Friday, August 28, 2009

Oh My NOLA

It's strange - today I inexplicably found myself thinking about New Orleans and I decided to read some of Dave Eggers' new book, Zeitoun, which chronicles the experiences of the family Zeitoun in the weeks and months that followed The Storm. Then it dawned on me that today just happens to be the same day that, in 2005, Katrina first touched the city in the waning hours before midnight.... Jen & I were safe in our new Southern California home, but my sister and her husband were still living in the Quarter - they rode out the storm itself, but their tales of "the walking dead" that prowled the police-less, darkened streets in the days that followed have haunted me since.

In case you're interested, here's my really old post about my first visit back to New Orleans in 2007. I think this is my favorite Catapult post ever, actually.



I am holding a book called Zeitoun"...a poignant, haunting, ethereal story about New Orleans in peril. Eggers has bottled up the feeling of post-Katrina despair better than anyone else - a simple story with a lingering radiance." -Douglas Brinkley

And Timothy Egan, in his New York Times review, said, "50 years from now, when people want to know what happened to this once-great city during a shameful episode of our history, they will still be talking about a family named Zeitoun."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy: 1932-2009


"For me this is a season of hope - new hope for a justice and fair prosperity for the many, and not just for the few - new hope. And this is the cause of my life - new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American - north, south, east, west, young, old - will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege."

Sigh.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why Obama Doesn't Have a Kindle

President Obama has clearly been reading the Book Catapult (at least, according to the LA Times) as he took Lush Life by Richard Price and The Way Home by George Pelecanos with him when he went off on vacation this week. Where else would he have heard about these wonderful books if not from me?


In other book news:
Sony announced their next foray into the e-reader universe with the Sony Daily Edition, to be released in December. The touch-screen Daily Edition will use non-Amazon-friendly open ebook formats, including the EPUB ebook format (the standard recognized by the world's publishers), allowing countless retailers, including independent bookstores, to have the capability to provide their customers with non-Kindle ebooks. Independent bookstores with websites managed by the American Booksellers Association (ABA) - like Warwick's, Vroman's, & 100's of others - will have the ability to sell EPUB ebooks by September - or so we've been told. Sony also announced plans to allow indies to sell the Daily Edition itself by the holidays, gradually chewing away at the legs under Jeff Bezos and his minions. Or so we hope.

"From the beginning, we have said that an open format means more choice for consumers," said Steve Haber, president of Sony's Digital Reading Business Division. "Now, working with other industry leaders, we can provide a device that is compatible with the widest selection of content available. Readers can shop around for what interests them rather than be locked into one store."

Now for the coolest part: the library finder service. This decidedly non-Amazon, non-commercial idea allows the user to access ebook collections at the library and download them for free. For free. Like a library. You can access your local library (provided they're linked in - over 9000 are, apparently - see overdrive.com
for ones near you) download the licensing for the available ebook and keep it for 2-3 weeks. Yes, just like a library book. I don't think that this service will be coming to a Kindle near you any time soon.

Am I getting overly excited? Probably. But still, having other options in ebooks is really what I've been hoping for all this time. Being locked out of this aspect of the book industry has been immensely frustrating over the last six months and I'm relieved to see an option for the indie in sight. Not to mention the library option. I had a customer sheepishly tell me the other day that she had read a certain book, but that she had gotten it from her library. I laughed and told her that not only are libraries not a commercial threat to the life of the independent bookseller, but most of us embrace them as places filled with like-minded, book-loving people. This is a big difference from the big box chain retailers who also sell chicken and toilet paper or the internet-only retailer who looks at the book simply as a product line to be exploited. I'm amazed that Sony had the foresight to recognize that independent booksellers and libraries will be the way to compete with Amazon. Do I love the idea of a digitized book and it's heartless, cold, stainless steel ebook reader? Not at all, but at least it gets people reading and talking about books - which is all I can ask.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Inherent Vice - Thomas Pynchon

I have a mild confession to make: I have never even attempted to read a Thomas Pynchon novel before. His reputation for general incoherence and genitalia-aimed rocket launches never really piqued my interest. However, his latest, Inherent Vice, a smoke-filled, hippie-laden crime novel, is another story altogether. Although there is a fair amount of jibber-jabber, meandering plotlines, and countless, hilariously named characters, none stopped me from loving every single word of it.

Larry "Doc" Sportello is a pot-smoking hippie private investigator living in L.A.'s Gordita Beach circa 1970. When his "ex-old lady" Shasta shows up at his door asking for help finding her kidnapped boyfriend, Mickey Wolfmann, Doc embarks on a bizarre, complex journey involving counterfeiting, drug-running, tax-dodging dentists (aka: "The Golden Fang"), blood-thirsty hitmen/loan sharks, swastika-tattooed Ethel Merman fans, revenge-filled, frozen-banana loving cops, zombie surfer bands, tripped out surf hippies, and undercover, reportedly-dead saxophone players. Populating this world with perfectly ridiculous names like Downstairs Eddie, Adrian Prussia, Bigfoot Bjornson, Puck Beaverton, Ensenada Slim, and Flaco the Bad (not to mention "Denis", misprounounced by everyone like "penis"), Pynchon has taken the crime novel, blown enough weed smoke in its mouth to kill a college sophmore, and created something wholly different, bizarre, and completely brilliant. As much as I hate to categorize (as that cheapens the whole deal), Vice is like an Electric Kool Aid Acid Test-ed Hunter S. Thompson novel about "The Dude" (Lebowski) with strong Phillip Marlowe tendencies.


