Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Cover Story: Paperback vs. Hardback

I love a hardback book, the heft and integrity.  They last longer, sort of.  They're also more expensive, as much as $30 retail.  (Talk about heft!)  If it's purchased early enough, it's a first edition that, if signed by the author, has some value beyond warm fuzzies to the owner.  I feel like I should respect the hardback.

Paperbacks, on the other hand, are books I carelessly toss in my purse or backpack.  I like the trade paperback, with its larger size and often artistic covers.  Usually, the trade paperback doesn't sport a movie tie-in or a Fabio-like hunk with a non-existent shirt, which also lends a sense of gravitas.

However, smart book marketers are playing for a new life in paperbacks.  The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee received a decent response when released as a hardback last year.  However, when Penguin Books (USA) re-released it as a paperback, the publisher sold 151,000 copies in two months — more than three times as many as were sold in hardback ("First-time novelist Lee a paperback hit," AP News, January 21, 2010).

Credit is given to Penguin's dedication to promoting paperback editions of its hardback books, and other novels have fared well with this strategy.

Bookstores also follow suit, promoting many of these paperbacks; I've seen The Piano Teacher at the registers at My Borders, among other titles (City of Thieves, A Reliable Wife, to name but a couple).  These titles were "guaranteed" to be enjoyed "or your money back" and promoted as book club recommendations.  My friend Carole picked up City of Thieves in response to that very Borders guarantee, and it lived up to its expectations.  She asked the bookseller a couple of months later how the promotion went and was told there were no refunds given at that store for that title.

The Piano Teacher's paperback has the same cover as the hardback, which makes it easy to recognize by interested buyers who waited for the paperback edition to save money.

Algonquin Books took a different tactic by changing the cover of the paperback edition of A Reliable Wife.  Published nearly a year after the hardback edition, the paperback cover was intriguing and compelling.  I read the book last summer and enjoyed it.  I always thought the cover of the hardback — a bright red bird flying though a snowy forest — was interesting, but it wasn't indicative of the story.  Frankly, I want the paperback edition just for the cover.

No word yet from Algonquin about the sales of A Reliable Wife, but if buzz at the bookstore is any indication, the new edition is intriguing plenty of people.  I have seen many people carrying the book around the store with their other purchases, or picking up a copy at the register and adding it to the pile of books and music they're purchasing.

So, when you see a book that intrigues you, do you wait for the paperback to come out rather than pick up the hardback?  Do you buy a book by its cover?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Top Five Lists: The Top 5 Signs You're Taking a Work of Fiction WAY Too Seriously

Top Five List for Bookies:

                         NOTE FROM CHRIS:

        Fans of the movie "Avatar" are looking for ways to
        cope with depression caused by the planet Pandora
        being fictional. One such fan wrote on the fansite
       "Naviblue" that he contemplated suicide after seeing
     the movie because he would never actually see the beauty
    and perfection that are Pandora and its Na'vi population.

             "Gee, Chris, that guy was totally nuts.
           How can I tell if I'm similarly afflicted?"

                        Glad you asked...

                   The Top 5 Signs You're Taking
         a Work of Fiction WAY Too Seriously

 5> Your bookie calls to tell that, once again, Ravenclaw didn't
    cover the Quidditch point spread.

 4> Yes, you adored the scene in "Gone With the Wind" where
    Scarlett O'Hara made a dress out of her home's window curtains.
    But YOU did it at the office. With the mini-blinds. Dave.

 3> "Sorry, pal, but 'no shirt, no shoes, no service" even applies
    to Hobbits."

 2> You've carved a lightning bolt into your forehead and renamed
    your imaginary girlfriend Ginny, and today you blasted Brad
    the football star with the Tineus Cruris cruse.

              and's Number 1 Sign You're
          Taking a Work of Fiction WAY Too Seriously...

 1> You've been turning tricks for months, but still no sign of
    Richard Gere.

          [ Copyright 2010 by Chris White/ ]

            Today's full 14-item list, as well as the
        Runners Up and Honorable Mention list submissions
      "May the Farts Be With You!"    and    "A Likely Story"
     are included in our ClubTop5 edition, as are many extras.

      Join today!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Looking Ahead to Books in 2010: An Update

Those in the DC area are invited to a Smithsonian panel March 6: Jane Austen: The Author, Her Legacy, And... Sea Monsters?  According to the Smithsonian:

In this evening’s moderated panel discussion, Austen scholar Tara Wallace joins authors Seth Grahame-Smith, New York Times best-selling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; Ben H. Winters, New York Times best selling author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters; and Regina Jeffers, author of Vampire Darcy’s Desire and Darcy’s Passions as they talk about Austen the author and why her works have endured and inspired through the years.  

The event will be moderated by Bethanne Patrick (@bookmaven on Twitter and The Book Maven on the Web).

Frankly, it sounds like a lot a fun — and a good way to find out more about upcoming releases I mentioned earlier this month.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Update: Filling in the Gaps, and Using Excel

I took my computer upstairs with me Monday night to see how many of the books on my Fill in the Gaps list I own, and how many books I own I want on the list.

