Monday, May 26, 2014

A Year of Reading, Week 21

Books read (all or part of) this week:
The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
The Hour of Lead by Bruce Holbert
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Hell at the Breech by Tom Franklin

As I'm sure you're aware, I spent the better part of weeks 19 and 20 freakishly obsessing over David Mitchell's next novel, The Bone Clocks. Seriously, freakishly, obsessing. (See last week's post) Enough so that I could not stay focused on any one book for the week after. Cry me a river, I know. I re-read the title short story out of Tony Doerr's collection The Shell Collector. I dipped in and out of Rebecca Solnit's meditative essay collection, A Field Guide to Getting Lost. ("Some things we have only as long as they remain lost, some things are not lost only so long as they are distant.") I read the opening chapter of Bruce Holbert's (Lonesome Animals) forthcoming novel, The Hour of Lead. An opening chapter, I might add, where a teacher screws a teenaged student in a blizzard while his twin's dead body lies next to them. Errrr.... Maybe later? 

The worst part about all this literary jumping around was the involuntary assumption by my brain that there would be David Mitchell characters in everything I read. Obsessed, I told you. There is no Dr. Marinus in Rebecca Solnit's work. Luisa Rey is definitely not a reporter in a Doerr short story. Stop looking. 

Into the reading wilderness...
So I spent last weekend not reading at all, hiking & camping with friends in the east county of San Diego, well south & east of the wildfires. Maybe this was a cue from Solnit - getting lost a bit, being miles away from any other humans other than the ones I was with. And there's something about seeing the full field of stars at night without the glow of urban light pollution that resets the brain a bit, I think. When I got home, I left DM behind for the moment and finally settled into Tom Franklin's debut novel - which I had never read, despite being a fan of his other work - Hell at the Breech. This proved to finally be the antidote I was looking for. Gritty and atmospheric, Franklin's dark tale (shockingly based on true events) is of the struggle between good, evil, & the very gray area between in 1890s rural Alabama. When a teenager accidentally kills an affluent man from rural Mitchum Beat and covers it up, the subsequent tide carries hell upon the countryside under the guise of vigilantism and civic affront. A group of outraged cotton farmers, blaming the elite from "town," form a secret society called "Hell-at-the-Breech" to punish those they feel are responsible. Following forensic evidence in rural Alabama in the 1890s isn't something that comes easy and Sheriff Billy Waite struggles with both his own moral compass as well as what it tells him about the evidence he's presented with. Caught between both sides of the war is young Mack, who pulled that first trigger and has yet to figure a way out of the blood-soaked insanity that has followed. Franklin's prose shines through all the violence like you wouldn't believe. Just an astoundingly talented writer that I could read over and over again.
...his breath smoking in the blueing dark that seemed to edge down from the clouds and up from the ground, trapping a bleak red line of horizon in the middle, the eye of the world shutting.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On one other note, I just want to make mention of the Amazon vs Hachette publishing dispute. In case you haven't been following this, Amazon wants new distribution terms from Hachette (parent company of Little, Brown publishing and many other imprints - as well as being Mr. James Patterson's publisher.) When they didn't get what they wanted, Amazon subsequently began a nasty campaign of making things increasingly difficult for consumers to buy Hachette titles from their website. (Forbes reported that the dispute was over Amazon wanting a larger purchasing margin on eBooks which Hachette has balked at.) Shipping times for many new Hachette titles mysteriously went from 2 days to 2-3 weeks, most Hachette books are now available only at full price, rather than deeply discounted as usual, and pre-order options on all their titles have disappeared. Mostly this last element effects sales of J.K. Rowling's (aka "Robert Galbraith's") thriller, Silkworm, on-sale June 19. (Which you may comfortably pre-order from the UC San Diego Bookstore or any other independent at any time.)

What does all this mean for the consumer? Maybe nothing - my guess is that your average reader doesn't pay attention to who publishes whom. But even ignorant Amazon kool-aid drinkers like hack-journalist Farhad Manjoo are finally noticing that something just ain't right about Amazon's intentions - see his NY Times piece from last week, "Amazon's Tactics Confirm Its Critics' Worst Suspicions." (Manjoo wrote an absurd piece in 2011 for Slate titled, "Don't Support Your Local Bookseller." Let's just leave it at that.) Could this be the Fall of Rome? Could it be true that Amazon actually doesn't care about the consumer at all and is just throwing their weight around when they don't get what they want? Could this be the moment where brick & mortar bookstores regain a little traction? Maybe. 

I was happy to see JPatt weighing in on all this - like I said, Hachette is his publisher, so losing that access (and pre-orders) will definitely hurt his gigantic paycheck. Here's his l'il Facebook post on the subject. While I think it's great that he's being vocal about this fight, he's not being vocal enough. You need to remember how much revenue this dude generates and how much influence he truly has out there. He always mentions that "someone needs to step up" in the book industry and fix the problem. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Jim, pull your titles off of Amazon completely if you want to change anything. Stop saying we need an agent of change and be that freakin' agent. Remove the Amazon links from your website if you want to make a difference. Hell, just move them to the bottom of the list of options, for godsake. If eBooks really are signalling the death knell for bookstores, then STOP selling your books as eBooks! Send your millions of fans to those brick & mortar bookstores if you want to save them. You're talking the talk but most definitely NOT walking the walk.

Because as things stand right now, you can still get any Hachette title in any independent bookstore across the country...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Seth. I would just like to add I loved Hell at the Breach, which I would not have read were it not for the recommendation of my local book seller Ian, from a Different Drummer Books in Burlington, Ontario. Reading Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America right now. It is really funny! Have a good weekend!

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