Books on Books
Students in our Certificate in Publishing program are tasked with finding a book–fiction or nonfiction–that has to do with the publishing industry or book business. They are then invited to write a review, providing a summary and an assessment of how the book aids our understanding of some aspect of the publishing industry.
Buzbee, Lewis. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop– A Memoir, A History. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2006. ISBN 9781555974503. Hardcover. 180 pp.
Reviewed by Megan Brown, 2020
Lewis Buzbee has curated a delightfully memorable read with The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. Creating a warm and inviting setting for his readers, Buzbee begins the novel with his own personal experience of walking into a bookshop. Doing so, he sets the tone for the duration of the novel by bringing that feeling of tranquility to the page, and ultimately to the reader at home.
Sensing his love for books at a young age by ordering through The Weekly Reader at school, Buzbee now possesses a lifetime’s worth of passion, which he uses within this memoir to celebrate books, bookstores, and their history. Utilizing his many years as a customer, bookseller, and sales representative, Buzbee connects with his readers and depicts many experiences on a near flawless level. He describes his own history and shares his steppingstones to success from a part time job at Upstart Crow and Co., to Printers Inc., to his career as a writer with many successful novels such as Steinbeck’s Ghost, and After the Gold Rush.
Entwined throughout, is a history of bookselling. Beginning with the classical era of Egyptian pharaohs, perhaps the earliest records of booksellers, readers are led to the history of The Great Library of Alexandria. From here, Buzbee goes on to talk about ancient book retailers in other historical locations such as Rome, China, Japan, and medieval Europe. This extensive history stays with readers well after they are through with the novel, as it is a history that not too many are deeply informed of. For those who have been informed of such history, Buzbee’s, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop will pair nicely with your previous knowledge and may even expand upon it greatly.
Truly enthralling is the way in which Buzbee describes his own history and path to success. Recognizing that it’s rare for one to dream of becoming a bookseller but realizing that this was his ultimate destination all along, despite his initial aspirations. This aspect of Buzbee’s writing connects well with younger readers as they are often looking for guidance. While maybe not his sole intention with the novel, this guided tour of the book business provides a friendly insight to those younger, upcoming, readers/writers/booksellers/publishers and might even serve as a form of guidance as they continue down their career path. Buzbee appeals to college students and those entering the career world, by discussing his many positions and places of work. As students often feel undereducated about the career world facing them after graduation, learning about a successful figure in their field of study and the kinds of steps they made throughout their journey, can really help to bring a sense of excitement to the table – something that Buzbee most certainly does here. Braiding together his personal career experiences, the history of books and bookselling, and the true-to-life depictions of such books and bookstores, Buzbee’s memoir creates a holistic experience for the reader. Giving readers a unique, personal insight into the book business, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop appeals to all those in the literary universe, from readers, to booksellers, to publishers alike.
Drew, Ned and Paul Sternberger, By Its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005. ISBN 9781568984971. Paperback. 176 pp.
Reviewed by Laura Brandjord
Today it is hard to imagine walking into a bookstore and trying to pick out a book from endless rows of plain paper jackets with the titles haphazardly placed, but this was the reality up until the 20th century when dust jackets were first seen as a potential promotional tool. It is at this pivotal time that Ned Drew and Paul Sternberger begin By Its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design. The book covers up to the early 2000s and explains the changing approaches, styles, conventions, and pitfalls of each movement as well as its key players. Somewhere between a coffee table book and a textbook, By Its Cover offers interesting information alongside plentiful pictures of discussed book covers, making it as enjoyable to thumb through as it is to read. Drew and Sternberger write in a way that is easily understood without previous knowledge of graphic design or movements of fine art.
Drew and Sternberger address the elephant in the room immediately in their introduction: Do book cover designs still matter in the technological age? There was no doubt in the authors’ minds even back in 2005 that ebooks and print-on-demand technology would affect the way books were both marketed and purchased. However, they believe there is something special about a book as a mass-produced object.
“It is more than just a presentation of the ideas of an author. When text is published and the book is designed and printed, it becomes a physical manifestation not just of the ideas of the author, but of the cultural ideals and aesthetics of a distinct historical moment.”
In contrast to what one may think, the authors believe that book cover design is important, especially now in an age of virtual information dissemination, to investigate how a book’s cover design reflects a relationship between the words of the author and the designer’s artistic vision. The authors posit that they are more than pretty pictures or intriguing graphics. “Books and their covers are vital, physical manifestations of an evolving American intellectual tradition.”
By its Cover first explains the evolution of the dust jacket into a marketing tool in the early 1900s, spurred by the recognition of graphic design as a profession. These early designs had little if anything to do with the book’s story or contents, rather they acted as pieces of art used to impress and intrigue. The book leads you through the elitism and “moderne” designs of the early days of cover design to the low point of the hyper-commercialized 1970’s and the blossoming of the postmodern movement of the 1980s to present.
I found By its Cover to be an engaging read that melded textbook level research with the visual appeal of a coffee table book. The format and easily understood text of the book make it approachable instead of overwhelming. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in graphic design, publishing, or book cover design specifically.
Friedman, Jane. Publishing 101: A First-Time Author’s Guide to Getting Published, Marketing and Promoting Your Book, and Building a Successful Career. 1st ed, MBA for writers, 2015. ISBN 9780986312618. Paperback. 232 pp.
