Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tidbit: How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life, Sara Zarr. (LBYR, 10/18/11)

Proof that you can write a damn good YA novel that clocks in below 300 pages.

And unlike some other books,1 the flawed characters are ultimately endearing, not the kind that make you want to throw the book away and give up on them.

Somehow HTSAL even left me thinking good thoughts about a guy who wears eyeliner (but don't get any ideas).

(Review copy provided by publisher)

1 I will not name names. I will not name names.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tidbit: The Maid

The Maid, Kimberly Cutter. (HMH, 10/18/2011)

This is a book about Joan of Arc -- fair to say it's a story that's been done before, just a few times. I went into it knowing how things were going to turn out. So when I tell you that I was so engrossed in the last third of The Maid that I forgot I was supposed to be looking for Colleen and made her go searching all over the museum grounds for me, you get what I'm saying, no?

Knowing that Joan was going to win her big battle, knowing that the Dauphin was totally going to abandon her, knowing the outcome of the trial, I still had to find out how Cutter's version of it was going to happen.

(Advance copy provided by publisher)

New feature: tidbits

After months of telling people that I don't review new releases here, I'm suddenly a bookseller again. Which means I need to read a lot of new releases, and have something intelligent to say about them.

And it's way easier to do that here at Archimedes Forgets than keeping track of everything myself.

But the thing is, I don't review because I'm bad at it. I can do a passable job of telling you why to read something I like, but I'm just no good at analyzing why it works, or anything like that. And I can assure you that phrases like "luminous prose" are not going to start popping up here.

So I think it's time for a new feature here: tidbits. Consider them virtual shelftalkers, if you like; you might see some of them appearing on paper at the bookstore.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From Bob Edwards to Alexander Hamilton, with a rant in between

I made a mistake last night. I was supposed to go to bed when I set down Bob Edwards' A Voice in the Box, not scroll through Twitter and click on infuriating links.

Especially not when I'd just gotten to the dumped-by-Morning-Edition section of A Voice, which is seething with controlled fury. So that may have shaped my reaction to "Six Ways Amazon Book Streaming Could Help Small Business."

Maybe. Just a bit.1Vlad's a smart guy.2 And it's morning now, and I still think it's a dumb article.

First, it's total SEO-bait. The headline calls out small-biz benefits, but the article doesn't actually make the case for any.

Item 1: "We're going to take a leap of faith here and assume that what Amazon is offering goes beyond the usual Project Gutenberg titles that every e-book reader and service has made available for free, since they will need to do so to attract subscribers to their service."
  • "the usual Project Gutenberg titles" -- nitpicky it may be, but this phrase grates on me. The works in question are mostly public domain titles. Because their copyrights have expired,3 these documents are often available for free in digital format,4 or in a variety of formats from any publisher who cares to put them out.5
  • "need to do so to attract subscribers" -- I'll be curious to see what percentage of new Prime customers sign up for the service because of streaming book access.
Item 2: "Google Books is Not Enough."
  • Maybe the service should claim this as its tagline, with all the current and former James Bonds doing voiceovers.
Item 3: "which is still a big 'if' at this point"
  • In fact, it's a huge if. Everything in this article is speculation, and a whole lot more verbs should be in the subjunctive mood.
Item 4: "To obtain e-books from Amazon right now, you must go to Amazon’s website, search for what you want, and download it. If Amazon’s purported service does it right, you’ll be able to tap an app on your smartphone or their forthcoming tablet and stream a book directly to your device."
  • Which is pretty much what you can do with the Kindle app on any of these platforms, no? The key difference between the-way-things-are and the-way-things-might-be is that in the latter case, there would be no payment component to the transaction -- something the article overlooks.
Item 5: "Streaming Model May Bring Down Price Points."

No, you know what? I give up. It's not worth it, and I don't want to spend any more time on this.6 I could have been writing a post on Alexander Hamilton instead.7

1 Standard disclaimer applies: I'm an indie bookseller, a fan of indie bookstores, and a former employee of their trade association. So my perspective on who these moves are likely to help is neither unbiased nor disinterested.

