Monthly Archives: April 2012

Harry Potter Encyclopedia On the Way

Famed Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling isn’t only working on her first adult novel; she’s still got more Potter in the works! And this time it’s a Harry Potter encyclopedia, set to answer all of the questions we’ve ever wondered about the teenage wizard and his friends.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Rowling took to her popular Pottermore web site to make the announcement. She said some of the encyclopedia’s content forms the new content on Pottermore. She also said it will likely be a time-consuming process. That makes sense. After all, it took her four to five years to put Pottermore together after publishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007.

So no release date has been set. But EW‘s Hillary Busis has already started coming up with questions she hopes are answered in the encyclopedia. For instance:

Where do Hogwarts professors go during their summer vacations? What are the 12 uses of dragon’s blood? What’s behind that locked door in the Department of Mysteries? And why in the world did Hermione and Ron name one of their kids Hugo?

What questions do you have for Rowling??

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Male vs. Female Authors: The Double Standard

How likely is it that a man goes to a bookstore and purchases a pink book with a picture of a stiletto on it? Or a little girl on a farm? How likely is it that a woman goes to a bookstore and purchases a red book with bold, black typeface and some kind of faraway landscape? The fact of the matter is people really do judge books by their covers. And if that book seems remotely feminine and has a female author, a man will likely move on to the next shelf.

According to this important essay in The New York Times, “women’s fiction” consists of books that are written by women. But they’re not necessarily for women. And they certainly aren’t always “chick lit.” But many tend to lump women’s fiction and chick lit together — identifying these books as silly, quick reads about women and their romantic relationships with men as well as their friendships with other women. Essayist Meg Wolitzer uses Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot as an example of the exception to the rule — a book that has mainly feminine themes, but is written by a male. It’s been hugely successful, but women write books with similar content and themes all the time and don’t get nearly as much recognition. Is it simply because they’re women?

Furthermore, women’s fiction and chick lit are not the same. Women’s fiction can be as serious as any man’s book. And whereas a woman tends to be open to reading a book written by a man, men aren’t necessarily as inclined to read books written by women, as Meg Wolitzer explains.

Recently at a social gathering, when a guest found out I was a writer, he asked, “Would I have heard of you?” I dutifully told him my name — no recognition, fine, I’m not that famous — and then, at his request, I described my novels. “You know, contemporary, I guess,” I said. “Sometimes they’re about marriage. Families. Sex. Desire. Parents and children.” After a few uncomfortable moments he called his wife over, announcing that she, who “reads that kind of book,” was the one I ought to talk to. When I look back on that encounter, I see a lost opportunity. When someone asks, “Would I have heard of you?” many female novelists would be tempted to answer, “In a more just world.”

Wolitzer explains that women’s books are actually less reviewed, according to statistics gathered by a women’s literary organization called VIDA. She talks about the length of books, their covers, their jackets. But ultimately it all comes back to who has written the book. Wolitzer goes into incredible depth with this essay, and I urge you to read it in its entirety. While I often don’t think much about who wrote the book I’m reading, it’s something I’ll begin to consider now.


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Is Suzanne Collins’ Writing Style the Future?

Suzanne Collins has captivated readers all over the world with The Hunger Games trilogy. But was it the content of the books or her writing style that made the books so monumental?

According to this Huffington Post blog post, blogger Jeff Goins suggested that Collins’ writing style is the successful writing style of the future: short and concise, but also edgy. But blogger Lev Raphael argues that if this style is the future of writing, it will only bring on a rush of bestseller copycats.

What he’s arguing for, whether he knows it or not, is myriad knock-offs of The Hunger Games, books written to what might seem like a formula, or has been turned into one.

The result would be a raft of terrible books, as well as disappointed authors who think, “My books is just as good as The Hunger Games, why can’t I sell it?” or “Why isn’t anyone buying my book?” Hell, that’s probably going to happen anyway, without his encouragement.

I agree with Raphael to some extent; of course, bestseller copycats would be produced. And of course, they won’t all be  as good as the original bestsellers.

However, as a person who reads both modern and classic books, I agree that the books of yesteryear are much more difficult to read. The modern ones — like The Hunger Games — are made for those with shorter attention spans who have less time to analyze, and I think it’s safe to say that is almost everyone these days. There’s something to be said for a concise writing style, even though it may not be so eloquent. What do you think? Is Collins’ style the future? Or will writing with flowery language continue to thrive?


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Review: Tribes of Time

Recap: Albeit unrealistic, Tribes of Time tells a compelling murder story with a bold statement on the current status of civil rights in our country. It all begins when Dr. Haines Johnson is traveling through rural Tennessee on his way to a science conference. Along the way, he spots a group of six white Klansmen abusing a naked black man, named Cyrus. They are about to lynch him. Impossible for him to continue driving, Dr. Johnson stops the car and saves the man by killing some of the Klansmen. Cyrus finishes them off. It may have been an act of self defense, but between the two of them, they have committed six murders in a matter of minutes. Not only that, but it’s happened in rural Tennessee, where racism remains prevalent and the chances of having a fair trial are slim.