Reviewed by Abigail Keys, 2020
Publishing 101: A First-Time Author’s Guide to Getting Published, Marketing and Promoting Your Book, and Building a Successful Career focuses mostly on marketing and barely touches on how to get published in the first place, despite its name. The book starts by giving any potential readers an insight into the crushing reality of publishing. This is not one of those inspirational “follow your dreams” sort of books, and as such it’s made for writers who are ready to confront this reality with a level head opposed to writers with a very low self-esteem or ego. The book then gives a very brief summary of craft elements before explaining how to get published (which lasts one whole chapter, or about 30 pages out of 220). It also talks about self-publishing for a chapter, with useful information there. The rest of the book from there on explains how to market and promote your work. It emphasizes creating your own website, creating social media pages, and utilizing soft marketing to slowly build a readership over time.
I think there is definitely a lot of good information in this book, I just think the title is slightly misleading, as it implies a large portion of the book will discuss how to get published. The title makes the book seem like its target audience will be those who are trying to get traditionally published. However, I think those who are trying to self-publish would get the most out of this work. There are some other problems I have with this book, of course. Notably the author’s instance on creating work that offers something to the reader. This idea makes sense but is much more complicated than what the author lets on. She never really explains how to get people to pay attention or listen to you other than that, but there’s a difference in getting people to read things you created and gathering a potential audience for your book, something she acknowledges. Then my question becomes: how do you get potential readers/how do you get people to care about your book, the process of making it, etc.? This question goes largely unanswered, which I feel is a shame as it’s probably the one of, if not, the most crucial parts of marketing (speaking as someone who knows little to nothing about marketing). The rest of her advice is irrelevant if you can’t get a start.
There’s also the fact that this book is now 5 years old, which is a long time in the rapidly changing landscape of the publishing industry. Overall, I would still recommend for any person seriously planning on self-publishing to read this book and encourage them to supplement it with newer resources to ensure the advice they are getting is up to date. This book doesn’t really offer anything to the publishing community at large, except for a possible snapshot of what the publishing industry looked like in 2015. This book is also not particularly useful for students who are trying to learn about the publishing industry with the goal of getting a job in publishing. Again, this book is tailored to writers who are trying to market their books, and not so much the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Overall, I would give it 4 out of 5 stars, if not 3 ½ out of 5.
Gallenzi, Alessandro. Bestseller. London: Alma Books, 2010. ISBN 9781846881015. Hardcover. 288 pp.
Reviewed by Sydney Larson, 2020
This novel is about the highs and lows of the publishing world in 2008 Britain and offers light comical briefs here and there to lighten the mood of what really can go on in the big world of publishing. This is a fiction piece granted, but it does offer some intriguing insight into what publishers (large and small) think of new writers and how they work to function properly in the publishing market. Bestseller tracks the story of two men in their separate adventures to survive in a world filled with constant idealization of the next “bestseller” book.
Jim Talbot, a 37-year-old wannabe author struggles to make ends meet and stay a functioning member of society. He resorts to trickery and unrealistic ventures to help him thrive in the publishing industry. Jim is an unnerved pathological liar with more than one issue outside of the publishing world to deal with. He undertakes multiple trials and errors before finally getting close to what he wants, but in the end, is it really attainable?
Charles Randall, a small independent publishing house founder, is fired from his own company by majority shareholder’s business consultant, Nick Tinsley. Charles finds today’s books to be too commercial and lacking in real cognitive and educational value. He prides himself on publishing books that go against the status quo, and it gets him into some trouble with his previous firm. After being let go, a scorned Randall starts a new small independent publishing company named Vivus Publishing, and continuously goes head-to-head against his former publishing firm. This book really works to highlight the cutthroat experiences in the publishing world for up-and-coming writers and old firms stuck in their ways. The tide for readers is always changing, and this book works to demonstrate that.
The plot at times is a bit stale and can get lengthy, but I was never deterred from wanting to keep reading the work. There are some comical instances regarding Jim that are similar to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – which really help speed up the plot during those lengthy times. I think this would be a very insightful piece for those who are interested in or already partake in the publishing world.
Told from many different POVs throughout the piece, this book entwines practically all sides of the publishing world into one book. Besides the two main characters, the readers hear from the POVs of majority shareholders, business consultants, multi-millionaire publishing firm CEOs, secretarial and assistant publishing staff, and writers in the making. There is a lot that goes on in this book, but all of these POVs tie together a decent interpretation for readers of what the publishing world must be like.
I feel like I learned a great deal more about the networking and personal tactics in the publishing industry, and I find that it could be a good resource for those wondering what exactly a publishing industry job could entail for them in the future. Having an audience from the real publishing world read this novel and agree or disagree with the portrayals in this piece would be the cherry on top for readers with little to no experience and expertise in the publishing industry.
Ginna, Peter, editor. What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, & Business of Book Editing. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017. ISBN 9780226299976. Paperback. 320 pp.
Reviewed by Nataly Routledge
What Editors Do is a compilation of essays written by a variety of publishing professionals and edited by Peter Ginna. The collection is organized into five main sections covering topics including acquisitions, editing, genre publishing, the author-editor relationship, and becoming an editor. Acknowledging that there are a number of well-known books that cover a similar range of publishing topics, Ginna worked to weave in essays that discuss how the digital age is affecting current publishing history and how the author-editor relationships are changing over time. This collection is successful in the variety of essays and the niche divisions of publishing the contributors are able to speak to. Rather than focusing on a particular type of publisher, the book incorporates academic publishers, literary agents, trade publishers, genre editors, freelance editors, and more.
