Friday, October 22nd, 2021

An Interview with Novelist Priyanka Champaneri

LibraryThing is very pleased to sit down this month with author Priyanka Champaneri, whose debut novel, The City of Good Death, won the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing in 2018 and is shortlisted for the Center for Fiction’s 2021 First Novel Prize. Set in the Indian city of Banaras, it follows the story of a man who works at one of the city’s death hostels, where the dying come for a “good death”⁠—one that will release them from the cycle of reincarnation.

Your book is set in a locale you have never visited, and addresses a very specific set of cultural and religious practices. How did the idea for this story come to you?

I’d grown up in a Hindu household and had a distant understanding of Banaras and its importance within the religion, but my interest wasn’t really piqued until after college, when a friend sent me a link to a Reuters article titled “Check In and Die in Two Weeks, or Get Out.” That article was my introduction to the city’s death hostels, and I was immediately intrigued. In hindsight, I now realize the attraction was likely hooking into the different parts of my identity. The part that had grown up surrounded by Hindu philosophy understood the practical need for a death hostel, but the part that was born, raised, and educated in the United States could also view the hostels from a Western perspective, one that might see such places as utterly unique or even alien.

There were so many layers right there that instantly caught at my interest, but I didn’t do anything about it immediately. At that point, I hadn’t yet entered graduate school, and I wasn’t really writing much of anything in a focused way. But the idea of setting a story in a death hostel stayed with me once I began my MFA program at George Mason University, always humming in the back of my mind as something I might one day use. I began to read about Banaras to satisfy my curiosity about the city, and the initial reading sent me down a wonderful rabbit hole of research. I started looking for more visual resources as well, books of photography, films and documentaries, YouTube videos uploaded by travelers walking through the city’s narrow alleys. I wasn’t doing any of this in an intentional way, and writing a book still seemed like an impossible thing. Beyond my limited confidence in my abilities as a writer—both then and now—I was also hesitant because, as you mention, I had never visited this city. I was intensely wary of writing about a place that I had no firsthand experience with, particularly one as important and iconic as Banaras.

But while I was contending with my anxieties and fears, all the research I was doing just piled up in my brain, and I started seeing scenes, hearing characters, feeling something grow within my imagination. I had thought quite a bit about the things I felt I didn’t know, but I hadn’t realized the richness of what I did know—the visuals I’d stored away from my travels to India, the stories I’d grown up hearing my father tell me about his childhood in a Gujarati village, the extensive home library of Indian fairytales and Hindu philosophy that I had access to when I was growing up. All of that came together and informed the book that would become The City of Good Death.

You describe yourself as a “slow writer,” taking over a decade to craft and publish your first book. What are the advantages and disadvantages of taking your time, and what has the publishing process been like for you?

It’s really hard to say there are any advantages to being slow—I certainly wish I was faster. One contributing factor to my slow pace is I work a full-time day job, and my writing time is limited to weekends and evenings. But the biggest reason I take so long is because I can only write organically—I’ve tried to write using outlines, but I just get bored and my motivation quickly dries up. Working blind, with no real notion of where the story is going, keeps the work interesting for me, because I find things out page by page much as a reader hopefully discovers things. But it’s also painfully slow, because what the reader doesn’t see are all the wrong turns and dead ends I’ve found myself in, where I had to work myself back out and start over.

I spend a lot of time thinking rather than writing, especially when I get to a crux point in the plot where a character has to react, or something major happens—for days, weeks, even months I will turn over possibilities in my head. My goal is to stay true to what the character would do while also avoiding all outcomes a reader might expect. There’s a Pixar infographic I once saw where the writers talked about their storymaking process. They say that first they think of what might happen in a situation, and then they discard the idea; they go for the second solution and discard that idea—on and on for about five iterations, until finally the one they land on is the least obvious and the most surprising.

I really took that advice to heart, because creating surprise in plot is so rare and hard to do. I would mentally cycle through scenarios—”What if this happens? Or what if this happens?”—basically storyboarding the scene in my imagination, and when I got to an idea I thought might work, I sat down and wrote it. Even then, it very often didn’t work. It was a constant trial-and-error process of trying to get to the most authentic action for the character, and the most surprising resolution for the plot.

