Author Archive

Monday, January 3rd, 2022

January 2022 Early Reviewers Batch Is Live!

The January 2022 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 56 books this month, and a grand total of 1,912 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, January 31st at 6PM EST.

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!

Akashic Books Jumble Books and Publishers Creative Projects International Inc.
Black Rose Writing HENDRY PUBLISHING LTD Pumpjack Press
Niv Publishing JMFdeA Press Revell
City Owl Press BHC Press Three Rooms Press
Vibrant Publishers CarTech Books Meerkat Press
Bellevue Literary Press Ooligan Press

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Monday, December 6th, 2021

December 2021 Early Reviewers Batch is Live!

Win free books from the December 2021 batch of Early Reviewer titles! We’ve got 95 books this month, and a grand total of 3,282 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, December 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!

Unsolicited Press Akashic Books New Wind Publishing
Black Rose Writing West Margin Press Thinklings Books
TouchPoint Press Transformation Media Books Literary Wanderlust LLC
Rootstock Publishing Winter Publishing House Sunday Mornings at the River
Candlewick Press John Ott TouchPoint Romance
TouchPoint Faith City Owl Press Marble City Publishing
Jumble Books and Publishers Isabella Media Inc Time Lost Books, LLC
Revell CarTech Books Henry Holt and Company
Scribe Publications Alcove Press Bellevue Literary Press
Vibrant Publishers NewCon Press Cozy Corner Press
Ooligan Press BookViewCafe BHC Press
Wise Media Group

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Sunday, December 5th, 2021

Top Five Books of 2021

 
2021 is almost over, and that means it’s time for LibraryThing staff to share our Top Five Books of the Year. You can see past years’ lists HERE.

We’re always interested in what our members are reading and enjoying, so we invite you to add your favorite books read in 2021 to our December List of the Month, and to join the discussion over in Talk

>> List: Top Five Books of 2021

Note: This is about what you read in 2021, not just books published in 2021.

Without further ado, here are our staff favorites!

 


Abby

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo. This fantastical retelling of The Great Gatsby is amazing. It’s glittering and lyrical and jazzy and as it races towards the inevitable tragic end, it feels like Gatsby should have always been queer and full of magic.

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams. An utterly unexpected delight of words.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe. Reads like an epic fictional family saga, and is, in a word, damning.

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner. This fantastic and intense memoir is an honest and unflinching reflection on grief, identity, family, and food.

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske. This book is a queer historical magical murder mystery, set in Edwardian London. It is everything.

Tim

When terrible things happen, I crave nothing so much as reading and watching about terrible things. During lockdown last year, I read two books about Chernobyl. I watched Contagion—twice! So this year I read two books about the Coronvirus pandemic, two about pandemics generally, and two about the last days of the Trump administration, covering both the pandemic and the insurrection. I read little fiction this year, which probably wasn’t good for my mental health, but what was this year?

Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic by Scott Gottlieb. Gottlieb was head of the FDA under Trump, and while his account is detailed and convincing, it is sometimes angry and surely not unbiased. (His assessment of the CDC under Redfield is particularly harsh.) Most interesting, however, are his deep dives, such as a chapter on the government’s attempts to solve a crippling shortage of one critical element for COVID testing—nasal swabs. This is a book that assumes you don’t need everything wrapped in a personal story to keep your attention, want it all explained, and will sit for the answer. Honorable mention goes to Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live by Nicholas A. Christakis.

I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. I suspect Leonnig and Rucker’s account will become the standard account. Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa was also good, but mostly adding details to Leonnig and Rucker’s. The message of both books is clear: The end of the Trump administration was worse than you think. Got it? No, it was worse than that. Understand now? No, you don’t, because it was worse than that too.

The Third Reich at War by Richard J. Evans. They say men become their fathers, and this book, which was on my father’s bedside book pile for ages, proves it’s happening to me. I was expecting a military history, but the bulk of the account concerns the Holocaust and other Nazi attrocities. It makes for very tough reading, but it deepened my understanding of the regime and of how tyranny and genocide operate, with lessons for today and the future.