One theme that is recurrent in this work is the vulnerability and necessity of the author-editor relationship. In many ways, some of the essays of this collection feel as though they are letters to authors to share thoughts that are left unsaid in the working relationship. Several editors express the emotional aspect of working with authors, whether that be pure frustration, years of dedicated mutual respect, or devastation. In her chapter “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” Betsy Learner shares a story of an editor she found sobbing at her desk because an author she had worked closely with for years switched to another publisher despite the editor’s best efforts to do everything she could to elevate the author. Other editors describe a more contentious relationship with authors and literary agents, sharing how they often feel they are portrayed as wanting nothing more than to crush the dreams of writers. These essays try to dispel this myth, particularly the essays in the acquisitions section, by describing in-depth an editor’s drive to want to believe in the potential of works that cross their desk.
To further dispel the myth that editors are cold and send thoughtless rejection letters, the book describes the increasing difficulties that editors encounter in the business-centered model of modern publishing. These essays display the sheer number of hats an editor must wear to show their worth in the industry. Additionally, an editor must bear some of the responsibility of securing a profit and maintaining the viability of their company. As such, they are often deeply involved in the numbers part of the process, spending significant amounts of time researching the industry, finding titles to compare potential new projects to, generating book ideas and seeking out potential authors, and determining which titles they can reasonably take on. This is all balanced with the emotional part of the job, the part where they feel obligated to take on a project despite several logistical points against it. This obligation can be derived from a long-standing relationship with an author, a dedication to a genre, or an intuition they struggle to ignore. In many ways, this book describes editors as dreamers and creatives caught in a numbers game.
While the variety in the book is admirable—particularly in the range in genre fiction and types of publishers that are covered—one main problem with the book is the limited tangible advice it offers. The ending section discussing becoming an editor is insightful, but a lot of the advice offered in earlier sections are vague. As discussed above, the author-editor relationship is a key topic throughout the book, yet there are few instances where explicit advice is given on cultivating this relationship. Because of the complexity of the relationship, an essay that focuses on methods to navigate uncomfortable situations would complete the middle set of essays for this book. Other than potential improvements in the scope of advice, the book does an excellent job of providing insight into the lives of a wide range of editors. One of the book’s particularly strong features is how it makes the business part of the publishing business stand out—many other books in the same genre focus too much on the wild acquisition stories and intuitive parts of editing. This book clearly gives readers a look into how much bookkeeping and strategic thinking is required to be a successful editor. For individuals who are contemplating whether the organizational culture of a publishing firm would suit their working style, this book is a must-read.
Jefferies, Janis, and Sarah Kember. Whose Book Is It Anyway? A View from Elsewhere on Publishing, Copyright and Creativity. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2020. Paperback. ISBN 9781783746484. 458 pp. 21 illustrations. 3 tables.
Reviewed by Meghan Arbegast, 2020
Whose Book is it Anyway is a collection of essays written by a variety of people from the UK who share their expertise on copyright, open access, ethics, creativity, and diversity in the publishing industry. Though a lot of people shared their input on these matters, a couple of the essays stood out to me. One includes Louise O’Hare’s “London-Havana Diary: Art Publishing, Sustainability, Free Speech, and Free Papers.” O’Hare who lives in London went to Cuba in 2015 to set up an artist’s magazine between London and Havana. The project would challenge the limits of free speech since there was no free press in Cuba. It was interesting reading through the diary entries O’Hare wrote which described the challenges she faced along the way. There was also a section that described the El Paquete Semenal (The Weekly Package) which was a file-sharing system which is distributed across Cuba. Since the government controlled so much, The Weekly Package was an ungoverned and un-edited space that user-subscribers could pay to use. I think this is something the publishing community should care about since we don’t have to worry about that here in the U.S. since we have protected rights. I think learning about what O’Hare had to go through could be a good insight into the limited access people in certain countries have to face.
Another essay that stood out to me was Michael Bhaskar’s essay titled “Are Publishers Worth it? Filtering, Amplification and the Value of Publishing.” Bhaskar’s essay described the technological, cultural, and business innovations changing the views on the publishing industry. His first main point was about the popularity of self-publishing and internet-based platforms such as Amazon as well as Kindle Direct Publishing which makes it easy for anyone to self-publish and has threatened publishers. Baskar also discussed the internet’s openness when talking about open access which removes the price and permission barriers to scholarly research. While Baskar explained that self-publishing and open access don’t threaten publishing, he did add that they both threaten a certain instantiation of a publisher. With data access exploding because of the internet, there is some uncertainty for publishers’ roles. As Baskar said, “When written content exists in such excess, the gatekeeping role of the publisher, far from becoming less important, is massively enhanced,” (pg. 102). I think this is important for the publishing industry as the internet has shifted the way people access books, newspaper articles, and other written content which would have had to be in physical form before the internet became available.
One last essay that I enjoyed reading was Danuta Kean’s essay “Diversity or Die: How the Face of Book Publishing Needs to Change if it Is to Have a Future.” Diversity in publishing is important as readers want to feel represented. However, Kean pointed out that in 2016 when thousands of new titles were being published in the UK, “fewer than one hundred were by writers of colour,” (pg. 229). Kean went on to describe the first report into diversity in publishing she edited which showed that less than eight percent of people working in publishing in the UK had a Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. Because of this many BAME novelists turned to the U.S or Indian-subcontinent publishers for book deals. Kean explains further why diversity in publishing is important, adding “This matters because the identity of gatekeepers has a material impact on the diversity of lists and the ability of publishers to gauge and interact with diverse markets,” (pg. 239). While the U.S. may have more diversity in the publishing industry than the UK, it is still important that the publishing community continues to ensure that everyone feels represented.