The publishing process has been both eye-opening and humbling for me. I tried to get this book published the traditional way—e.g. finding an agent, submitting the book to editors at any of the major U.S. publishers, and going from there. While it worked out with the agent portion—Leigh Feldman has been a fantastic ally and collaborator during the entire process—it didn’t work out with the publishers. We submitted the book for about two years, covering all the major, minor, and independent presses in the United States, as well as some in the United Kingdom and in India, and while we received really lovely responses, no one was willing to acquire the book.

After revising and submitting and still receiving no interest, Leigh and I had a conversation about me shelving the book and moving on with my writing life to work on something new. A few months later, I submitted the book to the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing. Winning the prize was the only thing that saved the book from a life of being confined to the hard drive of my computer.

Nothing about the book changed between the version submitted to publishers and the version submitted to the contest. What changed was the willingness to give an unknown writer and an unknown story—one told with a lens that is unfamiliar to many in the Western world—a chance at a wider audience. And for that I am profoundly grateful and very aware of how fortunate I am, and how everything that has subsequently come my way—every event, every encounter with a reader, every interview (like this one!)—is a gift. Because it could have gone very differently.

Did writing this book change or influence your own views on the subject of death? What is a “good death” for Priyanka Champaneri?

The entire process of writing and revising this book took about 10 years, so it’s difficult to pinpoint whether the person I am today, and the views I have now, are a place that I was guided towards because of the book, or because it was the inevitable result of time passing and my getting older. I actually think the book just sharpened things for me. Whenever I’m feeling out of balance emotionally, I often don’t know why—but I can usually write my way to understanding the reason. Similarly, I think writing this book forced me to pull out what I’d thought about over the years—the principles I’d tried to live my life by, the conclusions I’d come to, the questions that still occupied me—and really examine them for what they were. And that process was one that probably did more to solidify my perspective, rather than shape.

I’m too superstitious to go into detail about what a good death means for me—but I will say that I believe a good death hinges on whether a person feels they led a good life. And that means different things to different people. Much of my spiritual philosophy centers around duty and a balancing of scales, so I try to live ensuring that I fulfill all my obligations to the people and things I share my life with.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while researching the book?

I love this question—no one has asked me this! I have two things that really struck me in my reading that have stayed with me. One is associated with the reason Banaras is said to have this effect of ending the cycle of reincarnation for those who die there—it’s said that time simply does not exist in the city. And without time, you accrue neither good nor bad karma—your scales are always balanced, no matter your actions.

This was something I really ran with when writing The City of Good Death, which gives no obvious clue as to when the story is taking place. I didn’t want to be tied to any specific historical event, and I also wanted to create something that seemed like it could have happened 200 years ago or be happening now, because that echoes my experiences of traveling in India. You could be getting a lecture from a child on the street about coding, then turn the corner and stumble on a weaver working his loom in the same way his ancestors would have done generations before.

The other interesting find is a story I came across in my research. Banaras is said to be the city of Shiva—the Hindu trinity’s God of Destruction. And when a person dies in Banaras, it’s said that Shiva is the one to whisper the words the soul will need for safe passage out of the cycle of reincarnation and on to liberation. I could immediately see that image in my head, and I was desperate to write my own version. I didn’t always know where the book was headed as I was writing it, but I did know I wanted a character to have an experience with that moment, so it was something to keep me motivated as I worked on the book.

Tell us about your library. What’s on your own shelves?

You can trace the years of my reading life through my bookshelves. Phase 1 is filled with fairy tales—especially the entire Rainbow Fairy Book series edited by Andrew Lang—as well as all of Roald Dahl, Dick King-Smith, the Anne of Green Gables series, and the entire Amar Chitra Katha oeuvre of comic book adaptations of The Mahabharata and other Hindu epics and mythology.

The next phase comprises all the big, capacious novels that I love to get lost in—A Suitable Boy, A House for Mr. Biswas, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Midnight’s Children, Our Mutual Friend, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and the entire Harry Potter series.

And in my current phase, I’m just indiscriminately reading everything, so there are art books, photography books, fairy tale retellings, essays, poetry, slim introspective novellas alongside colorful and fast-paced graphic novels. I no longer care about genre or form or even subject matter. My only goal as a reader is to experience a perspective that is new to me, and always, always, be engulfed by story.

What have you been reading lately, and what would you recommend to other readers?

Umma’s Table by Yeon-Sik Hong (translated by Janet Hong) is probably the best graphic novel I’ve read all year. It’s the story of a Korean man’s struggle to find balance between nurturing the world he’s created with his wife, young son, career, and new home with the obligation he has to his elderly parents and all the complexities of his relationship with them.