Since Haines has gotten Cyrus into this mess — and because Cyrus is forever indebted to him — Haines hires close lawyer friends of his from up North to represent he and Cyrus in court. They play their cards well, realizing this is not only a murder case, but a case about civil rights, and one that has the potential to take the country by storm. Tribes of Time takes us through the duration of the trial and beyond. But a tip that Haines and Cyrus’s lawyers receive near the end of the trial results in a monumental shift in the case, one that will change Cumberland County, Tennessee forever.

Analysis: The murder and trial are the essence of this strong story, but it would have been better if it were left that way. Instead the author, Jaymes E. Terry tries to include unnecessary additional subplots; for instance, a romance between one of the defense attorneys and a witness that’s added a few hundred pages into the novel.

Also unnecessary is the career-altering project named Sankofa on which Dr. Haines Johnson is working. A time-travel machine, the Sankofa is what Haines finally completes at the end of the novel, after the trial is complete. Though it is mentioned briefly at the beginning of the story, the back summary of the book makes the physics project seem as though it’s a focal point, when in reality, it has no bearing on the rest of the story.

Overall, Tribes of Time has heart. And the fact that Terry sets the story in 2005 makes its statement on civil rights that much bolder; after all, some of us (like myself, a white girl from the North) would find it hard to believe that something like this could still happen today. I found it surprising, but if true, it says a lot about our ignorance about the supposed leaps and bounds we’ve made in the civil rights movement in the last 50 years.

MVP: Dr. Haines Johnson. It takes a lot to save a man’s life and assist with murder, especially when doing it for a stranger. Dr. Johnson’s risk and courage are astounding. It’s impossible to not respect Haines in the utmost way.

Get Tribes of Time for your Kindle for free.


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Three Cups of Tea Controversy Continues

Things continue to fall apart for the Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson. When Mortenson published Three Cups of Tea in 2006, the nonfiction book became a massive bestseller, raising millions of dollars for the charity Mortenson founded, Central Asia Institute, or CAI. Now he must pay $1 million to the charity.

His nonfiction book about his decision to build schools in Central Asia served as a way to raise money for the schools. The book came under fire last year after a 60 Minutes report stated that parts of Mortenson’s books were fictional.

Now, according to Huffington Post, Mortenson is facing more legal troubles. The Minnesota Attorney General is reporting that Mortenson used funds for the charity for his personal use i.e. iTunes, vacations, and luggage. The AG also alleges Mortenson did not uphold his end of the agreements with the charity — namely that he would split book promotion costs and contribute the amount he received in royalties from the books bought by CAI.

As a result, he must pay back CAI, but the payments could take years to make because he has “insufficient financial resources” to pay it back at once. In his defense, one of CAI’s donors says Mortenson simply had “fuzzy math” skills. Either way, $1 million is about to come out of his pocket for his own errors, deliberate or not.

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E-Readers Are Getting More Social

Here are a few reasons why e-readers are great: they’re portable, can hold hundreds of books in one device, and have wifi and Internet capabilities. Here are a few reasons why some are still hesitant to purchase an e-reader: setting bookmarks can be difficult, as can adding notes and highlights — though they are all still possible, and of course there’s just nothing like reading a real book.

But the e-reader experience may just be getting started. According to the Los Angeles Times, reading is becoming more and more like a social network. It’s called “social reading.” For instance, on the Amazon Kindle, people can post favorite passages to Facebook and Twitter. On Canada’s popular Kobo e-reader, you can see what people are reading, if they’re reading what you are, and join in on their comment string about the book. It not only bookmarks your pages; it keep statistics about your reading habits.

On an app called Subtext, readers can even connect with the author, as Carolyn Kellogg explains.

Built for the iPad and launched less than two months ago, Subtext offers all of the social reading elements with the added bonus of content from authors themselves. “I was very excited about this,” says Amy Stewart, author of “Wicked Plants” and “Wicked Bugs,” an L.A. Times bestseller….Marginal icons show where she added links, video, color images and commentary, including a “Spoiler Alert” warning just to see how the function worked (the determined reader has to tap a second time to see the spoiler). Just like on Facebook, Stewart can respond to reader comments, which also are indicated by icons in the margin.

For some, I imagine social reading could be a bit much. But since we’re social about everything else nowadays, why wouldn’t we be social about more clever habits, like reading? And as the article points out, it’s also the perfect way to enhance reading in a classroom. For those who are not interested in social reading, stick to a good old-fashioned book. But I wouldn’t entirely discount it.

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Review: Bossypants (Audiobook)

Recap: Smart, charming, and downright hilarious, Tina Fey’s Bossypants not only gives us a behind-the-scenes look at Fey’s life and background. It also offers career and life lessons, with funny anecdotes along the way. In Fey’s bestselling memoir, the 30 Rock and former SNL writer shares with us stories from her childhood, how she made it in the business, and how that Sarah Palin impression came to be. But mixed in with the overall story of her life are small, fun side stories — like those about her gay theater friends from childhood and her co-workers at the YMCA in Evanston, IL.