Overall, I recommend Whose Book is it Anyway since the essays bring light to the multiple issues the publishing industry must face including copyright, self-publishing, open access, and diversity.
Kasdorf, William E. The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing. New York City: Columbia University Press, 2003. ISBN 9780231124997. Paperback. 816 pp.
Reviewed by Corrine Redding
The title of this book explains exactly what this book is about. It’s a guide going over the different and various aspects of the digital publishing landscape. For some this information may seem too dry but it is a guide. But this book is excellent for those who are looking to dive into the digital publishing world and want to know all of the ins and outs that go with it. There is a glossary in the back for people who need to use it as a reference for words used in the digital publishing world. The beginning of the book goes over lots of detail about how the digital world works and goes over explaining HTML and other coding that goes into setting up digital content. It goes on about tags and metadata used to organize books in a digital space and how tags make it easier for people looking into search engines to find content. This information is great knowledge for a newbie to anything involving digital content.
Further into the book it moves from the basics of digital coding and metadata it gets into the grit of the transition from traditional to digital publishing and then in depth of how to untangle content from structure and into a markup language that works in the digital world. This guide flows into how digital computer graphics have influenced the print world as well and how important staying in print publishing while also converting the printed material to digital formats since the market still highly consists of print publishing for the time being. Eventually the book dives into discussing content management and web publishing all the way to electronic books (eBooks) and the new process created for eBook publication.
This book covers it all going into how important digital files have now become one of the most important ways to archive content published in both print and electronic formats. Lots of detail went into this book to make it the utmost useable reference guide to anything having to do with publishing in the digital world. This is not only great for college students and professors alike. But I think this will also be very useful for professionals in printing to look at when venturing into the digital publishing landscape.
Copyright and trademark legalities are also discussed in this guide to cover the ins and outs of the legalities of digital content being published. This book is a well of information and each chapter has a bibliography at the very end for those who want to look further into the subject matter of the chapter. Lastly this book goes through international issues that may arise from digital publishing as well as how easier the digital world is making for content owners to keep track and manage their own content of work.
Filled with working examples for publishers who are looking into creating an international online business and creators who are concerned about their content in the digital world and their rights of said content. This is not the most creatively written book, but it’s not meant to be. It’s an all-inclusive guide to how the world of digital publishing runs and how to understand it and navigate this new digital world we live in where content is becoming more and more digitized as the years go on.
London, Jack. Martin Eden. New York City: Macmillan, 1908. Hardcover. 421 pp.
Reviewed by Oliver Sime
Jack London’s most autobiographical work, Martin Eden, can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Most people study the book as Jack London’s Künstlerroman (coming of an artist narrative) or as an attack on the Nietzschean idea of the Übermensch, but in Martin Eden’s telling of a young author’s quest for publications and money for rent, there is an apt description and critique of publishing world in the early twentieth century.
The critique of ambition and forced art London propagates is done so through the story’s protagonist, Martin Eden. At the beginning of the book, readers are introduced to an uneducated but bashful young sailor who is out of place at a wealthy family’s dinner. Martin is impressed by the knowledge and understanding of the wealthy family and becomes enraptured with Ruth Morse, the daughter of the prolific family. Throughout the remainder of the book, Martin attacks the art of reading and writing with tenacity and surpasses the knowledge and understanding of Ruth and the Morse family. They fall in love for a while, but Martin insists on pursuing a career as a writer instead of settling with a well-paying job the Morse family could arrange. After much tribulation and life in poverty, Martin succeeds as a writer but not before Ruth breaks up with Martin because of his persistence at writing. Martin becomes a wealthy and prolific man himself, but in his traversing of economic class, finds he can longer find home in any culture, community, or other people, despite achieving what philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would describe as an Übermensch.
The notable distinction between Jack London and Martin Eden the character is London’s socialist ideology and Eden’s faith in meritocracy, which holds until the last few pages of the book. While Martin begins his intellectual journey with vain objectives—obtaining enough money and knowledge to impress Ruth Morse—he settles into his own as a writer and acquires aesthetic and insular goals verses the romantic and monetary goals he set out with. The more Martin loses faith in the business of publishing, the more his art develops. London, as a socialist, is arguing these goals of writers and publishers to profit comes at the expense of degradation of the art of literature.
The portrait Martin Eden paints of the publishing industry is not necessarily one of realism, but the tropes in the fictionalized work hold true to history. The industry London depicts is turbulent and uninterested in the art of literature. This age of raging capitalism —which existed not only in publishing but all industries of the era, boasting atrocities such as child labor or expendable immigrant laborers—was only concerned with the success of their business and held no ethical standards for the readers or authors. Martin writes prolifically, producing hundreds of stories, poems, jokes, and books, but none are accepted. His craft improves as he works, and he eventually gets a book published which gave him clout in the industry. He proceeds to send all of his previously rejected stories to publishers, and they are accepted with eagerness and hearty pay while they were the same stories Martin only received rejection letters for while he was starving. London calls out the publishing industry’s neglection of ethical standards for the suppliers, authors, and the customers; readers.
This unsympathetic profit hungry approach to publishing has been corrected. Unpublished writers are encouraged to submit manuscripts and let the work speak for itself. Publishers are curators of canonized literature, history, poetry, and more, and maintaining the standard of publishing the best works they receive is ethically endorsed by most of the publishing industry, especially with small and regional presses, which frequently have competitions and open submissions where all works are treated equally. Small, regional presses, such as NDSU Press, value author relationships and respect the intellectual and emotional strain which goes into a work of literature.
Mallory, H.P., Quit Your Day Job, A Guide for the Self-Published Author. 2011. Kindle. 137 pp.