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife by Ariel Sabar. I adored Ariel Sabar’s Atlantic article, which thoroughly demolished the Coptic “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” as a modern forgery. The book repeats the achievement on a greater scale and uncovers more details of the deception. The book is so good overall that the few mistakes I could catch, and a neglect of non-western (i.e., Orthodox) Christian thinking on priestly celibacy, really rankled me.

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place by Janelle Shane. The only really “light” book on this year’s list, a joyful romp into how modern “AI” goes wonky. (It’s the only AI book you can read to your teenage kid for the jokes.) I read it together with a book on my 2019 list, Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust by Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis, a more sober (but still sometimes funny) account of how AI fails and (less convincingly) some ways to solve it. As I was on a bit of an AI kick, I read four other books on the topic, including Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World by Meredith Broussard, and, in a different vein, Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World by Cade Metz.

Kate

God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney. I’m a fan of Kelsey McKinney’s writing in general and I was thus hyped when I saw she was publishing a book! And y’all, not only did she publish a book, but I’m pretty sure she published it just for me. I’m not a PK (preacher’s kid), but I did grow up in the church in Texas, so although the experiences in the book were not mine, it was all very familiar.

The Book of Lost and Found by Lucy Foley. This is not my usual genre (dark, depression, soul crushing), but I really, really liked this book. After finishing I immediately texted Abby Blachly for more recommendations in the genre.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. It’s been a minute since a book made me gasp. This one did.

Circe by Madeline Miller. I’m years late to reading this one and it definitely lived up to the hype. Such a gorgeous and well-written book.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.. This book DESTROYED me and I’m not sure I’ve recovered. This is the highest praise I can bestow upon a book.

Lucy

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. This year I discovered a love for the books of Haruki Murakami; I have yet to read one of his books that I don’t like, but this has been my favorite so far!

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. This book is a beautiful, fantastical journey…

Over in the Woodland: A Mythological Counting Journey by Nicole Abreu, illustrated by Susannah Covelli. This picture book features beautiful artwork and mesmerizing text depicting mythological creatures in a counting book format.

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver. Lionel Shriver is another favorite author of mine, and this book did not disappoint; it looks at what could happen if US currency loses its value worldwide, and some of its predictions hit a little close home in our current Covid world.

Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown. I’m not usually a fan of non-fiction, but this graphic novel that tells the story of how the video game Tetris became a sensation across the globe was fascinating!

Chris C (ccatalfo)

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Mike Wiking.

The Art of Making Memories: How to Create and Remember Happy Moments by Mike Wiking.

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio.

Practical UX Design by Scott Faranello.

Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty by David Kadavy.

Kristi

Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o recounts the year he spent imprisoned at Kenya’s Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, all for writing a play (that empowered the community but challenged the regime). Powerful, insightful, humorous at times, and a good history lesson on White colonialism in Black communities.

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone. This one gave me a few surprising twists, which isn’t a usual occurrence with most mysteries I read. Well done! I’m going to have to read more from Carole Johnstone.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. An unmatched level of prose in this one. Parts of the story stopped me short, with haunting flickers of relatability in traumatic female experiences. It’s obviously a classic that I needed to finally check off my TBR list, but now I have to read the sequel because the ending left me hanging off a cliff!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This was another classic that I had to read this year, finally. I have watched the movie many times, and have to say that it’s one of the better adaptations I’ve seen. They took quite a bit from the book, and the book was such an enjoyable read I felt that watching the movie first didn’t ruin the experience. This will definitely be a regular re-read.

How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. A witty, validating read for the modern woman (or man)! Just read it, you’ll be entertained, at least, and you might even gain some added perspective.

Chris H (conceptdawg)

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett. This was such a wonderful addition to the Pillars of the Earth/Kingsbridge series. If you liked the first installments then you’ll love this one too.

