipated books did I actually read? Oops. I didn’t do very well. Actually, I sucked.

220px-Quartz_crystalI’m not saying the books sucked. I’m saying that I don’t know. What I did a truly lousy job at was predicting what I’d actually get around to reading this year.

Of course, I also originally predicted I’d read 400 books in my Goodreads challenge, and I had to knock that down to 250. My crystal ball is seriously cracked.

But about those anticipated titles. The ones I actually read were J.D. Robb’s Celebrity in Death, John Scalzi’s Redshirts, Jean Johnson’s An Officer’s Duty, and Nalini Singh’s Tangle of Need.  (I still detest the U.S. cover of Tangle of Need. I’m also really annoyed about the game-playing about the next book in the series. Yes, I know, I’m on a digression. Again.)

redshirtsI was right about all of them. They were definitely at least good. Some were better than good. But except for the copy of Redshirts, which I got by begging at the Tor booth at ALA Annual, these are books I had to buy. As a blogger, the sheer number of review books that are available to me, especially from NetGalley, seems to be pushing the books that I just plain want to read out down to the bottom of my TBR pile.

Even when that pile is virtual.

I say that because I did actually buy some of the other books on that anticipated list. When Maidens Mourn by C.S. Harris, and Dana Stabenow’s Restless in the Grave both popped up on my radar because the next book in both those series is coming out this winter, and I didn’t get around to last year’s. The reviews were awesome, so it’s not that I skipped something awful. I ran out of time.

At least with Simon R. Green’s The Bride Wore Black Leather, I think I pushed that one down the TBR pile because the reviews did turn out to be kind of “meh”.

I somehow managed to miss two of Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick’s Arcane Society titles last year; the contemporary Copper Beach and the Victorian Crystal Gardens. And now there are sequels to both.

Layout 1I bought all of these. They are waiting for me on my iPad. I just never got around to them.  Or Lee and Miller’s Dragon Ship, or Alex Grecian’s The Yard (no excuse for this one, I have a print ARC) or Lindsey Davis’ Master & God.

When I looked at this list in early December, I thought about trying to finish it before the end of the year, and just went ARRGGHHH!

How do you feel about anticipated book lists? Do you do them? Do you get the books on them read? Or do other books, newer books, more tempting books, push them out of the way?

Celebrate the Freedom to Read!

Have you ever read a Banned Book? I bet you have. You might have even read a banned book to your child! Because it’s not all about sex. Violence gets challenged. Speaking truth to power gets challenged. And so do historical truths that make people uncomfortable.

And yes, sex makes a lot of people very uncomfortable!

This week, September 30-October 6, is Banned Books Week in the U.S. It celebrates the Freedom to Read what we want, when we want, and, I think, however we want, whether that’s print, audiobook, or ebook. Something that’s going to become increasingly important in the future.

It’s fitting that one of the most frequently challenged books of all time is 1984 by George Orwell. Lest we forget, 1984 is the book that brought us the very concept of “Big Brother”.

It’s easy to talk about the books that get banned or challenged. And I heartily recommend that you take a look at those lists over at the official Banned Books Week site and at the American Library Association site. The range of titles and subjects will astonish you.

Everything bothers somebody.

The whole point of Banned Books Week, and its clarion call to Celebrate the Freedom to Read, is that if I don’t want to read something, that shouldn’t stop you from being able to read it, and if you don’t want to read something, you  shouldn’t be able to stop me from reading it.

Comic books and manga are particularly challenged.  That’s why the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is one of the supporters of Banned Books Week. Heck, that’s why there IS a Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in the first place!

The other supporters are the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of American Publishers, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the National Association of College Stores, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, the PEN American Center and Project Censored.

What can you do to celebrate the Freedom to Read? See if there’s a Banned Books Week event going on in your community this week. Many bookstores and libraries are sponsoring “Read Outs” – continuous readings of banned books. If you’re a blogger, write a blog post about Banned Books Week. Everyone can participate in the Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out on YouTube.

If you’re still wondering which banned book you might have read to your child, or had read to you as a child, it’s Maurice Sendak’s marvelous Where the Wild Things Are. And it is truly wild to think that someone might deprive a child the joy of that book through censorship.