Reviewed by Jamie Askew, 2020
H.P Mallory is an author who shot to success, even becoming a New York Times Bestselling Author, very suddenly after self-publishing her work on Amazon. A few years after, she published this book. H.P. Mallory describes the process she went through in creating a successful ebook, without a publisher. This book illustrates how an author can sometimes double as their own publisher. This book breaks down the importance of professionalism and what it takes to create a successful E-book. It discusses what a difference a good cover and title can make, while also noting the more nuanced online aspects of self-publishing like choosing good “keywords” that associate with your novel and the ability to appear in search engines. Mallory notes that an author should, “Make note of all categories you think might work well for your book, research the searches associated with each category in the Google Keyword Tool and make the most informed decision based on the results provided by Google and your own common sense.”
This in-depth look into the step-by-step process of actually publishing a book on Amazon gives the audience a better understanding of what they have to expect if they choose this route. She gives a path for an author to follow to mimic her success. Mallory also discusses the importance of reviews, social media, distribution, and an author website, noting that the website is where the reader can come to learn more about you, and to learn more about the releases of your new works. There is an entire chapter devoted to creating an interesting and professional looking website, an essential marketing tool for a self-publishing author, followed by a chapter that explains how to link your website through google analytics. The book also comments on websites like Barnes and Noble, Goodreads and other common aspects of online publishing that an author will face and also has a chapter on the way an author should price their books online and provides a model for the author to follow. The book is clear that, “One of the most important ways to get your books to rank well on Barnes and Noble and Amazon is to get some reviews,” before she goes on to give an insider’s view into how to accomplish getting a good review. The essential message of this book is that as writers, no one should give up on their dreams. This new digital frontier allows for a whole new generation of writers. This book targets those authors who are looking to break into the digital publishing world on their own. It’s a step-by-step guide that breaks down and gives an insider’s perspective on what it is that you have to do if you want to go the route of self-publishing and the work that has to go into it. It gives the reader a better understanding of the process in an easy-to-understand way that could only be provided by someone who has done it successfully.
Pavone, Chris. The Accident: A Novel. New York City: Crown Publishers, 2014. ISBN 9780385348478. Paperback. 416 pp.
Reviewed by Jack Payette, 2020
The Accident by Chris Pavone was a thrilling story to read as it followed along with a literary agent, Isabel Reed, and her story with an anonymous manuscript that she had received. Ms. Reed read the manuscript and found out shocking details about a murder that she believed could be a true story. This manuscript surrounds the story about Charlie Wolf, owner of a worldwide media conglomerate and now aspiring political candidate. Back in college, he and his friend Dave had hit a girl with their car and instead of turning themselves in, they decided to bury the body.
Charlie’s father, an ex-CIA deputy director, offered Dave $40,000 per year to keep quiet until this total hit one million dollars. Dave started feeling anxious and guilty about this expense nearly 20 years later, so he wrote a manuscript that exploited all details about the incident. Isabel Reed received said manuscript written anonymously and tried her best to keep this a secret, yet the main copy was taken from her desk and a few copies were starting to circulate. She had given one to her best friend and editor, Jeffery Fielder. Some of the others that are copies from the stolen manuscript finds actress, Camilla Glyndon-Browning, as someone who is trying to get this to Hollywood. Camilla ends up getting tied into this and ends up getting killed. Just about anyone who gets a hold of this manuscript who isn’t supposed to have it is getting killed off by anonymous men. The person referred to as the “Author” throughout the whole book had faked his own suicidal death early in the book, only to be found alive and well in Zurich towards the end of the book as they watch the entire story play out.
Isabel Reed had asked her receptionist to make a copy so she could get it over to editor and friend Jeffery Fielder along with reading parts of it. Isabel went to her receptionist’s New York basement apartment the next day to see her and noticed her through a window, dead on the floor with blood all around her. This is where Isabel realized that this manuscript is the real deal and really is life or death. This point is where the manhunt truly starts, and Isabel is starting to fear for her life and the lives of others who have copies of the manuscript. Isabel realizes that she is being followed and sees she has been bugged by her pursuers. In an attempt to go incognito, she and Jeffery escape to her old friend Naomi’s beach house in Long Island. Jeffery, unable to sleep, goes downstairs, burns his copy of the manuscript and is walked in on by a man named Hayden, who he had met previously at a pub. Hayden previously told him that he may receive a manuscript in the near future, and if he did, he needed to delete it immediately. Obviously, Jeffery hadn’t destroyed it, so Hayden had told him if he didn’t, he would kill him. There was a shootout between Jeffery, Isabel, and Hayden, yet by the end Hayden ended up leaving and neither of them died.
This book was extremely thrilling and is a book that is difficult to put down. Even if the reader isn’t interested in publishing, it’s an exciting story to follow along to yet still brings up points and facts about the publishing industry. The story had the publishing twist as a manuscript was released, yet people were willing to kill in order to get their hands on it. It’s a fun book to read along with keeping the details in about the publishing business and the possible story of an anonymous manuscript that is worth killing over. I had a blast reading this book. It was an exciting story that was told very well by Chris Pavone. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a thrilling read as it sheds some light on the publishing world while keeping you on the edge of your seat and not being able to put the book down.
Price, Leah. What We Talk about When We Talk about Books: The History and Future of Reading. New York City: Basic Books, 2019. ISBN 97804605042685. Hardcover. 224 pp.