The Thomas Hill Trilogy: The King’s Spy, The King’s Exile, The King’s Return by Andrew Swanston. A fun series: full of murder, mystery, intrigue, and cryptography.

Porsche Unseen by Stefan Bogner. A wonderful look at future design ideas within the Porsche design department accompanied by exquisite photography.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson. A book with technology, witches, magic, and time travel to historic Boston and London. It’s pretty spot-on for me.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. If you enjoyed The Martian then you’ll enjoy this one just as much.

Abigail

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Kate Milford. A marvelous middle-grade fantasy, set in Kate Milford’s made-up world of Nagspeake, this book is modeled on such classics as The Canterbury Tales or The Decameron, and features a set of characters thrown together by circumstance, who must each relate a tale for the entertainment of their companions. These stories give some fascinating insight into the magical world of Nagspeake—an independent city-state in the Middle Atlantic region of an alternative-history North America—and are interconnected with all of Milford’s other books. Recommended, along with all of the Greenglass House books before it.

Anna ~ Charlotte by Clare Mallory. Well-written, entertaining, engrossing, and emotionally involving, this middle-grade novel from New Zealand author Clare Mallory was written in 1949-1950, but not published until 2016. It manages to combine so many of the charming elements of vintage girls’ books—the school story elements, the friendships, the satisfying self-improvement narratives—with a realistic, sympathetic and non-sensational depiction of bullying, family dysfunction, and alcoholism. This story addresses real problems, but it does not feel like a “problem novel,” as they would come to be called a number of decades later.

Knight Crusader by Ronald Welch. Originally published in 1954, and awarded the Carnegie Medal that year, this British novel for young readers is a marvelously told work of historical fiction—instantly engrossing and consistently engaging. The historical setting is believably depicted, and the characters feel as if they truly live. This is definitely not one of those “historical” novels that feels like a contemporary tale dressed up in period costume, with characters whose outlook on life would be more appropriate today, then in the twelfth century. Rather, one feels as if the characters were people of their time, and the reader enters into their feelings, rather than feeling they were created to reinforce her own.

Branches of Hope: The 9/11 Survivor Tree by Ann Magee, illustrated by Nicole Wong. An immensely powerful and poignant picture book, one which addresses the calamity of the 9/11 terrorist attack through the story of the Callery pear tree which survived being buried by the rubble of the World Trade Center. Ann Magee makes her debut here, and her tree-centered tale is well matched by illustrator Nicole Wong’s lovely artwork. I wasn’t sure at first that I cared for the opening scenes, in which the calamity of 9/11 intrudes, with no explanation given in the text as to what is going on, but then it occurred to me that this was a story from the tree’s perspective, and that human actions and affairs would seem well-nigh incomprehensible to our arboreal friends at the best of times. This realization made the opening scenes even more powerful to me, and I appreciated how the narrative from the tree’s perspective was paired with visuals that depicted both the events surrounding the tree, and the life of a family experiencing 9/11 and its aftermath. I was moved to tears by this book, both because of the story it was unfolding, and because of my memories of New York, after the attack.

The Three Lucys by Hayan Charara, illustrated by Sara Kahn. Based upon events in his own family’s life, Lebanese-American author Hayan Charara addresses the devastation that war causes in this deeply moving picture book. Following the story of a young boy who goes away from his home for what he imagines will be a one week visit to relatives, the book depicts the way in which children and animals—the eponymous three Lucys are the family cats—suffer as a result of adult actions. The story here is pitch perfect, exploring serious real-world issues from a child’s perspective. There is a sense of the more complicated grownup world in the background, but the boy has his own concerns, and so do the three Lucys. Charara’s moving story here is skillfully matched by illustrator Sara Kahn’s watercolor artwork, which perfectly captures the emotional register of each scene. I wept, reading this.

Pedro

A Promised Land by Barack Obama.