Celebrate the Freedom to Read, read a banned book.

Bookish Rant: How Much Does an Ebook Cost?

When you go to your bookseller of choice and buy an ebook, it costs whatever the dealer says it costs. Anything from free to $14.99 or the equivalent per country.

The real caveat isn’t the different currency, the “trick” is in that three-letter-word “buy”. Because as we all know but conveniently forget, we don’t buy our ebooks, or any electronic media, including software. We license it from the supplier. Which means that they can set the terms of the license.

Back to the question of the cost of an ebook. The price to an individual, meaning you and me, is what the seller (Amazon, B&N, Book Depository, etc.) says it is. Because that’s the arrangement that those suppliers have made with the publishers. You remember the publishers, and that little anti-trust lawsuit problem they have with the U.S. Government about, you guessed it, the price of ebooks? (If not, see this Bookish Rant)

About that cost of ebooks … have you ever checked an ebook out of your public library? Did you know that libraries have ebooks for you to check out?  They very definitely do, but there are a couple of issues, and they boil down to that cost of ebooks problem.

If you’ve ever tried to check an ebook out at your local public library, you might have discovered that there are a number of ebooks that just plain aren’t available at the library, but that you know perfectly well are available from Amazon and B&N. There’s a reason for that and it’s not pretty.

Those “Big 6” publishers in the price-fixing anti-trust lawsuit? (Only five are in the price-fixing suit, but the “Big 6” publishers are: Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House and Simon & Schuster). Only Harper Collins and Random House currently license frontlist ebooks to libraries in the U.S. Hachette licenses backlist titles only. Penguin,  Macmillan and S&S just say no, although Penguin and Macmillan are “experimenting with some models of access”.  Scholastic Books, the publishers of The Hunger Games, also just says “no”.

This means that more than half the big publishers have said they don’t want libraries’ money, not at any price. Why? Because they are afraid, and yes, I do mean afraid, as in scared out of their socks (and wits), that people might borrow ebooks instead of buying them. This is in spite of increasing evidence that people who borrow books actually buy more books.

So if you’re wondering why you can’t borrow an ebook of Sylvia Day’s Bared to You from your public library, it’s because she’s published by Berkley Books, a division of Penguin. J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy is being published by Little, Brown, and guess what? Little, Brown is a division of Hachette.

But some publishers do want libraries’ money. They just want LOTS of it. If you want to buy a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, it costs $9.99 as an ebook. If a library wants it, they can buy it alright, but it costs $47.85. Think about that for a minute and gasp. It’s still one copy. It can only be out to one person at a time, just like the print book. What makes the publisher think it’s worth five times as much? (If you want the entire gruesome picture, take a look at this price comparison from the Douglas County Libraries in Colorado.)

Libraries have very finite, and often shrinking budgets. If they spend a lot in one area to keep patrons happy, that money has to be taken from somewhere else. If a very, very popular ebook like Fifty Shades costs five times as much as it should, or if Gone Girl costs $25 instead of the $12.99 that it should, something else doesn’t get bought. Like more debut authors, or more genre fiction (like romance) or simply having more titles to choose from all the way around.

When the library purchases fewer titles to satisfy the clamor for high-demand titles on the best-seller list, mid-list and debut authors lose sales. They get lower advances for their next books, or publishers don’t buy their books at all. What happens then? It’s a vicious cycle. Or a circle towards the drain. (Insert your metaphor here)

Some of you are thinking that this won’t matter to you, that you either don’t use your local library, or that you only borrow print books. Or even that you only read print books. There’s a couple of other thoughts I’d like to leave you with before I get down off my soapbox.

Ebooks are now the dominant form of distribution for adult fiction in the U.S. More adult fiction is purchased in ebook format than any other format. More than hardcover, more than trade paperback, more than mass market paperback. Not more than all of them combined, but more than any one of them individually. And don’t think the day won’t come when ebooks do pass all of them combined for categories like adult fiction. This snowball is already rolling down that hill and picking up speed. And debris.