Reviewed by Kalley Miller, 2020
What We Talk About When We Talk About Books is a title nothing short of a mouthful, but upon finishing it, is a title that lives up to its name. The author Leah Price, before publishing this work has been, and continues to be, an English Professor at Rutger’s University. She has an array of published works like How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain and The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel. She also writes for the London and New York Times Book Review. With a life literally filled with the life and longevity of a book, her most recent authored work is fitting.
This new work aims to do a run-down of how “books” first came to be and the materials that were used throughout centuries to produce written work. It also focuses on the far-reaching question, how has reading changed, and how has the market for books been influenced by the ever-changing economy? While answering these questions she also forms the argument that “print changed in step with the media that surrounded it” (Price 12).
The book begins with the introduction outlining what her books aims to accomplish and how the chapters tie into each other. From that she writes in a captivating way her journey to teaching book history, literally the different materials that were used to create a published work. She often adds in moments of clarity and humor when she states that the first “vegetarian” cookbook was published in Britain with the cover being made out of animal skin, how ironic. The most interesting section of the book for me was her explaining how books were first perceived by the public. Throughout decades books were a threat to what “should” be devoted as religious study, that people’s eyes shouldn’t focus on anything other than the words in the bible. Doctors also claimed that books would cause future health issues because of the continuous bending of the neck and slumped posture. Also, the diagnosis that a woman, in particular, can be admitted to a psychiatric ward for “reading too much.” Overall, Leah Price connects how books have been feared by people who work to control and sometimes even to oppress the masses. After all, written word inspires action and change that works to rewrite history.
Lastly, the author provides statistics of the rise and plateau of eBooks alongside digital publishing. It’s proven through polls, statistics, and numerous essays that the physical copy of a book cannot be replaced, with hardback covers even growing in sales again. The market that has arguably always been a niche market, the indie bookstore has promising growth as people seek out the bookstore to create a community around them, leaving Barnes & Noble in the dust. Just like any commodity, indie bookstores seek to make the buyer feel a certain purpose and sense of community by buying books from them. Overall, I highly recommend Leah Price’s novel which can conveniently be read in a day or two and answers numerous questions that a book lover has once pondered over.
Richardson, Kim Michele. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Chicago: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2019. ISBN 9781492671527. Paperback. 320 pp.
Reviewed by Laura Brandjord, 2019
People with cerulean blue skin. It sounds more like something from a science-fiction novel than real life. Yet, Kim Michele Richardson chooses one such individual as her heroine in The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. While the book itself is a work of fiction, most of the books’ hardest aspects to believe are grounded in documented facts. The “blue people of Kentucky” were real. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) instituted the Pack Horse Library Project in Kentucky. Many people living deep in Appalachia lived in deep poverty without access to formal education or modern comforts in the ‘30s and ‘40s when the book takes place. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek introduces readers to the real and hard-to-believe with an engaging plot that is quickly devoured.
The most obvious of the book’s intrigue is the heroine and her cerulean skin. Cussy Mary Carter (often called Bluet) is treated as “colored” and thought to be cursed or possessed according to some of the white “respectable” townsfolk in 1930’s Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. At the time people were unaware of the condition methemoglobinemia or that it could be congenial in rare cases. For much of the book, Bluet and the townsfolk of Troublesome Creek believe her color to be incurable, a permanent stamp of “subordinate” on her skin.
In reality, the reason her and her family had blue skin was because her blood contained more of a certain type of hemoglobin which oxidized her blood, making it chocolate brown in color and her skin to appear blue. A dose of methyl blue is all it takes to turn her as white as her haughty library supervisors. Despite this, Bluet discovers people’s derogatory views of her family are more than skin deep.
A central element to Bluet’s identity is her job as a Pack Horse Librarian. It is a work she adores, as she loves books and their positive effects on her patrons. Readers see how even the most reluctant patrons soon bend to the book woman’s parcels. The Pack Horse Library Initiative was started under President Roosevelt’s WPA brought donated books from groups and libraries to those living in the isolated reaches of Appalachian Kentucky. Pack Horse Librarians were largely women, often referred to as “book women,” who braved treacherous routes on horse, mule, or on foot to bring books to their patrons. One interesting aspect of the project that was touched on in the book was the creation of “mountain scrapbooks.” They were homemade books that patrons would contribute to. They were full of home remedies, recipes, tips for gardening or hunting, just to name a few of the topics.
Richardson obviously completed extensive research into the life of the Appalachians at the time, the blue people of Kentucky, and the Pack Horse Librarians in order to give this book such a vibrant life. She shares photos and additional information on the program and the family Bluet was based off at the end of the book. Overall, I would recommend this book to those interested in historical fiction heavily based in truth or those interested in the Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky. As a matter of fact, I already have.
Schiffrin, André. The Business of Books. London: Verso Books, 2001. ISBN 9781859843628. Paperback. 192 pp.
Reviewed by Grace Boysen, 2020
André Schiffrin’s The Business of Books gives an inside look into the world of publishing. He starts by giving a brief description of his father’s history in publishing and recounts how he himself ended up in the industry as well. Schiffrin describes what the publishing industry was like when he first joined it and began working for Pantheon. Specifically, he describes an industry in which those involved published books more for their intellectual and scholarly merit than for their profitability. Schiffrin then recounts the gradual changes he saw come about in the publishing world, when slowly, publishing companies were bought out by the elite and big corporations. After this, publishing companies were run by people with both little knowledge of and little care for books and their intellectual merit. Rather, publishing companies came to be under the control of people who cared only about making money, and manuscripts for books began to be chosen purely on their ability to make a profit on their own, without reliance on a backlist. Not only does Schiffrin describe his personal experiences with this phenomenon at Pantheon, but he also describes the larger pattern that he saw in the publishing world, including with many presses in Europe. While censorship within the publishing industry is discussed, a stronger theme throughout this book is the concept of market censorship, which involves the rejection of a manuscript based on predictions about the book’s potential popularity and the premise that it will not bring in a high enough profit per book sold. Finally, Schiffrin provides descriptions of presses that have defied the norm of turning into primarily commercial rather than intellectual enterprises, indicating that it is still possible for a press to publish the books editors want to publish, rather than the books the higher authorities think will bring in more profit. He tells of the formation of The New Press, which he created to fill the void in publication of books with intellectual merit. He also briefly touches on the topic of the Internet and how that might affect the publishing industry, especially if well-known authors decide to start self-publishing their books rather than relying on publishing companies.