Cosmos by Carl Sagan.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

That’s it!

Come record your own Top Five Books of 2021 on our December List of the Month, and join the discussion over in Talk.

Labels: top five

Friday, December 3rd, 2021

An Interview with Scholar Anna Faktorovich

LibraryThing is pleased to sit down this month with author, academic and publisher Anna Faktorovich to discuss her fascinating new project, which attempts to solve some of the mysteries surrounding the authorship of many literary texts from the British Renaissance. From the works of William Shakespeare to Christopher Marlowe, these texts have been analyzed using the computational-linguistic method she invented—one incorporating a combination of 27 different tests—as well as being subjected to structural, biographical and other attribution approaches. Dr. Faktorovich concludes that all of the tested 284 works from between 1560 to 1650 were authored by six ghostwriters. The results of this massive study have been published in Re-Attribution of the British Renaissance Corpus, while a number of the texts themselves have been translated for the first time and released as part of her British Renaissance Re-Attribution and Modernization Series, published by Anaphora Literary Press.

Your project seeks to reshape our understanding of a key period in British literature. How did you get the idea for it?

This series would not have been possible without the previous two decades of research I undertook on surrounding topics. My PhD dissertation and my first scholarly book, Rebellion as Genre in the Novels of Scott, Dickens and Stevenson, explored the concept of formulas and structure of literature. Then, my second book, The Formulas of Popular Fiction, dissected the range, history and methodology of the formulas that modern readers are familiar with. Then I digressed from the standard topics covered in scholarly books to explore via my own publishing company more complex social questions such as the difference between mega-corporate capitalism and Radical Agrarian Economics. I also explored why the publishing industry has a bias that prefers lighter and more low-brow literature from female writers, while preferring denser fiction from male writers in Gender Bias in Mystery and Romance Novel Publishing. While writing this book, I realized that romances, mysteries and male and female voices had quantitatively different linguistic measurements.

None of these titles, “self-published” with my Anaphora Literary Press, received any recognition, so the next book I researched was The History of British and American Author-Publishers and Satirical 18th Century British Novels, which explained that the best British/American authors (Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Benjamin Franklin, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Herman Melville and Alice Walker) self-published their best works. Then, I decided to attempt to return to traditional scholarly publishing by writing about the foundations of British satire in the eighteenth century, but as I began my research, I came across studies that questioned the authorship of texts assigned to Daniel Defoe. I designed a few linguistic measurement experiments to test these authorship questions and immediately discovered that some of “Defoe’s” novels were obviously mis-attributed and were actually ghostwritten by Robert Paltock. I made several other re-attributions of texts from the 18th century across fourteen essays, but before I edited these for publication as a book, I was asked by Editor Robert Hauptman, who published one of these essays in his Journal of Information Ethics, if I could prove the accuracy of my method by applying it to a uniquely complex period to re-attribute—the British Renaissance.

There were around sixty authors that had been previously proposed by scholars as the “true” Shakespeare, so I adjusted the computational-linguistic author-attribution method I had used for the 18th century to be more easily applicable to a much larger corpus of texts. The attribution process was indeed extremely difficult because I kept finding similar texts that matched only six linguistic signatures, so it became apparent that there were only six ghostwriters working across this period. The identity of these ghostwriters remained a mystery, until I expanded the study to 104 different bylines and over 200 different texts. Only one of these six ghostwriters (Ben Jonson) is familiar to modern literature researchers, while the rest remain obscure, despite their obvious significance in their own day (Josuah Sylvester was an official Court Poet, William Byrd was granted a music/poetry publishing monopoly by Elizabeth I, and Richard Verstegan held control over an exile Catholic publishing monopoly). When these six ghostwriters’ biographies were compared to all of the other biographies in their linguistic groups, it became clear that only they were alive long enough and had access to have written these clusters of texts.