Publishers make more profit on hardcovers than they do on ebooks, so hardcovers aren’t going away. But authors I heard speak at Dragon*Con were saying that this is the beginning of the end for mass market paperbacks. Ebooks are more profitable for the publishers to produce than mass market paperbacks, and consumers are voting with their dollars for ebooks over mass market paperbacks.

I love the convenience of ebooks. I buy them in bed at midnight and they are right there, right then. But I want every book I buy to be available for my local library to purchase too, so everyone can enjoy them. (Libraries are fantastic for “try before you buy” for new-to-me authors)  What happens, not if, but when publishers only publish first-time authors in ebook, and libraries can’t buy those books?

Bookish Rant: The Buying and Selling of Book Reviews

I wish I had a dollar for every person who sent me a link to the New York Times article about paying for book reviews. You know the one, “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy” from August 25. There’s a slight irony in the NYT publishing it, since no one really knows exactly how they compile their bestseller list, but I digress.

The things that keep circling in my mind about the whole “paying for reviews” thing go like this:
1.       It feels like there are more books out there than ever
2.       It is definitely harder to get people’s attention for anything than it used to be
3.       Most people pick the next book they are going to read because they’ve already read that author (96% based on the Goodreads May Newsletter) so how does a newbie author get on readers’ radar?
4.       Book Blogging is a labor of love, getting the blog to pay for itself (hosting fees, giveaways, etc.) is difficult enough, and blogging takes a lot of time and energy

Two things happen. (Okay, a lot more things happen, I’m only going to deal with two).

One of those things is the one that the New York Times article highlighted. Maybe low-lighted is a better word. Todd Rutherford made a tidy living for a while selling rave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to authors. Not just authors whose names no one ever heard of, either. It turns out that part of John Locke’s self-publishing success is owed to purchased reviews.

Although the Times made a big deal about “exposing” this pay-for-play company, it’s a)out of business and b)not the only game in town.

Two companies, Blue Ink Review and Kirkus Book Reviews both offer a paid review service for independent/self-published authors. The difference is both cost much more (approx $400) and they each send the book to one reviewer who provides one review. Neither guarantees a good review. What they both offer is that if the author doesn’t like the review, the author has the option to not have it published. How often that happens, who knows?  Also, they don’t blanket Amazon and Goodreads with multiple five star reviews.

(As a librarian, I will say that Kirkus has a lot of history behind them. They’ve been in the reviewing business for a long, long time. Since 1933. I used to get their reviews when they went into a three-ring binder, which dates me as much as it does them. Their reviews were always long and thorough. What selling their services in this way does to their street cred in the long run remains to be seen. Their newsletter is available free online and for anyone interested in books it’s definitely worth a read.)

And then there were the ChicklitGirls, who are also out of business. After all, if Kirkus Book Reviews can charge $400+ for a book review, why shouldn’t a book blog charge a much more reasonable fee, oh say $95 for a book review? Just like Kirkus (well, sort of) they did disclose in their reviewing policy that there was a fee for a review. Unlike the more reputable publication they cited as their excuse, the “Girls” threatened to sue an author who complained about their practices. For a full report, take a look at the terrific summary over at Dear Author.

But isn’t what happened over at ChicklitGirls (minus the lawsuit threat, that was just bad behavior) part and parcel of the same thing?  They saw a way to make money, same as the New York Times article exposed (no pun intended) by charging authors for reviewing their books. And they tried to make money off what is otherwise a very labor-intensive what, hobby, addiction, drug-of-choice for most of us? Yes, I’m talking about book blogging. Which doesn’t otherwise pay.

We often get the books we review for free. But not always. Some of us buy them. Some people borrow them from the library. Often it’s a mix. Many blogs have affiliate links from Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble and/or The Book Depository. If we’re lucky we take in enough to pay the hosting fees for our sites and the cost of any giveaways. We probably all spend way more time than we ever imagined. Book blogging should probably be the dictionary definition of a labor of love. We love sharing what we read, so we blog.