For a student interested in the publishing industry, this book has its merits. Schiffrin laments that the world of publishing has changed so drastically since he started in his career. In his mid-fifties, he was one of the oldest still in the profession, because so many others in the profession had accepted early retirement due to the changes that were being enforced. As a result, most of those remaining in the publishing industry were young and were entering a field that valued commercialism and profitability, but never having known anything different. Therefore, for a young person interested in entering the field of publishing, this book could be an important read because it paints a clear picture of what a publishing profession used to be like, and could perhaps inspire young, aspiring publishers to enter the field with a fresh outlook on the value of publishing books for more than their commercial worth. Additionally, this book could be of interest to those 2 Boysen already in the publishing community, because it could likewise inspire them to take a step back and evaluate their role in the field. Are they bowing to commercial pressures to publish only trendy bestsellers, or are they advocating for books that might have a more niche audience but have intellectual value, nonetheless? Therefore, I would recommend this book for those who are interested in entering the field of publishing, as well as those who are already involved in publishing, but who might not yet have an understanding of the history of the field and the way publishing has gradually been commodified.
Striphas, Ted. The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. ISBN 9780231148153. Paperback. 272 pp.
Reviewed by Lis Fricker, 2020
Ted Striphas uses The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control to argue books are not facing their end. The book industry faces change in every aspect from creation, distribution, and purchasing because modern culture has made books a commodity for everyday consumption instead of a rarity.
The first two chapters examine the relationship between the older and newer formats of books and bookselling. Striphas begins by investigating the relationship between paper bound books and e-books. While they share a name and can be the same content, physical and electronic books have different formatting, distribution, and copyright approaches and obstacles. The next relationship considered is the one between big-box retailers and independent bookstores. Striphas makes the case that the mere existence of major retailers like Barnes and Noble caused independent bookstores to shut down. Because the post wars created a boon in literacy, there was a demand for bulk loads of books. Bookstores with the capacity to buy many different books from the Book of the Month to textbooks in large spaces met the demand for books better than a small independent business could.
The author also notes distribution has changed because the publishing industry has incorporated ISBN and barcodes to ensure the correct books are sent from the warehouse to the store, or in Amazon’s case, from the warehouse to the buyer’s hands. Readily available books created the opportunity for television and books media to have a relationship courtesy of Opera’s Book Club. While this relationship between mediums gave women a chance to connect using books, Oprah’s Book Club also created a standard for making a book a good book.
In the final chapter, he illuminates Harry Potter upended the publishing industry, becoming the first transnational publication needed to confront open markets and release rights to protect intellectual property, copyright, and preventing spoilers. Yet, the extreme measures publishing houses took to stop the books from being released too soon were not entirely successful, which lead those inside and outside the industry if there was too much gatekeeping in modern publishing. The book concludes that books have undergone drastic changes in the past 80 years and are now fully a part of controlled consumption in the capitalist economy. Instead of having doomsday narratives at the end of books, the industry needs to have conversations about how to handle these changes.
This book is well written as it introduces the reader to the primary considerations of the publishing industry. However, Striphas does not discuss these in great depth but makes up for it by presenting a full picture of the publishing industry. This is a thought-provoking work that reminds the reader while they may see books with a romantic gaze, those in the industry see books as a commodity, and at heart, an everyday commodity for profit.
Watson, Cecelia. Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark. New York City: Ecco, 2019. ISBN 9780062853066. Paperback. 224 pp.
Reviewed By Kalley Miller, 2019
The book Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark written by Cecelia Watson outlines the history of the “hated” grammatical mark. In the first pages she introduces the semicolon as a grammatical mark that is hated by scholars and often misused. The author tells the readers in the first few pages that she has always loved enforcing the rules of grammar and because of a debate with one of her faculty members she posed the question, what is the history of grammatical (punctuation) marks and how did we get to where we are today?
In the first chapter, Deep History, Watson states “The semicolon was born in Venice in 1494.” During this time period there was experimentation of writing and because of this, the idea of adding rules to the usage of punctuation marks was argued. There were a multitude of punctuation marks that were used during this time that aren’t present in the English discipline today. The semicolon was described to be the mark that is used when the pause (when speaking) is longer than a comma but shorter than a colon. Fast forward to the American grammar wars where scholars often published “rule/style books,” the wider public became so confused over who is correct, people often resorted to the idea that punctuation is based off writing style. Murray and Kirkham dubbed as “grammarians” were both very successful in their published books on grammar rules. Their books went onto challenge each other and have multiple editions printed. The most interesting chapter to me was The Minute of Mercy where Watson gave examples to court cases that have been read incorrectly due to a wrongly placed comma or semicolon. This resulted in wrongful deaths, convictions, and proved to many that people often have different ways of interpreting punctuation which makes the argument of the importance of understanding the history of grammar even more prevalent. Lastly, the conclusion states the question, “Whose rules are we following?” Watson ends the book with her argument against Standard Written English and how she often views her “grammar police” ways as an embarrassment and argues that we should look beyond the conventional rules of punctuation and ask ourselves how punctuation can support a richer language and the multiples uses of it can make the language more inclusive.