While the evidence I was gathering, in the form of documentary records, handwriting, forensic accounting, and various other forms of proof was overwhelming, scholarly journals kept saying that I needed more proof. So I decided to add to the 698-page scholarly study, or Re-Attribution of the British Renaissance Corpus (Volumes 1-2), a full series of translations from Early Modern English into Modern English of previously untranslated plays, poetry, non-fiction and other genres (Volumes 3-14), with around fourteen more volumes forthcoming. These translations are accompanied by annotations, introductions and primary sources that add thousands of pieces of evidence that confirm the re-attributions made in the central study. This was a gradual process of digging into the research, and addressing new evidence and new questions as they came up.

How does this newly invented “computational-linguistic method” of textual analysis work? Can you give us an example?

Here is a simple set of steps anybody can take to apply my method.

1. Find a group of texts (there should be at least 20 texts by a few different bylines) from a given period that are connected to an authorial mystery you want to solve, and save them as plain documents.

2. Open free publicly-accessible websites—www.analyzemywriting.com, www.online-utility.org, or http://liwc.wpengine.com—and download the WordSmith program.

3. Enter each of the texts separately into each of these platforms and record the data for several linguistic tests into a spreadsheet. For the Renaissance corpus I used 27 tests for punctuation, lexical density, parts of speech, passive voice, characters and syllables per word, psychological word-choice, and patterns of the top-6 words and letters. The tests for top-6 words and letters require additional steps, so you can skip these in favor of other simple single-number tests available on these platforms. Your first column should be the titles of all texts in the group, and the top row should be the names of the different tests applied to them. You will want to create duplicates of this raw data in separate tabs in the spreadsheet, with one sheet for each text in the group.

4. In the spreadsheet, organize the numbers for each of the tests from-smallest-to-largest, and mark only the texts that are with 17-18% of the compared text on this spectrum. For example, if you are only testing 20 texts, you can select 2 texts just above and 2 more just below your compared-against text’s value and change their numbers to 1, while changing all of the other numbers to 0; the 1 means the texts are similar, while the 0 means they are different.

5. When you have changed the entire sheet’s data into 0s and 1s, create a last column and automatically add up the Sum for each row.

6. Evaluate your results to determine what number in the sum column means two texts are by the same author, or if they were written by two or more authors, or if they were written by different authors. A smaller corpus can still have a few texts with extremely high numbers of matches to each other, if all of the other texts were written by different authors. And a large corpus might have fewer matches, but to a very large quantity of texts that all share a single underlying author. You will have to create a cut-off point for the number of matches that separate similar from divergent texts in your chosen group.

You can see the raw data and calculations I derived for the Re-Attribution series HERE. One of the tables I added to this GitHub site is “Koppel Experiment Reviewed – Data Tables.” This was a small experiment I ran for a second article I wrote for the Journal of Information Ethics, in which I discredit the findings and methodology applied in Moshe Koppel, Jonathan Schler and Elisheva Bonchek-Dokow’s 2007 article, Measuring Differentiability: Unmasking Pseudonymous Authors.” As you can see from the data, my findings are tragic from my perspective, as I am a fan of all of these great writers that I would not have thought were capable of being implicated in ghostwriting. For example, the data indicates only two linguistic signatures between the three Bronte sisters, suggesting it is likely the initial assignment of these texts to only two male brothers was more accurate than the current belief three women wrote them. This conclusion did not shock me as much as it would have a couple of years ago. I had initially hoped previous scholars who guessed “Emilia Bassano” could have been the true author behind “Shakespeare” were correct, but the data proved that “Bassano”, as well as several other ostensible female groundbreakers like “Mary Sidney” and “Lady Mary Wroth,” were not actually writers, but either hired ghostwriters or were mis-attributed with credits. You really have to read Volumes 1-2 to understand how overwhelming the evidence is for these conclusions, as reading this summary alone could not possibly convince anybody that the history with which they are familiar is entirely incorrect.