I’ve also read several Japanese YA/middle-grade books in translation that have just bowled me over—there is such a depth and frankness to them that I haven’t seen before in the genre from Western writers. My favorites so far are Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki and Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba.

And one more—I recently read Cicada by Shaun Tan, a picture book that just made my head explode, it was so incredibly good!

Labels: author interview, interview

Friday, October 22nd, 2021

Come Join the 2021 Halloween Hunt!

It’s October, and that means the return of our annual Halloween Hunt!

We’ve scattered a collection of jack-o-lanterns around the site, and it’s up to you to try and find them all.

  • Decipher the clues and visit the corresponding LibraryThing pages to find a jack-o-lantern. Each clue points to a specific page right here on LibraryThing. Remember, they are not necessarily work pages!
  • If there’s a jack-o-lantern on a page, you’ll see a banner at the top of the page.
  • You have just over one week to find all the jack-o-lanterns (until 11:59pm EDT, Sunday October 31st).
  • Come brag about your collection of jack-o-lanterns (and get hints) on Talk.

Win prizes:

  • Any member who finds at least two jack-o-lanterns will be
    awarded a jack-o-lantern badge Badge ().
  • Members who find all 12 jack-o-lanterns will be entered into a drawing for one of five LibraryThing (or TinyCat) coaster sets and stickers. We’ll announce winners at the end of the hunt.

P.S. Thanks to conceptDawg for the vulture illustration!

Labels: events

Thursday, October 21st, 2021

An Interview with Poet Danielle Rose

This month LibraryThing sat down with poet and editor Danielle Rose. Rose is the author of at first & then, which won the Fall 2019 Black River Chapbook Competition, as well as The History of Mountains, available through Variant Lit. Her poems have appeared in publications such as Hobart, Palette, and Sundog Lit. She was recently at the center of a social-media storm for comments about the state of poetry in the wider culture (see below), leading to her dismissal from her position as Poetry Editor at Barren Magazine.

“I wish poets understood that the general population has no interest in what we do, so when we speak we are speaking only to each other. The delusion that poetry is something powerful is a straight line to all kinds of toxic positivities that are really just us lying to ourselves.”

You’ve said that your position is not a defeatist one, but affirmative—even liberatory. What did you want fellow poets to take away from your original post?

Intent is a slippery, untrustworthy thing. It is so much in the moment, and our recollection is deeply influenced by our own feelings. My feelings have run a gamut—exhausted, indignant, astonished, cowed, jubilant, disgusted. In one way the tweet was a crude public frustration, in another way the tweet was a nasty dig at folks who genuinely believe that the whole world is composed of poetry all the way down. There was agreement and disagreement, a lot of conversation. Then some people showed up uninvited and broke everything fragile while setting the refuse bins on fire. I am reminded of Brian Massumi: “You are aware of the result, not the process.”

I wonder about confusion. The statement about the problem is not to be confused with the problem itself, although we are quick to do just that. Writers are so used to bending words that we have trouble recognizing when we are the ones being bent around the words we employ. If I could succinctly restate my position, I would do so. But that would be an essay covering already-well trod ground, which would address historical and cultural examples, etc… It would be read by maybe four people.

And somewhere in there I might cut to the banal ordinary and admit that it peeves me that so much of the conversation about poetry in a place like Twitter centers around a performative and uncritical register that contains hyperbolic exclamations about things like ‘power.’ If power is so commonplace what do we even mean by power? We too rarely interrogate our relationship to how language bends us around pillars of utterances that help us categorize our world. We should trace the consequence even if it is something we immediately feel is good.

But I think what I wanted and want is completely immaterial. If quiet, singular desire could win battles, we’d have no need for this kind of communication about communicating. I understand this may not be the most satisfying answer but sometimes answers are not satisfying. Sometimes they aren’t answers at all but instead a pile of questions that now demand your attention and this cycle never really stops, ever, all the way down forever.

If poetry is not meant to communicate with the wider culture and world, what is it for?