Overall, I was very impressed with the book. After picking up the book I at first thought that reading this would be tedious and hard to get through (considering the topic) but Cecelia Watson’s voice was engaging throughout the entire book. She mixed technical facts with a humorous narrative about how much stress one single punctuation mark has caused (including her inquisitive nature). I’m glad that she inserted the history of how she viewed grammar, this gave the read a more personal tone and provided credentials to who is writing the book. Cecelia Watson is described as a historian and philosopher currently at Bard’s College in the “Language and Thinking Program” which perfectly explains why she found this topic to write about. I really enjoyed this book and gave me a better idea of the history of the English language, which is beneficial to me, after all, I am an English Major.
Wilson-Lee, Edward. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books. New York City: Scribner, 2019. ISBN 9780008146245. Hardcover. 416 pp.
Reviewed by Shawnia Klug
Throughout history, there have been many people who have been forgotten. For the ones that we do remember, it has often been to the thanks of books that we know anything about them at all. Hernando Colon is one of the people who has almost been forgotten. Hernando Colon was the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus. It is because of his writings that we have the amount of information on his father as we do. Not only did Hernando Colon contribute to what we know of Christopher Columbus, he also contributed significant value to the book world.
Throughout his life, Hernando Colon was known for his love of books. He kept every book that was ever gifted to him and began building libraries that housed immense knowledge that anyone could come and visit. Before computers or a way to sort books in a logical fashion, Hernando Colon is the one who created the vision of how we display, store, and keep track of lost books. After collecting thousands of manuscripts that spanned over every genre, Hernando Colon found the need to organize and catalogue the books in a way where people could find them. One of his greatest attributions to the book world is his idea to sit books up vertically on a bookshelf so that the spine could be easily read. Before this implantation, stacks of books would fall over if a book at the bottom of the stack was needed. Today, seeing books sitting vertically on a bookshelf is as natural as seeing ducks in water. It was, however, an idea that needed to be first implemented, and it was Hernando Colon who did so. Hernando Colon also helped to find a system of organizing books by genre in different parts of the library. Before many of his contributions, books were mostly stuffed into chests where only a librarian with a good memory could remember where a particular book was placed. Hernando Colon was also determined to create a library in the New World. He was determined to bring literature to every new land that was found. In doing so, many books were lost forever to the sea as countless ships sank into its depths. These books are now only remembered through the careful cataloguing that Hernando Colon did.
As a recommendation, this book will prove to be extremely insightful for anyone who is interested in publishing and history. The author has done an amazing job at putting a lot of information into an easy-to-read guide that intertwines history, facts, and a boy’s love for his father. This book, though interesting to those who are fascinated with books and history, may not be the best fit for someone who does not wish to delve deeply into a semi-dry read. Although the text itself is filled with very interesting facts that book lovers will find enjoyable, a person does either need to know a decent amount of history or be willing to take notes on the different historical events that transpire throughout the book.
Wogahn, David. My Publishing Imprint: How to Create a Self-Publishing Book Imprint & ISBN Essentials. PartnerPress, 2019. ISBN 9781944098124. Paperback. 108 pp.
Reviewed by Ana Rusness-Petersen
My Publishing Imprint is one of the Countdown to Launch series books by author David Wogahn. I selected this book for review to learn more about book imprints and how to create and manage one, as well as to discover more about the business of and tasks involved in self-publishing, potentially under an independent imprint of my own.
This book initially struck me as a disappointing length (too short) with not enough dense, valuable information and presented in a somewhat unorganized manner. However, after reviewing and analyzing the information presented, I’ve concluded that there is a lot of helpful information and wise insight, albeit shared in a somewhat repetitive and sometimes less-than-clear manner. But I think this might partially be due to the overlap and interconnectedness of these components, and how a choice about one could result in a consequence with another (say an ISBN acquisition choice impacting printer selection, or an unintentional imprint permanently linking to an ISBN).
There is basic information about what a publishing imprint is (not actually that complicated—it’s basically a business and a brand), how to start one and pick a name, where it should be used and where it appears, and then some additional business basics (different types of organizations, including sole proprietorships, S-corps, C-corps, LLCs, etc.; a very basic description of how business type can affect finances; and why someone might pick one type over another).
Next, Wogahn suggests the wisdom of intentionally using an imprint. “Brand your books in a way that relates to and enhances these other ventures…and meets the objectives of your publishing venture.” Wogahn details how imprints and ISBNs can relate and work together, if strategically coordinated and used with vision, or in disharmony when convenience or immediate financial reward are prioritized, or a lack of planning or knowledge occurs. “The key is to be intentional about choosing, and using, the imprint name, and to do this before buying your ISBN.”
The intricacies and importance of ISBNs are detailed, including information on worldwide rights, Bowker and its authorized resellers, pricing options, ASINs (Amazon Standard Identification Numbers), and best-use protocols, as well as potential ramifications behind several of these decisions. Wogahn adds the clarification that while ISBNs, imprints, copyrights, and even printers are each separate fundamental aspects of a book, they are forever interconnected once published, and can result in missed opportunities and protections, or lock in certain limitations. The proper use of these elements should be seen as an interconnected branding opportunity, and these decisions should be made with a focus on the intended audience and a planned distribution and marketing approach.