There have been challenges made in the past to the authorship of some of these works—in William Shakespeare’s case especially. What does your approach bring to the ongoing discussion that is new and convincing?

The approximately 60 previous bylines that have been proposed by scholars as alternative “true” authors behind the “Shakespeare” byline matches my finding that only six ghostwriters wrote all of the tested texts from this century. With only six authorial styles in this mix, it has been very easy for scholars to find linguistic, structural, thematic and other similarities between any cluster of randomly selected texts by two given bylines or between a questionable text and a text by another byline. While scholars in this field have made the current attributions seem rational, a close examination of all past re-attributions betrays nonsensical chaos. For example, A Yorkshire Tragedy was bylined as “Written by W. Shakspeare”, but it is currently attributed to “Thomas Middleton” in Roger Holdsworth’s analysis in the The New Oxford Shakespeare Authorship Companion. Another absurd string of past re-attributions I found was for the short poem, “Funeral Elegy by W. S.” (1612), which was first attributed to “Shakespeare” by Donald W. Foster, before it was re-assigned to “Davies” by Brian Vickers and then to “Ford” with equal certainty. My study re-attributes this “Elegy” to Gabriel Harvey, the Cambridge rhetoric professor.

William Percy has never been previously proposed as a potential underlying author behind the “William Shakespeare” pseudonym. I started my study by researching all previous articles, books and the like that suggested alternative “Shakespeares” and this list included many obscure names such as Alexander, Armin, Aylett and Daniel, popular bylines such as Bacon and Fletcher, and aristocrats such as Dyer, and even Queen Elizabeth. There are a mere 70 titles in WorldCat attributed to William Percy as an author versus the 81,521 titles attributed to “Shakespeare”. The translations of Percy’s self-attributed 5 plays and sonnet collection that I executed in Volumes 3-8 have never been attempted before, so modern scholars have not even had access to these to allow them to realize their similarity with “Shakespeare” in structure, storylines, as well as in linguistics. I only came across Percy’s name when I considered nearly all of the bylines used across this century that could have approximately fit with the timeline of these publications. Percy’s sonnet collection (the only book he published under his own byline) happened to have been digitized in Early English Books Online, and this invited me to dig up his buried in the archives plays.

The 284 texts I tested comprise the largest corpus of Renaissance work ever subjected to computational-linguistic analysis. My combination of 27 different tests is thousands of times more accurate than the standard method in this field, which only tests the frequency of common words. The point that swayed me beyond all doubt towards Percy was when I learned about the £2,400 loan William and his brother Henry Percy (Earl of Northumberland) took out from Arthur Medleycote (London merchant tailor) in 1593, just before the granting of the theater duopoly by Elizabeth I in 1594. This documented proof, without any corresponding record of what else William could have spent this sum on, firmly establishes that William re-invested this sum in troupe-development and theater-building in London, under pseudonyms such as “Shakespeare”. The currently accepted mythologic belief that “Shakespeare” was a real person who was a theater investor and manager was largely started by Nicholas Rowe, in his 1709 Some Account of the Life of Mr. William Shakespear. Rowe absurdly claimed that Sir William Davenant had started the gossip that Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, gave Shakespeare £1,000 “to set him up in his career.” It is absurd to believe that any aristocrat would have gifted this astronomic sum to any actor without a record in his accounts of this irrationally generous gift. There are similar irrefutable pieces of proof in every line and paragraph of my series.

You also seek to modernize and reintroduce the works to the public. Why is this important?