“Poetry is concerned with communication” is a quite unassailable position to stake out, I think. It is when we start to use those words that poets like to use with convenient definitions that can be shifted to suit whatever purpose is necessary, like power, that we begin to see problems. Or in other words that here, as well, our feelings shape our conceptions of truth. I think this might be something of an example of what Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart refer to when they talk about ‘what sticks in the mind’ with regard to our beliefs and judgements. That we all encounter ideas and they attach themselves to us in individual ways. Our feelings about the question affect the content of the question. Such as assuming an active, results-oriented result in a field such as poetry. We want what sticks to us to be good for us, however we define that idea.

Instead of focusing on results and becoming bogged down in the aspirational (because concepts that stick reinforce themselves because they are a part of us) we can instead focus on process. What does a poem do? It becomes a record. Eventually, a history. I think there can be a strong argument for the usefulness of poetry in an ethnographic sense insomuch as poetry provides a unique opportunity for language to capture a particular bundle of otherwise intangible things. But at the end of the day poetry is reactive, it responds to something else; it deepens an understanding that is existent in-process, already.

You have stated that you were not “cancelled,” but the response to your post could suggest a desire for uniformity of thought in the poetry world. Is this about conformity?

I think that sometimes we encounter a concept that comes into conflict with the concepts that make up our own identity and this is generally part of a healthy, constant process of individual development. ‘Uniformity’ is ultimately a simplistic model. Berlant tells us about how norms are ‘spongy’ things, their purpose to soak up new concepts. I don’t think that is what is going on here, exactly. Or at least not about the reaction to the tweet, which is different from the tweet, itself. Sara Ahmed says, “The complainer becomes a complaint magnet, to become a complainer is to attract complaints,” and she is right. The lightning rod does not consent to be struck by lighting, it just is.

Maybe more immediate, I do not think you can point at the responses and subsequent discourse and find a coherent uniformity of belief. Everyone who agreed did so for their own, slightly different, reasons; everyone who disagreed did so for their own, slightly different, reasons. Which is a kind of uniformity, I suppose: A uniformity of minor disunion.

You have written of your great love for poetry, and of how you have been hurt by it. What makes poetry so powerful?

I see what you did here. I’m not certain it is helpful.

People have hurt me. More accurately, people’s actions and decisions have caused me harm in front of this backdrop we call ‘poetry.’ It is all just an argument about causal effect. What is doing harm, the poem? No, the poet. The community that affirms that poet despite the harms they cause. A poem cannot plot against you. A poem cannot punch you in the face leaving you with a nosebleed. A poem does not staunch the bleeding, after. We do not seek out poets to build bridges over rivers. There are edges and limits and boundaries to phenomena that we rarely understand more than experiencing a fleeting emotional feeling that becomes intertwined with the thing itself. And then we react with anger when the thing we have merged our selfhoods with is challenged.

None of this is a ‘good look.’ It is barely an identity. Berlant says, “Identity is marketed in national capitalism as a property. It is something you can purchase, or purchase a relation to. Or it is something you already own that you can express: my masculinity, my queerness.” All this possession and ownership and it is reflected in the actions of poets who cannot bear to watch their relationship with capital dressed down to the exploitative economics it actually is, under all the aspirational, self-promotional nonsense.

What poet(s) has/have been most influential in the development of your own work?

This is something that is always changing as I encounter new things and process new ideas. I am quite taken by work that situates itself on the borders of ‘poetry,’ where other disciplines and ideas can seep over that vague boundary and find a foothold somewhere a little new. Since poetry is a kind of produced tool, it should be expansive and useful—not reductive and exclusive.

In the rough contemporary milieu I find myself most drawn to Susan Stewart, Anne Carson, and Lauren Berlant. I have a type, I admit it.

Tell us about your personal library? What’s in it, and how do you organize it?

I dislike ‘getting rid’ of books. I keep everything, and my partner has to keep putting up new bookshelves so I don’t see this changing. It is mostly unorganized. Or it would look unorganized from the outside. Work is clustered by genre, author, etc… I have a few larger, topical collections that are worthy of the term ‘collection.’ They get their own shelves. In my home office I have a ‘working shelf’ of everything that I have touched recently and might need/want again.

And then there are piles of books scattered around the house, always.

I suppose I organize my books according to a momentary hierarchy of my own individual need.

What are you reading now?

Lauren Hough’s Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing, Alina Ștefănescu’s DOR, Diane Louie’s Fractal Shores. And whatever else passes across my desk because I soak it all in.

The book I have been most stuck in of recent has been Berlant & Stewart’s The Hundreds, which is an almost-perfect book. Or at least, it tries to actively work with what it is we do, as writers, instead of nailing everything to what we hope to be true before we even test the hypothesis.

