The other day I was thinking about book columns. I have always preferred columns to reviews. And then I was startled to realize I read only two book columns now, “NB” by J.C. at the TLS and “Well Read” by Robert Weibezahl at BookPage.
There must be more than two book columns. Do you know of any? We like the personal voice. When a writer publishes a column, we get to know his or her taste. No pretense of being objective: columnists are allowed to speak out.
There are witty columnists, and there are serious columnists. J.C., the author of NB, falls into the witty category. In a recent column, one of the items he wrote about was “the George Gissing Book Club.” He says, “We do our bit for the cause. Most recently (NB, October 20), we listed the works of Gissing available in Italian, mentioning in passing a short novel we admire, Eve’s Ransom (Il riscatto di Eva, in case you’ve forgotten). It is, we suggested, ‘hard to find in English.’”
Then an irate reader wrote a note to him claiming Eve’s Ransom was not hard to find: the Idle Bookshop in Bradford had seven copies. J.C. pointed out that Bradford is four hours away by train. I myself have now ordered a copy of Eve’s Ransom (Dover, 1980) online: it’s cheaper than Bradford.
Robert Weibesazhl, on the other hand, devotes his literary columns to criticism: Ursula K. Le Guin’s essays, Russian translations by Pevear and Volokhonsky, and James Wright’s poetry. He does not write in a personal voice, but I take his criticism as seriously as I do The New York Times.
Who are your favorite book columnists? There must be more columnists out there.
THE SLOG OF SELF-PUBLISHING. Poets publish chapbooks. Self-published memoirists take control of their lives. There is always a local writers’ section at bookstores. One day I was buying a copy of a novel by the Native American writer James Welch when a man briskly entered the bookstore and asked if anyone had bought his self-published book.
He said to me, “You look like someone who would enjoy it.”
“Thank you,” I said, for no reason I can fathom. I hurried out of the store.
I did not fall into that trap with my own book, Between the Pages: Reflections on Reading, by Kathleen Adelaide. (You can find it by typing in Kathleen Adelaide at Amazon.) I published it only as a Kindle e-book, because the readers would be family, friends, and a few bloggers. My husband has given me my first blurb, “A good book to read at the gym.” And he is now reading Pamela Hansford Johnson, as a result of reading at the gym.
The book is very short, really a pamphlet. Most of my reviews and essays were published in the 20th century in little magazines and newspapers. Most of the books are now forgotten or out-of-print.
The process of self-publishing was difficult for me, a techno-primitive. How could I upload the manuscript at Kindle Direct Publishing? I had to convert the document into plain text or epub or something. I had no idea how to do it. I got it after a couple of hours. My husband thought I should change the cover. I found a nicer image, but it took an hour to adjust the pixels. And now I am far too tired to figure out how to superimpose the title on the cover. The Amazon-generated cover is fine.
The cheapest price for an ebook is now $2.99. I had thought more in the spirit of alternative papers: I do wish it were free. I used to organize readings by novelists at conferences and colleges. My students would attend for extra credit, but hardly anyone bought the books.
The best thing about publishing my book? I want to reread all these old books I loved. And I recently reread Susan Richards Shreve’s Queen of Hearts, and it is even better than I thought in 1986. Why is it out-of-print?
Here is an excerpt from my review of Shreve’s novel.
In The Arabian Nights, cunning Scheherazade tells a thousand and one magical tales that divert a bloodthirsty sultan’s murderous intentions.
If the legendary Scheherazade were cast as the heroine of a contemporary novel, she might be a lot like Francesca Woodbine, the pop singer with second sight who stars in Susan Richards Shreve’s enchanting novel.
Francesca is no ordinary pop singer. It takes an artist as intuitive as she to penetrate “the secret lives of ordinary people.” Thwarted composers, teenage Don Juans, would-be snake charmers, and lion tamers range the streets of her seemingly humdrum hometown in the guise of housewives, sexy boys, harmless booksellers, and cat lovers. In her songs, Francesca unveils their hidden passions and crimes.
Let me know about your own experiences in self-publishing. Isn’t it wonderful that we can all have our own books now for family and friends?