Monday, September 28, 2015

Ebook Sales Slow, Advice for Writers, Bookselling and The Scavenger's Daughters by Kay Bratt and A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

This is vindication for those of us who love print books and generally eschew ebooks and digital printing. For me, it's hard on the eyes to read sitting up on a computer screen or a Nook tablet, so, though I've tried it, I have found that the most enjoyable reading experience still contains a physical book, or what the young folks call the "dead tree edition."

Noting that "five years ago, the book world was seized by collective

panic over the uncertain future of print," today's New York Times

examines the recent slowing down of e-book sales, including a 10% drop in the first five months of this year for publishers reporting sales to the Association of American Publishers, and suggested that "the digital apocalypse never arrived, or at least not on schedule

"E-books were this rocket ship going straight up," said Len Vlahos, a

former executive director of the Book Industry Study Group and now part of the senior management team of Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, Colo. "Just about everybody you talked to thought we were going the way of digital music."

American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher observed: "The fact that the digital side of the business has leveled off has worked to our advantage. It's resulted in a far healthier independent bookstore market today than we have had in a long time."

This was posted on Shelf Awareness last week, and I thought this advice article was very well written. 

Wise Advice for Writers

We are old nobodies who love what we do. We would be old nobodies even if Oprah and the New York Times best-seller list consecrated us, because we don't want to create illusions around ourselves like so many others have done before. Instead, we make what we love and dress how we like and dance in our kitchens and breathe in the good moments because we know nothing lasts that long. We are old nobodies who love what we do. We would be old nobodies even if Oprah and the New York Times best-seller list consecrated us, because we don't want to create illusions around ourselves like so many others have done before. Instead, we make what we love and dress how we like and dance in our kitchens and breathe in the good moments because we know nothing lasts that long.We aren't rushing to some imaginary finish line. We are inching along slowly, smelling the flowers, playing with our dogs and cats, giving generously to those who need our help when we can.

We wake up very early in the morning, before the sun comes up, and we say to the world: I AM OLD AND I AM A NOBODY AND I LOVE WHAT I DO. You will be just like me someday. If you're lucky.

I completely agree that what booksellers do isn't as easy as it looks, though I've not had the privilege of working in a bookstore yet.

'What Independent Booksellers Do Isn't Easy'

"What independent booksellers do isn't easy. They face frequently overwhelming odds and strains, long days and recurring doubts. It isn't an easy life. And yet, every day, they find time to read. The booksellers I know read incessantly; the backrooms and sales floors of every independent bookstore I've ever been to are a hum of 'Have you read this?' and 'What did you think of that?' No matter the financial pressures and the ongoing stresses, booksellers find time to immerse themselves in books new and old, to read deeply and passionately.

"They are also, it has to be said, some of the most critical readers you are ever liable to meet: if they feel strongly enough about a book to recommend it, you know it's a good one. They won't dis a book they don't like, at least outright, but another bookseller can always tell. It's as simple as the difference between a book on the shelf, and a book in their hands as they press it toward you, their face lit up with enthusiasm. 'You have to read this,' they'll say.... And I suspect I speak for all writers in this country when I repeat, 'Thank you. Thank you, independent booksellers, for all you do.' "

--Canadian author and bookseller Rob Wiersema in his latest post for the "Shelf Talkers" series at 49th Parallel

 I picked up a copy of The Scavenger's Daughters by Kay Bratt because it sounded just like my kind of tale, full of heroism and triumph over adversity, with the added bonus of it being about a man who survived Mao's Cultural Revolution in China. Here's the blurb:

Coming of age during China’s Cultural Revolution, Benfu survived the cruel years, but he did not emerge unscathed.

The Scavenger’s Daughters is the story of Benfu and his beloved wife Calli, chronicling their attempts to build a life in the turmoil and aftermath of Maoist China. At the heart of their struggle lies the pain of losing their only child. To fill the terrible hole in their lives, they take in abandoned girls — the unwanted “weeds” — as their own, lovingly caring for them as flowers in a garden. Linnea, the oldest of the scavenger’s daughters, embarks on a struggle of her own, as she falls in love with the son of a wealthy family.