Labels: book world, interview, poetry, social media

Monday, October 4th, 2021

October 2021 Early Reviewers Batch is Live!

Win free books from the October 2021 batch of Early Reviewer titles! We’ve got 56 books this month, and a grand total of 1,875 copies to give out. Which books are you hoping to snag this month? Come tell us on Talk.

If you haven’t already, sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing/email address and make sure they’re correct.

» Request books here!

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, October 25th at 6PM Eastern.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, France, Germany, and many more. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Templar Books Walker Books US West Margin Press
The Wild Rose Press Black Rose Writing New Vessel Press
Candlewick Press Highlander Press Small Beer Press
City Owl Press Rot Gut Pulp Greenleaf Book Group
ClydeBank Media Gibbs Smith Publishing Rootstock Publishing
Jumble Books and Publishers Henry Holt and Company TouchPoint Press
Revell Vibrant Publishers Wise Media Group
Ooligan Press BookViewCafe

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Monday, September 27th, 2021

TinyCat’s September Library of the Month: The Dunedin Athenaeum & Mechanics’ Institute

To read more about TinyCat’s Library of the Month feature, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine, who is the Librarian at one of the oldest athenaeums in New Zealand—the Dunedin Athenaeum & Mechanics’ Institute—this past month. Christine was gracious enough to answer my questions during the nation’s latest COVID-19 lockdown (a big thanks!):

The Dunedin Athenaeum & Mechanics’ Institute in the 1930’s.

Who are you, and what is your mission—your “raison d’être”?

We are The Dunedin Athenaeum & Mechanics’ Institute, a subscription library established in 1851 by the Scottish settlers who founded the city of Dunedin in New Zealand in 1848. They held the strong Scottish belief that education was the key to prosperity and that knowledge was something to be obtained at all stages of life. Once they had weathered the first year of erratic food supplies and the privations of primitive shelters they turned their attentions to the higher things of life and founded an Athenaeum library with the remit to entertain and educate. They also established a Mechanics’ Institute to provide a more vocational education. Ten years on each organisation decided their aims overlapped to such a degree that merging would be sensible. The Athenaeum & Mechanics’ Institute prospered and quickly faced a seemingly eternal problem of moving to larger premises only to then almost immediately outgrow them. In 1870 they moved into a purpose built building in the Octagon, the centre of the city’s civic life, where it remains.

Tell us some interesting things about how your library supports the community.

Although we predominantly operate as a lending library we record a fortnightly radio show where I review the new books into the library and discuss any topics that have caught my interest. It is called Wireless Books and is broadcast by Otago Access Radio 105.4 FM. We host a monthly book group, the Athenaeum Book Club or ABC. Every Tuesday we hold an open lunchtime event where I read short stories by New Zealand writers. We also host various literary events. Dunedin has City of Literature status within the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and the Athenaeum has a close relationship with the City of Literature coordinator.

What are some of your favorite items in your collection?

Victorian-style archways within the library.

It is not strictly an item in the collection but the thing we most value is the building in which we’re located. It was purpose built for us in the grand Victorian style and we have been operating there since May 1870.

What’s a particular challenge your library experiences?

As we are a subscription library the biggest hurdle we face is convincing people in the internet age that it is value for money to pay a small subscription to gain the services of a dedicated librarian who comes to know their reading tastes and caters to them.

What is your favorite thing about TinyCat, and what’s something you’d love to see implemented/developed?

I love watching the animated cover display, I find it mesmerising. I think it would be really helpful to have a showcase function where people looking at your collection could select that and see a selection of books that you wanted to showcase. For us it would duplicate the shelf we have in the Athenaeum that holds the newest books and where most members make all their selections from.

Great suggestion! While we do allow you to show your animated cover display by “Recent items”, we have had some requests on giving more customization to the display.


Want to learn more about the Dunedin Athenaeum? Check out their Facebook Group, visit their website here, and find their full TinyCat collection here.

To read up on TinyCat’s previous Libraries of the Month, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

Calling all TinyCat libraries: become TinyCat’s next Library of the Month—just send us a Tweet @TinyCat_lib or email Kristi at kristi@librarything.com.