But what happens when you get paid for reviewing a book? If you blog and you sign up for a tour, you might have faced a piece of this dilemma. You’re part of the advertising for the book, even though you’re not getting paid. You hate the book. You know the author doesn’t want a bad review as part of the tour. What do you do when it happens?

If you’ve been paid to review the book, then what? You really are part of the advertising. Your review is an ad. Ads are supposed to be positive.  So, if a review is paid for, is it a review, or is it an ad?

And when you read one, how do you know?

Bookish Rant: Apple, Amazon, Anti-Trust and the DOJ

I was at Dragon*Con over Labor Day weekend. For those either not in the U.S., or who aren’t familiar with Science Fiction Fandom, two explanations are in order. Labor Day weekend is the first weekend in September.

Dragon*Con is a huge regional science fiction convention in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. When I say huge, I mean attendance that numbers well over 30,000. Downtown Atlanta looks like it’s been overrun by aliens.

30,000 plus people talk about a LOT of stuff. Some of it frivolous, but a lot of it book-related. I listened to/met/shook hands with some of my favorite authors.

On Sunday morning, among about a dozen other panels, two lawyers and an author tackled the seriously bookish topic of the “Apple eBooks Lawsuit”. The room was packed to the rafters.

If you are looking for a basic but excellent primer on the entire price fixing lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Justice filed against Apple and five of the big six publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Penguin), you can’t do better than this excellent summary at Dear Author. Jane Little is a lawyer and she has not only summarized the original case beautifully, but she’s continued to cover the whole farrago as it’s kept on morphing.

Back to the panel at Dragon*Con. The lawyer who discussed the case was an anti-trust specialist, and she went into the case by talking about U.S. anti-trust law. Her take on the whole thing was pretty clear. The law is that competitors in a particular market, in this case Hachette, HarperCollins, etc., and Apple, cannot legally get together and talk about prices, whether they actually set prices or not. But in this case they did set prices, making the whole thing worse for them from a legal standpoint.

There is no provision in the law for a “greater good” being served. Also, as romance author Courtney Milan so eloquently wrote in her blog recently, there is no exemption from anti-trust law for being a special snowflake. Just read her post titled Your Unspecial Anti-Trust Snowflake. It’s a nutshell takedown of all the objections by all the defendants in one easy-to-read gulp.

But what fascinated me was the perspective of the author on the panel, who shall remain nameless (yes, I do remember who it was). Her contention was that Amazon needs to be stopped, now, for the things they will do, later, when they achieve even greater power in the market.

Amazon has a tremendous amount of power in the ebook and also the book marketplace. Because they are successful. Jeff Bezos didn’t listen when everyone laughed at him a number of years ago. When everyone said that people wouldn’t buy books (and other stuff) online. When everyone said that people wouldn’t read ebooks. We all know now how both those predictions turned out. But Amazon could have failed. Amazon has reaped the rewards of betting on what was absolutely not a sure thing.

Now Amazon has a giant share of print book distribution, and a dominant share of ebook distribution. Recent statistics show that we’ve reached the tipping point on ebooks. Ebooks are now THE dominant sales format for adult fiction; bigger than hardcover, bigger than paperback. Amazon is also a publisher.

The argument was that the publishers all behaved so badly, even illegally, in order to prevent Amazon from doing something even more terrible with all that power.

Of course, what the publishers did with that power in the short run was break Amazon’s stranglehold on ebook prices, and the immediate effect was that ebook prices rose.  Consumers did not benefit from those higher prices.

What stuck with me was that the arguments to do something about Amazon now were based on something they might do in the future.

We don’t know what they might do in the future. Amazon is a very powerful company right now. (So, for that matter, is Apple!) But asking the government, any government, to punish a company, or an individual, for what they might do is always a bad precedent.

Amazon might do good things. They might do bad things. They might get fat, dumb and happy. Microsoft used to be feared for how big and near-monopolistic they were, and look where they are now. New disruptive technologies will come along, and Amazon might be too happy with their status quo to jump on the new bandwagon (which is a lot of what is going on with the big six publishers right now).

But laws punish acts, not thoughts. What we do, not what others believe we might do. Let’s not even think of going there. Oh wait, somebody already did. His name was George Orwell, and his book about the Thought Police is so famous that Apple used it in one of their most famous commercials. That’s right. 1984.