Well, I had just upgraded to the new Microsoft Excel, and I'm not a terribly fluent user as it is.  I confused it with Access, which creates records from every line.  (At least, I think it does: Joe set up the only Access file I have ever used, so maybe he did something special.)

Do you see where this is going?

So, I chose a column — author's last names — so I could sort my records by that category.  I figured that would take every line and put it in order based on the "values" in that column.

Well, what it did was rearrange the last names in alphabetical order — and left every other column in its original location.  Needless to say, that made the author names a little different than they should have been.  "Bram Achebe," anyone?

Oh, I fixed it.  I knew 92 of the 100 authors right off the top of my head, so that was not as inconvenient as it could have been.  I was stymied by a few authors with whom I was less familar, like Erskine Caldwell (Tobacco Road) and Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road).

I will figure it out. 

In the meantime, I'll wander upstairs to my rather extensive library and find yet more books to put on the list. 

I may even set up a second list of "books I want to read but can't fit in a list of only 100 books." 

Or I might sub-categorize by "classics I want to read" and "modern classics I want to read" and "recent releases I haven't gotten around to reading yet." 

In the end, I will read only a fraction of the books I want to read because there are only so many hours in a day.  If that's the worst thing that happens to me, I will count myself lucky.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Challenge: Filling in the Gaps

Everyone has books they have meant to read and never have gotten around to read. Everyone has books they managed to avoid reading in school, the classics we were supposed to read because they were good for us in some way. (We didn't buy that logic on every single so-called "classic," did we?)

How about the books everyone else has seemed to read, or the books you have eyed on the shelves, wishing you could find the time to read?

How would you like to get them read?

Take the Fill in the Gaps Challenge: make a list of 100 books you want to read, for whatever reasons (and you don't even have to tell anyone why).  Now, make a promise to yourself that you will read them during the course of the next five years.

Don't laugh.  Better, don't hyperventilate.  In your heart of hearts, you know you can accomplish reading 20 books a year, if you really set your mind to it.  On average, you could spend two and a half weeks to finish each one.  That's an average, of course.  Each book is different, and some will go more quickly than others.

How long do you think it will take you to read DraculaGone With the Wind? Madame Bovary? Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell?  Probably less time than you think.

If you're not sure what books you want to put on your list, visit the Fill in the Gaps Web site for ideas.  Stroll through your local library and talk to the librarians.   One librarian in particular has created her own collection of lists: Nancy Pearl and Book Lust.

Talk to booksellers and see what they like; they have access to thousands of titles, so their choices could be interesting.  Emily at My Borders turned me onto Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, and I am forever grateful.

Your local library probably has a few list of award-winners and bestsellers.  My friend Carole has pledged to read every Pulitzer Prize winner, and she already has made great headway in the past year.  Go international with the Nobel Prize.  What kind of books do you prefer? If you're a fan of horror novels, check out the Bram Stoker Award winners.  If you like mysteries, check out the Edgar Awards. Consider a Newbery Award winner, no matter your age. Here's an idea: if you want to be different, choose a runner-up — if they were good enough to be nominated, they were good enough to win, right?  Find a new favorite author.

If you run out of ideas, visit the Fill in the Gaps Web site to see what other people have put on their lists.

Remember, this doesn't have to stunt your other reading of current bestsellers, textbooks or other "must-reads" already in your life.  Pepper your reading time with these gap-fillers. Here are a few ideas of how to incorporate reading into your daily life:
  • Leave books around the house so you can pick up a book while the pasta is boiling.  
  • Designate one or two nights after work and school "pleasure reading nights"  for the entire family.
  • Turn off the TV and TiVo/DVR your shows one or two nights a week.
  • Read for 30 minutes before bed.
  • Designate your gap books for reading aloud with the family  — if they're appropriate: The Wind in the Willows may an easy book to share, whereas Silence of the Lambs or Lolita might not be as popular choice.  (Or maybe it is: who's to say what works for you?)

I will post my list soon, and I will keep you abreast of how the list is going.  You do the same with me.  Let's show each other just how easy it is to read what you've always wanted to read.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Review: Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

What would you do if you watched someone gasp their last breath in what you were certain was a heinous murder?  In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Flavia de Luce watched in fascination and took exceptional mental notes.

Flavia is not your ordinary 10-year-old, and the de Luce family is not a typical British family, even in 1950.  Flavia has a hint that something odd is occurring in her home that hot, lazy summer, and it has nothing to do with the torture she and her sisters Daphne and Ophelia execute against each other.  It goes beyond Mrs. Mullet's inedible custard pies and Father's obsession with stamps.  It even goes beyond the absent Harriet.

Flavia's summer occupation involves nothing less than King George VI and a 30-year-old murder.

The family discovers a dead jack snape with a postage stamp on its beak left at their door.  After overhearing a conversation she doesn't understand, Flavia wakes after a fitful night and, sensing a disruption in the cucumbers, watches a man die — the same man who had the conversation with her father mere hours before.