Labels: libraries, Library of the Month, TinyCat

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

An Interview with Michael Tamblyn, Rakuten Kobo CEO

This month LibraryThing is pleased to catch up with Michael Tamblyn, the CEO of Rakuten Kobo, a Canadian ebook, audiobook and ereader company doing business in 150 countries. Tamblyn serves on the board of OverDrive, an ebook distributor working with both the non-profit and retail sectors; is involved with AGE-Well, a Canadian organization dedicated to developing technology and services for healthy aging; and is the founder of BookNet Canada, a “non-profit organization that develops technology, standards, and education to serve the Canadian book industry.”

What drew you to the book business and book technology?

I always loved bookstores. The small town where I grew up had a pretty standard books+cards+stationary store, but I thought it was fantastic and I began bugging the owner for a job at 11 or 12. He was a bookseller of the old school, wore three piece suits to work retail, and had absolutely no need of an urchin to work in his store. Fast forward 8 or 9 years, I’m working my way through a university degree in music, cooking at a restaurant that was attached to the iconic Canadian indy store, The Bookshelf. The store manager stuck his head in the door of the kitchen and said there was an opening in the bookstore and if anyone was interested, now was the time to speak up. I had just had a very timely conversation with one of my music instructors that went something like “If you get burned or cut working in a kitchen, you’re out of the program. You don’t get 2 months off to rehab an injury; you’re just out.” That got me into the store. Fast forward another couple of years, I have graduated with my music degree, so of course I’m still working in the bookstore. But I didn’t love stocking shelves, and we were just reading about this startup in Seattle that had just left the garage and was selling books online. I thought “We could definitely do this,” and the store owner agreed, so we gathered a little group together and started the first online bookstore in Canada, bookshelf.ca, next door to the store in the storage space of a gift basket company next door. It was 1995-ish. Since then, most of the jobs I’ve had have been where books, business and technology crash into each other.

You were part of the team that founded Kobo in 2009. What was your vision for Kobo, and what sets the company apart?

I was CEO of BookNet Canada when ebooks first started to gather momentum. We launched one of the first conferences on digitization, TechForum, and that was where Mike Serbinis gave one of the first presentations of this app that they had created, called Shortcovers. Indigo was backing it, and it was one of the purest examples I have ever seen of a retailer tackling the innovator’s dilemma head-on. They built something that threatened their core business and put their smartest people on it to make it work. Maybe a month after, they asked if I wanted to join to head up the sales and content sides of the business – ecommerce, publishers, authors, and anything else that needed a home. I had been running BookNet for six years, together with an incredible group of people, and it was one of those “don’t look, just leap” moments. I joined a company in a basement that was selling maybe 25 books a day.

But the vision was crystal clear: this is the start of a transformation in reading. No one, deep down in their hearts, believes that we are still going to be chopping down trees and  pressing ink into them 50 years from now to do our reading. So a change is coming. The only questions are “how quickly” and “who will make it happen?” What I had learned from bookshelf.ca and Indigo is that you can compete successfully against really big companies. Canada isn’t like the US – Amazon hasn’t washed away all domestic competition, online or in-store. If you are focused, have some serious up-front investment, and pick your battles carefully, you can dance between the elephants’ feet. So while Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Google were all fighting each other for control of the U.S. market, we started building out businesses in every single other country that looked like it needed an ebook solution. We partnered with retailers like Indigo who saw ebooks coming, wanted a solution that would let them maintain connection with their customers, and were looking for someone who could help them compete. And it worked. Now if you look around the world, Amazon really only dominates a couple of markets for ebooks — the US and the UK. Everywhere else, it’s a real fight – France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, on and on. And in most of those markets, there is a bookseller partnered with Kobo who is keeping their marketshare, going toe-to-toe with the biggest tech companies in the world. It’s pretty fantastic.

For some time now it has been in the public mind that there is a competitive, perhaps even antagonistic relationship between digital and print media. Do you share this view? What do you think the future of book publishing will look like, when it comes to print vs. ebooks?