Ironic that, wouldn’t you say?

Bookish Rants or Raves: ARC-gate at ALA

Last week, and it is difficult to believe it was already more than a week ago, the American Library Association held its Annual Conference in the land of Mickey Mouse, Anaheim, California.

And there was a kerfuffle on YouTube about ARCs and who should be able to pick up how many on the exhibit hall floor.

Two bloggers at The Lost Lola posted a 22-minute video, since retracted, detailing their incredibly awesome book haul at ALA. They scored, and I think scored is a fair assessment, two copies of everything possible, including a lot of books they had no personal interest in.

A librarian who blogs at Stackedbooks questioned on Twitter how authors would feel “knowing a librarian couldn’t get an arc of their book at ALA, but a blogger picked up multiple copies.”

The Lost Lolas have printed an impressive and well-thought out response and clarification, but lots of questions still stand.

Let’s start at the beginning. I have described ALA as BEA for librarians, and I think it’s a fair description. ALA is a business conference for libraries, just as BEA is a business conference for the book industry. And just like the book industry, a good bit of the business of libraries happens to be books.

Not all of it, but a lot of it. That doesn’t make ALA a book convention. There was another half of the exhibits that was all about automated systems, materials-handling units, furniture, and supplies. This stuff isn’t sexy, but it was all on that floor. And those things are a significant part of the business of libraries.

Libraries do promote reading. And one of the ways we promote reading is through books. (I can hear you saying “well, duh” from here). Libraries are also part of the publishers’ ecosystem to promote books and authors. Libraries constitute about 10% of book sales in the U.S overall. For some genres and markets, like children’s books and audiobooks, we’re a lot more.

For midlist authors, libraries are a critical lifeline. Libraries provide the author, not just sales, but also word-of-mouth “advertising”. If the librarian likes the book, it gets “sold” across the desk. One enthusiastic reader puts the book directly into the hands of another. It’s a trust relationship.

We bloggers are trying to get into that “space” but we’re not there yet.

For anyone who has noticed that I’ve said we on both sides of this issue, I have. I am a librarian. I attend ALA because I am a member of the Association, and because I serve on a committee. I’m part of the business of the Association that gets done at the Conference.

And right now, most of my day-to-day work is as a book blogger.

But ALA is a business convention. It’s one of the largest conventions in the U.S. Not just for the number of people who attend (20,000!), but also for the number of simultaneous meeting rooms. On Saturday and Sunday, there are more than 100 meetings every hour.

And because it’s a business convention, if you’re there to be at a meeting, or three, or five, you can’t drop everything to stalk the exhibit halls for the author signings. People notice when you don’t show up at committee meetings, especially if you’re the chair of the committee. Or when you don’t make the presentation when you are one of the speakers.

ALA is a volunteer-run organization for the most part. The members do most of the work.

So when a librarian can’t be in the exhibit hall at a particular time for a particular signing, it’s because she or he has a commitment to keep. It’s a working conference.

But what ALA isn’t, is a book convention. It’s not RomCon or the RT Booklovers Convention or even WorldCon. There’s a great picture at the RT Booklovers Convention site from the RT Booklovers Book Fair, where the description touts the 100’s of authors who are there just to sign books. That’s not what ALA is.

The thing about this whole mess is that all the parties involved went in with different expectations. The bloggers saw it as a book conventions, with that set of expectations. They had a plan of attack to maximize their resources to get as much out of the book convention as possible. What they did is understandable from that perspective.

The librarians who come to the conference see it as professional development, or professional commitment. They get ARCs for a whole different set of reasons. Some are just for reading. But a lot more have to do with programming, especially YA programming. Teen librarians want ARCs to give to teen readers as prizes for book clubs, to plan programs, and just to figure out what their groups will be reading next.

Yes, the libraries that sent those librarians should find better ways to reach out to publishers, and should have better funding. And a lot of other things. But library budgets are shrinking right now. And a lot of librarians are self-funded to conferences. In other words, they pay their own way.

Just like bloggers.