Weekend bookends: June 14, 2014
A weekly round up of miscellaneous bookish news you may have missed.
Two long- awaited author returns
Her first (and most recent book) took sixteen years to write. Her second has taken nineteen years. New Zealand author Keri Hulme won the 1985 Booker Prize with The Bone People, but there’s been nothing from her since. She recently told a literary festival in Aukland that she is going to publish her second novel in September this year. I wonder if she’ll have as much trouble getting this one published as she did with The Bone People and whether she’ll similarly resist recommendations to edit her work. In case you’ve never read her, here is my review of her novel.
Something that was announced a few months ago, but which I completely missed, was the news that Kazuo Ishiguro is to publish his first novel in a decade. The Buried Giant, due out in March 2015 is about ‘lost memories, love, revenge and war’. I was hoping it would be something in the vein of Remains of the Day which I love, but it’s apparently more akin to the dystopian future that he used in his last novel Never Let Me Go.
Amazon versus the publishers
In 2011 it was estimated almost one in every four books in the US was bought via Amazon. Last year, Forbes magazine said the figure had increased to one in two (50% in other words). We readers can’t, it seems, get enough of the online giant. But while Amazon may be good for consumers, giving easy access and fast delivery of hundreds of thousands of books, publishers are not so enamoured. In recent years we’ve heard mutterings from publishers about Amazon’s business model which required them to pay to have their books stocked and shipped and to offer ever-increasing discounts to Amazon. But most have stayed silent, fearing that they could effectively be blocked from the site entirely.
One of them however has recently broken the veil of silence. Hattchet Book Group, one of the leading US-based publishing groups, was in dispute over the level of discount Amazon was demanding. Then the publisher discovered 5,000 of its titles had ‘disappeared’ from the on-line site. Users can see the book but effectively can’t buy it because it’s marked out of stock even though it is widely available in many other outlets. Hattchet has gone public with a series of statements on their website about the dispute. House of SpeakEasy blog has just published a good commentary piece on the issue.
I know many bloggers have ‘banned’ Amazon because they don’t like their business model and the effect it’s had on independent booksellers and the publishing industry in general. I’ve long used it myself by default because I hadn’t found anything as quick or efficient. But a recent experience has shown that there definitely is a strong alternative at least for people in the UK, via Waterstones. I first used them when I wanted a copy of Great Expectations as a mother’s day gift – the Amazon price was an astounding £16. I found it at just under £10 on the Waterstones site. Delivery was just as fast as Amazon and nicely packaged. So I tried them again recently when I wanted some books for gifts (I’m still restricting my own purchases) and again they came up trumps on the delivery. So I’m now sold on them – they may be more expensive than Amazon though not by much, and I can earn points each time I buy which gives me discounts and offers in the future. So I’m switching my allegiance.
The New Yorker has a good article about the progress of the Amazon phenomena and some of the issues raised about its business methods.
Time to Drool
Buying a book online may be convenient but I do miss the experience of walking into a real shop and browsing. The big chains do a fine job of organising the books efficiently and they’ve upped their game in recent years by adding coffee shops, sofas and squishy armchairs. But they don’t come anywhere near the ambiance of the independents. Buzzfeed has just published a set of photos of independent stores that is certain to get you salivating. I just wish more of these were within my grasp. I could get to the Book on the Barge in London, and next time I go to Brussels I’ll have to go looking for Cook and Book but I can’t see me getting to Buenos Aires to see the theatre converted into a bookstore or to Sao Paulo to see the dragon-festooned Livraria Cultura.
There are 17 shops featured by BuzzFeed but I bet there are many more gems out there. Have any of you found something special on your travels?
An odd marketing concept
My current trainers (known as sneakers in USA) are losing their bounce so I’m in the market for a new pair. New Balance is one of the few brands that make a very narrow fitting so I was getting excited to hear they are about to launch a new author-inspired range. They are meant to “pay tribute to some of the greatest American novels ever written” according to SneakerNews. My imagination immediately began working on which author’s face or inspiring quote I’d choose that would help me get through a gym session. The first collection out next month is called “Bespoke Authors,” the second will be “Distinct Authors Collection” out in August the third the “Connoisseur Authors Collection,” will go for $150 and be released in September.
Disappointment kicked in quickly however when I saw advance pictures of the new models. Was I missing some incredibly clever allusion? There seemed no obvious connection to either authors or books. Maybe there was something embedded on the insole or the outer sole? Were there some quotes running around the inside? Sadly it seems not. There are no direct connections between authors and each pair of shoes. Instead, as New Balance’s head of lifestyle department (a rather grandiose job title) told the Boston Globe, the linkage really only comes from “color combinations, key touches of detail, and fabrics”. That’s a statement which has me totally perplexed — I could see them picking blue for Hemingway given his association with the coastal location of Key West; maybe white and black to symbolise the slavery/racial tension of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, or red earth tones for Grapes of Wrath. But the advance pictures show a yellow tone shoe and a grey/blue one. Any clues which novel or novelist those are meant to represent. Seems like an idea dreamed up in a creative brainstorm session aided by a few too many margaritas.