There will always be print books. There are some books that are just beautiful objects. I would say this is a tempest-in-a-teapot issue made up of 1/3 economics, 1/3 aesthetics and 1/3 McLuhan.  Publishers make good margin on ebooks, and the physical supply chain has costs that publishers would probably love to say goodbye to. But the print book retail market is much more diverse – chains, Indies, grocery, discount stores – than the ecommerce or ebook business. If I had to guess, I think publishers look at the print world as a hedge, a barrier that keeps a few players from being completely dominant. So they are very careful to support it, maintain it, keep it healthy. That gets wrapped in “I could never let go of paper books! I love the smell of them and the feel of pages against my face…”. That’s an aesthetic stance more than a practical one, one that gets harder to sustain when you hit your 40s, need reading glasses and then find out that it’s really really nice to be able to make the font on a book bigger! There is a never-ending tension in the book business between higher-prices/smaller-audiences (hardcovers, trade paper) and books for the masses (paperbacks, libraries, ebooks, library ebook access). eBooks are just the latest manifestation of books as a mass medium: “How do we get this book to as many people as possible as cheaply as possible?” with all of the usual forces lined up against that impulse.

In a recent article for Forbes, you wrote about the hidden age discrimination in the tech world, that a disinterest in the needs of older consumers is a costly strategic error. What are the long-term benefits of designing with older users in mind?

You can approach it two ways: one is as an issue of accessibility. Anything you do that makes life easier for a sight-impaired person, for a person who has issues with manual dexterity, for a person who can’t lift something that is too heavy, it makes the experience better for everyone. The other is from a market perspective: older adults are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., in Canada, in the EU. These are countries in the middle of a massive demographic shift. And they, on average, love reading, love books, have disposable income, and have time both to read books and buy them. Being in the book business and not designing for older adults is like being in the boat business but not caring much about motors, sails or oars.

Tell us about your personal library. What’s on your shelves, and what’s on your ereader?

In paper: cookbooks, art books, books that are just made beautifully that make you happy just by picking them up. In digital: everything else. All the fiction, non-illustrated non-fiction, fan fiction, the stuff that you read a review about and go “Oh that sounds cool – I should read that!” Really, everything where the content is more important than the object. I also move around a lot, so having most of my library with me all the time is a massive benefit.

What have you been reading recently, and what would you recommend to others?

I started missing travel about a year ago, so I was tearing through books that took me to places I knew. The Ben Aaronovitch Rivers of London paranormal series took me back to places I knew right down to the brass on the doorknobs. Meet Me In the Bathroom about the NYC music scene of 2000-2010. Layered through that was reading that was coming out of Kobo’s Diversity & Inclusion work: Eric Foner’s incredible books on Reconstruction, P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph (for the Canadians reading this). And then books I have been reading for our podcast Kobo In Conversation: Katie Mack’s The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), Malcolm Gladwell’s The Bomber Mafia. So much good stuff.

Labels: book world, ebooks, interview

Tuesday, September 7th, 2021

September 2021 Early Reviewers Batch is Live!

Win free books from the September 2021 batch of Early Reviewer titles! We’ve got 98 books this month, and a grand total of 2,970 copies to give out. Which books are you hoping to snag this month? Come tell us on Talk.

If you haven’t already, sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing/email address and make sure they’re correct.

» Request books here!

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, September 27th at 6PM Eastern.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, France, Germany, and many more. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Candlewick EntertainmentWalker Books USCandlewick Press
West Margin PressNiv BooksAkashic Books
Black Rose WritingGalaxy PressRipetta Press
Plough Publishing HouseRootstock PublishingOoligan Press
New Vessel PressCity Owl PressBooxAi
BOA Editions, Ltd.TouchPoint PressBook Publicity Services
Cardinal Rule PressCrooked Lane BooksThree Rooms Press
Cozy Corner PressGreenleaf Book GroupTiny Fox Press
CarTech BooksOpen BooksRevell
BookViewCafeBellevue Literary PressRed Adept Publishing
Highlander PressGreystone BooksScience, Naturally!
Platypus MediaFrayed Edge PressVibrant Publishers
Henry Holt and CompanyBHC Press

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Monday, August 2nd, 2021

August 2021 Batch of Early Reviewers is Live!

Win free books from the August 2021 batch of Early Reviewer titles! We’ve got 80 books this month, and a grand total of 2,411 copies to give out. Which books are you hoping to snag this month? Come tell us on Talk.

If you haven’t already, sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing/email address and make sure they’re correct.

» Request books here!