2 For reference.

3 Or, in the case of government documents, they're simply public domain.

4 Except for the many $0.99 versions. Why? If you're going to spend the money, get a good annotated edition!

5 Which is why we were subjected to the Everything and Zombies nonsense two years ago.

6 Plus, the month is still young, and I don't want to waste my one officially-sanctioned outrage just yet.

7 TK soon. Preview here and here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Chapter 26: Anne gets her writer on

The concert has passed, but its touch lingers in Avonlea. There's Anne's take:
"Perhaps after a while I'll get used to it, but I'm afraid concerts spoil people for everyday life. I suppose that is why Marilla disapproves of them. Marilla is such a sensible woman. It must be a great deal better to be sensible; but still, I don't believe I'd really want to be a sensible person, because they are so unromantic."
And the wider repercussions:
"To be sure, the concert left traces. Ruby Gillis and Emma White, who had quarreled over a point of precedence in their platform seats, no longer sat at the same desk, and a promising friendship of three years was broken up. Josie Pye and Julia Bell did not 'speak' for three months, because Josie Pye had told Bessie Wright that Julia Bell's bow when she got up to recite made her think of a chicken jerking its head, and Bessie told Julia. None of the Sloanes would have any dealings with the Bells, because the Bells had declared that the Sloanes had too much to do in the program, and the Sloanes had retorted that the Bells were not capable of doing the little they had to do properly. Finally, Charlie Sloane fought Moody Spurgeon MacPherson, because Moody Spurgeon had said that Anne Shirley put on airs about her recitations, and Moody Spurgeon was 'licked'; consequently Moody Spurgeon's sister, Ella May, would not 'speak' to Anne Shirley all the rest of the winter. With the exception of these trifling frictions, work in Miss Stacy's little kingdom went on with regularity and smoothness."
Shall we count the elements of awesome in that passage?
  • All the schoolroom drama
  • The quotes around "speak," because anyone who's been a preteen girl knows that not speaking to someone is not the same think as not "speaking" to them.
  • The fact that a minor battle was fought over Anne's honor (and she can even cherish the romanticism of it, because Gilbert wasn't involved!)
Incidentally, Moody Spurgeon MacPherson, who's just about always referred to by both his first names, is the namesake of notable nineteenth-century ministers Dwight Moody and Charles Spurgeon. (In a couple chapters, we'll see Mrs. Rachel make a point of that.)

Now that it's time to sort out post-concert life, Anne decides it's the right moment to get up a story club with the other girls. There's some fun stuff in there, but one line from Anne gives you the Cliffs Notes version of the club:
"Miss Josephine Barry wrote back that she had never read anything so amusing in her life. That kind of puzzled us because the stories were all very pathetic and almost everybody died. But I'm glad Miss Barry liked them."
Raise your hand if you wrote stories like that as a kid!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Chapter 25: Matthew discovers fashion

"Matthew was having a bad ten minutes of it."
Poor man. Not just because he's hiding from a gaggle of girls who have taken over his house, but because of the adventure he's about to embark on.

As he sits there wondering how long he's going to have to wait before the giggling mass of hormones moves on, he figures out something that Marilla hasn't yet considered worthy of attention:
"The more Matthew thought about the matter the more he was convinced that Anne never had been dressed like the other girls—never since she had come to Green Gables. Marilla kept her clothed in plain, dark dresses, all made after the same unvarying pattern. If Matthew knew there was such a thing as fashion in dress it was as much as he did; but he was quite sure that Anne's sleeves did not look at all like the sleeves the other girls wore."
And he knows better than to talk to Marilla about it. So instead, he girds his loins and sets out on the difficult task of being a sixty-something bachelor buying a dress for the first time.

He's so uncomfortable with the idea that he doesn't even go to his usual store:
"To be sure, the Cuthberts always had gone to William Blair's; it was almost as much a matter of conscience with them as to attend the Presbyterian church and vote Conservative."
But he can't get away from the estrogen, since he's waited on by a female clerk.
"Matthew was covered with confusion at finding her there at all; and those bangles completely wrecked his wits at one fell swoop."
He ends up with no dress, and twenty pounds of brown sugar.
"It had been a gruesome experience, but it served him right, he thought, for committing the heresy of going to a strange store."
And of course, he's still not telling Marilla a thing, so she's left to rant about the brown sugar and show her disdain for the hired help once again:
"You know I never use it except for the hired man's porridge or black fruit cake. Jerry's gone and I've made my cake long ago."
Matthew finally solves the problem by going to Rachel Lynde, who thoroughly approves:
"That man is waking up after being asleep for over sixty years."
and secretly makes up a dress for Anne. Naturally, transports of delight follow.

Anne wears the dress to the school recital, to much acclaim -- and, Diana points out, some special attention:
"Wait till I tell you. When you ran off the platform after the fairy dialogue one of your roses fell out of your hair. I saw Gil pick it up and put it in his breast pocket. There now. You're so romantic that I'm sure you ought to be pleased at that."
Who wants to bet on that?