In this case, I listened to Bossypantsinstead of reading it. After all, Tina Fey reads the book herself. Also included in the audiobook is an audio version of the first Sarah Palin sketch Fey performed alongside Amy Poehler on SNL. There’s also a bonus disc, which features pictures from Fey’s past and a video of the SNL Sarah Palin skit. For me, that’s more than enough of a reason to choose the audiobook over the paperback.

Analysis: If there’s anything to get out of this book, it’s that yes, Tina Fey is as awesome, funny, smart, and charming as you think she is. If you’ve ever driven a long way by yourself, there’s perhaps no better companion for the road than the Bossypants audiobook.

Fey does not hold back, sharing with us some letters she either has or wishes she had sent to critics. She details her experience in meeting Sylvester Stallone. She even explains why former SNL star Cheri Oteri would have been better in one particular skit than Chris Kattan (who ultimately performed the skit). Her honesty can, at times, be astounding. But when reading a memoir, isn’t that exactly what you want?

The best parts of her story are easily about her days at SNL and 30 Rock. After all, that’s what she’s known for, and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the two shows is interesting — and let’s be honest — exactly the reason you picked up the book in the first place. She explains how she wasn’t even working at SNL when she did the Sarah Palin impressions, how she rarely impersonated people because she never looked like anyone, and how Alec Baldwin had been her choice for 30 Rock from the start and NBC probably wouldn’t have greenlit the show had he not signed on.

It’s not only Fey’s wit and candor that impress; she also subtlely includes career tips and life lessons. When talking about her days in improv, she explains tricks like “agree and say yes” or “yes, and…” or “think of solutions, not questions.” It becomes clear throughout this chapter that Fey is not only telling us how improv works; she’s telling us how life works.

MVP: Do you really have to ask? Sarah Palin.

Get the Bossypants audiobook now for $19.79.

Get it on your Kindle for just $12.99.

Or in paperback for $10.87.

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New Barnes & Noble Nook Will Be Backlit

Again, Barnes & Noble has found a way to advance and greatly improve its e-reader before Amazon. The company revealed its newest Nook last week — one with a backlight.

According to The New York Times, the announcement makes the Nook the first e-reader to offer a backlight. It’s a huge advantage for Barnes & Noble over Amazon, particularly because most people do their reading in bed and because people have to turn the light on themselves, as Julie Bosman explains.

But William J. Lynch Jr., the chief executive of Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest bookstore chain, said the new device could be seen as two e-readers in one. The glowing back screen can be activated with the press of a button, but when it is not in use, the e-reader functions as a standard E Ink device, which is easier to read in sunlight than a tablet like the iPad with an LCD display.

That’s not to say other companies haven’t had the same idea. Amazon is hoping to release their version of a backlit Kindle later this year. Plus, the Kindle is still much more widely known than the Nook. But anyone who does their research on e-readers will quickly learn about the Nook’s new capabilities, and I think it can only stand to improve their sales.

The new Nook is called Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight and costs $139. Preorders are available right now. Shipping will begin in May.

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Encyclopaedia Britannicas Selling Fast

In its final days, the Encyclopaedia Britannica is seeing a resurgence. The oldest continuously published encyclopedia in the English language has been flying off the shelves since the company announced last month it would discontinue its print editions.

According to this article by The New York Times, sales of the Encyclopaedia Britannica — a 32-volume set that weighs 129 pounds — had greatly decreased in recent years. Thanks to the Internet and sites like Wikipedia, the need for print editions of encyclopedias has become scarce. Before the March 13th announcement, only 60 sets — at a cost of $1,395 — were sold per week.

Since then, the 4,000 copies stored in the Britannica warehouse have gone so quickly, there are now only a few hundred left. On average, 1,050 are now being sold per week. They’re all expected to be sold by the end of April.

According to Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “When they thought it would be around forever, there was no rush to buy one,” Mr. Cauz said in an e-mail. “But now, suddenly, it’s a scarce item.”

It’s not surprising that the company would opt to discontinue publishing the print editions. After all, print encyclopedias are a dying breed. Nonetheless, it’s still sad to see the end of an era. Just another item that has become irrelevant in our society — like the Walkman and answering machine.

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E-Book Pricing Lawsuit Now Officially Underway

Last week, I reported that Apple and a number of other book publishers faced a lawsuit over collusion for e-book pricing. Yesterday, that lawsuit was made official by the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to this article by The New York Times, the DOJ is suing Apple, alleging that the company lowered its e-book prices in the iBookstore in 2010 as a means to fight Amazon’s low pricing. Julie Bosman explains.

At the time, Apple with its blockbuster iPad was trying to challenge Amazon’s hold on the e-book market. Amazon, the online retail giant, had become a kind of Walmart for the e-book business by lowering the price of most new and best-selling e-books to $9.99 — a price meant to stimulate sales of its own e-reading device, the Kindle.

Publishers, looking for leverage against Amazon, saw Apple as their white knight.

Three of the publishers — Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins — that faced suits have already agreed to settlements. But the fight is far from over. Either way, the Justice Department is looking to ensure that e-book prices are lowered for everyone because “E-books are transforming our daily lives, and improving how information and content is shared.  For the growing number of Americans who want to take advantage of this new technology, the Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that e-books are as affordable as possible.”

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