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, August 30th at 6PM Eastern.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, France, Germany, and other countries. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

TouchPoint Press Candlewick Press Walker Books US
MIT Kids Press Mission Point Press Highlander Press
Faie Miss Press Thornbush Press Black Rose Writing
Book Publicity Services Niv Books Rootstock Publishing
Nysa Media Akashic Books Plough Publishing House
Gibson House Press Greywood Bay Tolwis Publishing
Revell Red Adept Publishing IVP
West Margin Press Quiet Thunder Publishing NewCon Press
Vibrant Publishers BookViewCafe Meerkat Press
BHC Press Wise Media Group Cardinal Rule Press

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Tuesday, July 27th, 2021

TinyCat’s July Library of the Month: The Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas

To read more about TinyCat’s Library of the Month feature, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

Astronomy is for stargazers, dreamers, explorers, scientists, astronauts (obviously), and really anyone who has ever been interested in or intrigued by the universe. I’m definitely one of those individuals, and this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelley Miller at the Texas Astronomical Society (TAS) of Dallas, who volunteers her time as the TAS Librarian, to learn more about their library:

Who are you, and what is your mission—your “raison d’être”? Tell us some interesting things about how your library supports the community.

This is the library for the Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas (TAS), chartered in 1955 to promote the study of astronomy and related fields and to pursue observation and construction of instruments as a hobby. Members can check out books related to any part of the hobby they might be interested in, such as astronomical observing, astrophotography, general astronomy knowledge and history. Books have been donated by members or book authors (some of which are members!). We currently have 730 titles in the library, some with multiple copies. We have approximately 50 books that reside at our dark sky site/observatory in southeast Oklahoma. The rest of the collection is kept in a dedicated library room at my home.

What are some of your favorite items in your collection?

My favorite items in the collection are some of the older books. It’s fascinating to see what was known about the universe 50 to 100 years ago and compare that to what we know now. I also really enjoy the many star atlases/maps and other books related to star lore and mythology.

What’s a particular challenge your library experiences?

We don’t have a central location to house the collection. As a non-profit organization, we don’t have the funds to rent a space, and my house is about 45 minutes or more away from most other members. For now, the list of available books is in a spreadsheet hosted on the club’s website. However, the spreadsheet does not provide much information about the book beyond the title, authors’ names and subjects. Members can send an email to me (TAS Librarian) to request a book from the library, which is either mailed to the member or delivered in person at one of our monthly meetings (once they start again post-pandemic). I am in the process of adding the entire collection to TinyCat so that members can get more information about each title and request to check out a book. I am only about 25% complete with this project. Once this is complete, the next challenge is to maybe find a better location where members can peruse the books in person and check them out via TinyCat.

What is your favorite thing about TinyCat, and what’s something you’d love to see implemented/developed?

I love being able to add a picture of the book cover. In the library, I have each shelf labeled. I am able to put this in the Comments section, but it would be neat to have a dedicated field for shelf location to make it easier to find the book when someone wants to check it out. Our members are very technically savvy, so I think they are going to love the ability to see our library collection in an app and be able to check out books. I think it will also make it much easier to manage the library.

Great feedback. You could use your own custom call number system and LibraryThing’s “Call number” field to denote a book’s location in your library! Read our blog post here for more information. I hope this helps.


Want to learn more about the TAS of Dallas? Visit their website here, and check out their full TinyCat collection here.

To read up on TinyCat’s previous Libraries of the Month, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

Calling all TinyCat libraries: become TinyCat’s next Library of the Month—just send us a Tweet @TinyCat_lib or email Kristi at kristi@librarything.com.

Labels: libraries, Library of the Month, TinyCat

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021

July 2021 Batch of Early Reviewers is Live!

Win free books from the July 2021 batch of Early Reviewer titles! We’ve got 76 books this month, and a grand total of 1,973 copies to give out. Which books are you hoping to snag this month? Come tell us on Talk.

If you haven’t already, sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing/email address and make sure they’re correct.

» Request books here!

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, July 26th at 6PM Eastern.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, France, Germany, and many more. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Candlewick Press Westminster John Knox Press Admission Press, Inc.
Walker Books US Ooligan Press City Owl Press
Butterfly Light Press, LLC Orca Book Publishers BooxAi
ClydeBank Media Black Rose Writing Greenleaf Book Group
TouchPoint Press Rootstock Publishing 100 Movements
Hawkwood Books BookViewCafe Crooked Lane Books
CarTech Books Henry Holt and Company Gibbs Smith Publishing
Run Amok Books Revell Vibrant Publishers
Three Rooms Press BookWhisperer NewCon Press
Wise Media Group BHC Press Sandra Jonas Publishing
World Weaver Press

Labels: early reviewers, LTER, Uncategorized