The biggest injustice you could do to this novel would be to take it at all seriously. Or to try to follow along, word-for-word, with Doc's adventures. You're much better off just sparking up that joint (metaphorically, I think) and going along for the ride, because even Pynchon doesn't know where Doc is heading next, so the hell with it. Even though the plot is as gordian as knots get, it ends up not mattering one whit - this is just a day-in-the-life sort of thing and it's better to not question it. Let Pynchon guide you along - his is a remarkable talent for dialogue, character, hell, even Doc's space-out episodes are fascinating. (I found myself spacing out along with him, until another character snapped him back.) All I can tell you is that I loved every word I read - and I plan to read it all again. But I still don't want to read Gravity's Rainbow.

Not convinced by my rambling "review"? Check out the the promo video narrated by Pynchon himself:



More media & reviews:
-Be forewarned, this Pynchon wiki is not for the passive reader, but is "inherently" fascinating:
http://inherent-vice.pynchonwiki.com/
-Another humorless review by the NYT's Michiko Kakutani.
-The LA Times take, The Guardian, Salon.com

Thursday, August 06, 2009

2009 Booker Longlist

Alright, so I've been asleep for a week or so, dreaming up ways to destroy Jeff Bezos, so I missed the announcement of the 2009 Man Booker Prize Longlist:

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt (Oct.'09)
Summertime by J.M. Coetzee (Jan.'10)
The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds (no date)
How To Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall (Sep.'09)
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (available)
Me Cheeta by James Lever (available)
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Oct.'09)
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer (no date)
Not Untrue & Not Unkind by Ed O'Loughlin (Apr.'10)
Heliopolis by James Scudamore (no date)
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (available)
Love and Summer by William Trevor (Sep.'09)
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (available)

Unlike
last year's list, I have not read any of these, although Brooklyn by Colm Toibin is on my shelf, as he's well respected and several friends have had nice things to say about this latest. Some of my co-workers have liked the Sarah Waters, but as "the little stranger" appears to be a ghost, I'm going to have to pass. I'm glad to see that M.J. Hyland's This Is How was left off the list (here's my humble opinion of the first 168 pages) as it seemed destined for Booker infamy, not to mention that it was published by last year's grouchy crybaby, Jamie Byng. And I'm pretty sure that Me Cheeta has been shelved erroneously in New Hardback Biography for the last six months, with no one on staff (myself included) noticing the improbability of a chimp writing their own autobiography.

Again the relative snootiness of the Booker Prize is apparent in this list - most of the titles have not been published in the States yet, thus severely limiting the interest of the American reading public, most of whom are unaware of the Booker's significance. More annoying to me is the fact that I, as a fulltime bookseller, can't tell you anything about most of these books, as I have never seen them myself. I understand that this is really a British award for books published in the UK over the last year, but there's no denying the purchasing power of the American reading public, is there? I would love to read the Coetzee (sure to be the favorite), the
O'Loughlin (thanks to Declan Burke for that), and maybe the William Trevor, but none have made it stateside as of yet. Compared with last year's list, with 8 or 9 recognizable titles on the longlist and a readily available winner in Aravind Adiga, 2009 seems to be decidedly un-friendly to the US reader, if you ask me. Now comes the scramble for the pubs to change the US release dates on all these books - once again, the publishing world has their heads buried deep in the sand. Can I get any of these for my Kindle?



On a side note: hopefully this announcement and subsequent post on this site will steer some Google-ers towards the correct information, rather than to my most hit-upon post from last year, "Ken Bruen Wins 2009 Booker Prize!" That was a joke post title, folks, but thanks for clicking!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Big Bezos Is Watching

For anyone who has not seen this stuff yet (pretty much anyone reading this who is not an independent bookseller, I guess, as these are all the buzz lately), check out the hilarious Book vs Kindle videos that the folks at Green Apple Books in San Francisco have made: thegreenapplecore.blogspot.com My hands-down favorite is Round 3: Sharing.

In other Kindle news, that 17-year old kid who lost all his notes on 1984 when Jeff Bezos snuck into his Kindle under cover of night to take the ebook back, has filed a class-action lawsuit against Amazon. Sweet! Michigan teen Justin Gawronski lost his homework when Amazon recalled their illegally sold ebooks of the Orwell novel and has decided to milk this thing for more than just a bit of week-long publicity. After filing, his attorney eloquently stated that "Amazon.com had no more right to hack into people’s Kindles than its customers have the right to hack into Amazon’s bank account to recover a mistaken overpayment." Fo-shizzle. It'll be fun to see how far this thing goes.

And it didn't take Oprah too long to weigh in (no pun intended) on the ebook issue: you can download a FREE ebook of Colum McCann's new novel, Let the Great World Spin, on oprah.com from 10:59am EST Monday 8/3 to 11am EST Wednesday 8/5. If you just want to read the book itself, you're on your own, loser.

Some other small notes: Ron Carlson's The Signal, hyped repeatedly here on the Book Catapult, received a rave, albeit poorly written, review from the New York Times on Sunday. Check it out.

And, if you live in Southern Cal, come on by
Warwick's on Wednesday, August 12 to meet the heady, relatively elusive National Book Award-winning author, William T. Vollmann in the flesh. Vollmann will be discussing and signing his new 1300-page book about life on the Cali-Mexico border, Imperial.

I've also recently read Jonathan Lethem's forthcoming Chronic City, Paul Auster's Invisible, and James Lee Burke's Rain Gods and I promise to let you know what I thought of them in the days ahead.