As I mentioned, none of William Percy’s plays or poetry, or the plays I am re-attributing to him in this part of the series, have ever been translated into accessible Modern English before. In the middle of my computational study, it became clear that the “Shakespeare” plays and poetry translated into Modern English registered as a separate linguistic signature from these same texts in their original spelling. In other words, editors have made such heavy changes to the canon of “Shakespeare” texts that this resulting style is a distinct linguistic signature or author. Modern readers and scholars alike intuitively believe in “Shakespeare’s” superiority and distinction from the bulk of other British Renaissance bylines such as “Robert Armin”, or anonymous plays such as Look Around You, because they are used to reading the understandable and polished modern versions of “Shakespeare”. This is also why when computational-linguists have tested plays such as the anonymous True Chronicle History of King Leir (1605), they have concluded that it was written by a different author than the modernized version of King Lear (1608). When I compared the original-spelling Lear to Leir, they had some near-identical linguistic measurements and were obviously both written by William Percy. Leir was the first experiment that Percy very heavily re-wrote in the second polished Lear edition under the “Shakespeare” byline.

All of the texts I included in this series have unique significance to literary history. For example, Look Around You was the first part of the myth-starting Robin Hood trilogy that previous critics have missed. And while the second quarto of “Shakespeare’s” Hamlet has been repeatedly re-translated, the first quarto that I translated in this series (Hamlet: The First Quarto) has never been translated in full before. It appears to have been intentionally censored by academia as “bad” because it (unlike the later versions) clearly points to Hamlet deflowering Ofelia and pretending to be mad to hide his homosexual relationship with Horatio (who threatens to kill himself for Hamlet). There is more literary and historical value in each of this series’ texts than in any of the canonical “Shakespeare” plays. It is impossible for even a seasoned scholar to read any of these texts in their old-spelling originals, not only because the meaning of most words has changed, but also because Percy also uses multiple languages (Latin, French, Italian), makes up words (which have been claimed to be nonsense by most scholars, when they have clear meanings when their parts are isolated), and uses allusions and quotes from obscure sources that need to be digested in annotations to be grasped. Some of these texts were never published or staged, and those that were printed were mostly only printed in as few as one or two copies. Thus, these Renaissance plays have never been introduced to the public before.

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

My shelves are full with around 500 physical books, most of which I received for free from academic publishers in exchange for reviewing them in my Pennsylvania Literary Journal. You can see the latest of these reviews HERE. Some of them I received as free exam copies from publishers, when I have taught these textbooks in my college classes. I used to buy books back in college and graduate school, but I have moved so frequently in those years that I have donated most of them. The only paid-for books I now have are Anaphora titles by myself and other writers.

What have you been reading lately?

In addition to the hundred or so books I read annually, in order to review them in PLJ, I read thousands of other books for my research projects. When I am teaching in universities or live near an academic library, I check out the maximum-allowed pile of books every couple of weeks. But across the last four years I have conducted my research remotely by accessing free books on Google, Project Gutenberg and various other platforms. I also use LookInside features to find evidence in newer books, or request some relevant new titles for review before reusing them in my research. I also have access to research articles on TexShare. Most of the books I needed for the translation series were published during the Renaissance and have been digitized to be freely available. On an average day of translation research, I probably check 100 different sources to write a single page of annotations, and the series has 2,500 pages so far. It would have been impossible for me to check out a quarter-of-a-million books from even the biggest library, and most of the contemporary books are rare single-copies that are in closed collections. The names of the specific texts I have been reading are thus cited in the annotations; I will not attempt to insert a bibliography here to name them.

Labels: author interview, interview

Monday, November 1st, 2021

November 2021 Early Reviewers Batch is Live!

Win free books from the November 2021 batch of Early Reviewer titles! We’ve got 74 books this month, and a grand total of 2,727 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, November 29th 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 Akashic Books Unsolicited Press
Black Rose Writing City Owl Press Beaufort Books
Flyaway Books BHC Press Ooligan Press
writesideleft Tierra Simbolica TouchPoint Press
West Margin Press Artemesia Publishing Jumble Books and Publishers
Heritage Books Aquarius Press Anaphora Literary Press
Meerkat Press Revell Thinklings Books
World Weaver Press Nysa Media TouchPoint Romance
Greenleaf Book Group Vibrant Publishers BookViewCafe
Fathom Publishing Company NewCon Press Coach House Books

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

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

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