Flavia is more curious than frightened, and her youth and inexperience lead her to some conclusions that are not completely thought-out.  However, she keeps her head and conducts her own investigation, sometimes steps before Investigator Hewitt and other times without even a whiff of the constabulary.

Author Alan Bradley is brilliant.  The middle-aged Canadian author has captured the spirit and character of the whip-smart 10-year-old and what life entails for her.  While reading the book, I was transported to Buckshaw, a rambling, crumbling English estate with entire wings for each member of the small family in residence.  I could see and feel Flavia's laboratory and her dusty, musty books. I heard the shoe heels clacking through the expansive halls, the sisters lounging around reading, playing music, mooning over local boys and movie stars.

The characters were charming and utterly appropriate to the story.  I loved Dogger, whose tortured past remains a mystery but whose future appears to continue to offer unflagging devotion to Flavia's father, the Colonel.  I appreciated Mrs. Mullet and her no-nonsense approach to the eccentric de Luces, especially near the end, when she revealed a hint of the true housekeeper that kept Buckshaw afloat for decades.

This is the first of a series, so I look forward to learning more about them and the missing Harriet, who I suspect has a different story than that which was told to her youngest daughter.  I can't wait to see the blossoming relationship between the young detective and and the patient inspector.  I won't mind if Father remains a bit more of a mystery; in his grief, he is more interesting than one would expect.  I trust Bradley's treatment of story and character, and I look forward to my next meeting with this interesting crew.

And all this from a reader who rarely turns to mysteries for entertainment.

What do you think of mysteries?  What are some of your favorites? What draws you to them?  Will you give Bradley's book a gander?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Looking Ahead to Books in 2010

I'm pretty excited about what lies ahead for us bookies in 2010.  A few of my favorite authors are publishing this year.  Rarely are there that many pre-published books on my wish list, but this year appears to be the start of interesting times.

My friend (and fellow book lover) Carole and I started out the year with one of our favorite authors in hand: Jasper Fforde published his latest novel, Shades of Grey, in late December 2009.  I'm taking my time reading this one, and not just because it's complex and intricate.  It's also original and humorous.  I can't wait to visit the author as he reads/signs at Politics and Prose January 16.  (Carole's schedule may necessitate an emergency trip to the UK for a signing, or at least New York.)  Fforde's Web site is a marvelous thing to behold and visit repeatedly, not only because he's as clever on the Web as he is on the page, but because there always is something different to experience.

Elizabeth Kostova's second novel, The Swan Thieves, is scheduled to hit the shelves January 12.  Modern psychology, French Impressionism and women are at the heart of this book.  I won't read much more lest it spoil surprises (and many book jackets and reviews are guilty of just that).  Let me tell you how silly I was about her first book, The Historian: I read a small blurb about it in the The New Yorker and decided I wanted to read it.  I called My Borders and asked if they had it on the shelves, and the amused bookseller paused only slightly before saying, "Uh, yeah."   "Should I ask you to set aside a copy for me?" I asked, and he replied, again with only a moment's hesitation, "No, I think there will be copies when you get here."  What can I say: it was summer, I wasn't paying attention to what was the hottest novel of the summer.  And it confirmed my suspicion that The New Yorker was the best magazine on the planet.  (Don't tell People.)

Professor Dunworthy returns to the page, thanks to Connie Willis and Blackout, due February 2.  I first encountered her work in a short story collection devoted to time travel, and a fellow book geek on the Web recommended Doomsday Book.  Then there was To Say Nothing of the Dog: identical and similar characters in slightly different circumstances (with great indebtedness to Jerome K. Jerome).  I started reading Lincoln's Dreams, only to have to return it to the library (which promptly lost it, but that's another story altogether).

Horns is the long-awaited novel by horror fiction writer Joe Hill to be released February 16.  David and I had to read Heart-Shaped Box together because it was too scary for me to read alone.  We both loved it. In his new novel, Hill will examine how a man with horns approaches a murder investigation.

Seth Grahame-Smith is following up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, set for release March 2.  Those who will be in the D.C. area on March 9 can catch Grahame-Smith with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters author Ben H. Winters at the Smithsonian, according to Quirk Press (pending confirmation from the Smithsonian). 

Speaking of Elizabeth Bennett and martial arts, look for the PPZ prequel by Steve Hockensmith: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls. It is expected to shuffle to the shelves on March 30.

Dresden Files author Jim Butcher's newest installment, Changes, is personal — and will be released April 6.  I love the premises of his series, and I hope to actually dive into one of his books soon.

Sara Gruen's newest release, Ape House: A Novel, is scheduled to hit the shelves September 21.   I know she's more than Water for Elephants, but few books are so powerful that they remain with me for so long as that one did.

The renown Philip Roth has a novel scheduled for release in 2010: Nemesis, about how polio affects a small community in 1944 in Newark.

We'll discuss other scheduled releases and book tours as the year progresses.  And remember: these dates are in the future, which means they're subject to change.  Do not purchase a ticket to travel to East Carmine for a book signing without confirmation from the publisher or bookstore.  And support Wikipedia, a great source of information!