Inspired by a true story, this poetic tale of modern-day China chronicles Benfu and Calli as they turn their path of hardship into a beautiful field of flowers.

I was surprised to discover that this is a self published/POD book, printed by Amazon publishing, mainly because it is so well written and has a beautiful cover. Still, having studied Asian history in college, I have always been fascinated by China and Japan and their myths, legends and history of bizarre and cruel rulers. This tale starts with poor Benfu as a young man being tortured in a "rehabilitation" camp because his parents were teachers and intellectuals, and therefore despised among Mao's communist cadre during the revolution.  Benfu, who is guilty by association, fully believes he's going to die in an outhouse, when he's rescued by a young man with food and water and helped to escape. We then fast forward to more recent years, when Benfu is old and has rescued many girl babies and children from the trash heaps of his area of China, and is raising them with his wife because they lost their only daughter many years ago. Benfu and his wife barely manage to survive and have enough food on the table for themselves and their adopted daughters because Befu is a scavenger who goes through trash for recyclable materials to sell. Unfortunately, he's getting old, and his sickness soon lands him in the hospital with tuberculosis. Meanwhile, one of his older daughters has fallen in love with the wealthy son of a government employee, and Benfu, who has had many run-ins with tight-fisted government officials, does not approve. Still, the boyfriend proves himself kind and generous, and helps them all keep going while Benfu is in the hospital. The boyfriend also helps Linnea get set up with her own t-shirt shop, so there is more money coming in to help with the other girls, several of whom are handicapped. You can't read this book and not fall in love with old Benfu, whose kindness and compassion are seemingly infinite. His daughters, whom he and his wife Calli name after flowers, are beautifully rendered here, and I could almost see their little home and hear them each trying to help the family survive by working in whatever way that they can. Benfu's love of these little girls is so beautiful, I got misty eyed several times. The prose is straightforward and strong while the plot cycles along as steadily as Benfu on his bike. This book deserves an A, and a recommendation to anyone who has an interest in the fallout of the "one child" rule in China and other repercussions of Maos Cultural Revolution on the people of China.

We are reading A Sudden Light by Garth Stein for the month of October for my library book group. I've read, and loved, Stein's award-winning previous novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, so I felt confident going in that this would be, at the very least, a well-written tale by Seattle author Stein. Here's the blurb:

Twenty-three years after the fateful summer of 1990, Trevor Riddell recalls the events surrounding his fourteenth birthday, when he gets his first glimpse of the infamous Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant whole trees and is set on a huge estate overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have separated, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with Aunt Serena, dispatch the ailing and elderly Grandpa Samuel to a nursing home, sell off the house and property for development, and divide up the profits.

But as young Trevor explores the house’s hidden stairways and forgotten rooms, he discovers secrets that convince him that the family plan may be at odds with the land’s true destiny. Only Trevor’s willingness to face the dark past of his forefathers will reveal the key to his family’s future.

Spellbinding and atmospheric, A Sudden Light is rich with vivid characters, poetic scenes of natural beauty, and powerful moments of spiritual transcendence. “Garth Stein is resourceful, cleverly piecing together the family history with dreams, overheard conversations, and reminiscences…a tale well told,” (The Seattle Times)—a triumphant work of a master storyteller at the height of his power.

I was surprised at how creepy this book was, considering Stein's book told from a dogs point of view has not an ounce of horror about it. I know we are supposed to love Trevor, but he's more than a bit awkward with his snooping and his erections every time his Aunt Serena even looks at him, or he catches a glimpse of her feet or her breasts. I mean really, Ewwwwww. I can understand admiring someone's beauty, but wanting to have sex with your aunt, even if she is evil and manipulative, is grotesque and disgusting. I also felt that Trevor's parents were pathetic and ineffectual, and his father's in ability to even talk to his own father was bizarre. The unsung hero of this moody piece is the huge old house built by timber and railroad barons back in the 19th century. I happen to know some people living in those old mansions in Tacoma, and they're amazing structures, full of old hardwood floors and staircases and beautiful rooms and passageways. The ending of the book was overly melodramatic, and unrealistic, I felt. Still, the prose was elegant and helped along the eccentric characters navigating the twisty plot. I'd give it a B, and recommend the book to anyone who finds Seattle history fascinating.

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