Piracy = More Sales?

I came across this video of Neil Gaiman sharing his thoughts about piracy—how it can sometimes be a good thing for authors. More readers see their books, then share them with friends and family, which, for Gaiman, resulted in bigger sales overall. He also describes how he managed to convince his publisher to put his book American Gods on the web for free for a month, even though it was still selling well. During that time, sales for the book at independent bookstores went up 300%!

This issue is popping up everywhere online. Not that I’m advocating piracy, but Gaiman’s view is interesting. Recently, I’ve noticed that publishers are putting up several chapters of a book online, instead of just the front and back covers and a few interior pages. Personally, I love this—remember in an older post I discussed how I read the first 80 pages of Divergent online? And now, even though 2011 is supposed to be my no-book-buying year, I’m so tempted to break it. Those 80 pages hooked me, and I don’t know if I can wait until Divergent is available at the library.

An Athlete I’m Not

When it comes to physical activity, I’ve never been the sports teams type, except for a stint on the Grade 5 and 6 volleyball teams, and then a few years ago, as a paddler on a dragon boat team. Generally, I get my exercise by hiking, riding my bike, walking, and now running.

So when I picked up Angie Abdou’s book, The Bonecage, I had absolutely no background in the world of competitive sports. What did I find out upon reading? That training for the Olympics is horrifically GRUELING. I honestly know I would never have the mental willpower to do it. (Never mind the athletic ability.) Athletes eat, breathe, and sleep their sport. They are training six to eight hours a day, and if they’re lucky, they may be carded by the government, which means they’ll receive a small stipend, that at most, will cover the cost of rent or food.

The stars of The Bone Cage are Sadie, a 26-year-old swimmer, and Digger, a 29-year-old wrestler. Both are striving to make the cut for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. What struck me most about their stories is how single-minded they must be to attain this goal.

They must shut everything else out, and focus on that one thing; they MUST make it to the Olympics and win gold, or what was the point of training all this time? Sadie, especially, struggles when her grandmother becomes sick. It’s difficult for her to get back into the rhythm of waking at 4:30 a.m., eating, swimming for two to three hours, eating, working at the university gym, eating once more, swimming again for another two to three hours, eating, going to sleep. And then getting up to do it all over again.

Normally, this isn’t the type of book I would pick up, because it centres on sports, and, well, I don’t read about sports, but I kept hearing its title bandied about, plus it made CBC’s Canada Reads list.

Overall, I enjoyed this book somewhat, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. It gave me an insider’s look at competitive sports, and I feel like I got to know the two main characters, though I was very unhappy about what happened to one of them near the end.

Kids’ books that are really for adults

So there’s this book, Go the F&ck to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach.

You can find tons of information about it all over the web, but the story goes that one night, Mansbach’s kids wouldn’t go to sleep, so he posted the following update on Facebook, “Look out for my forthcoming children’s book, ‘Go the — to Sleep.’ ”

Urged by friends, he wrote it. Below is a sample page. Hilarious!

Right now, this book is number 1 on Amazon.com’s best-seller list, and it hasn’t even been published yet! Many people have already seen the entire book thanks to a leaked PDF that went viral, which subsequently generated much discussion about piracy–that it might actually be a good form of publicity.

Anyway, this book made me think of Neil Gamain’s The Dangerous Alphabet, even though the books aren’t similar in content at all. The Dangerous Alphabet is not your typical kids’ alphabet book. Gamain’s letters are creepy, gruesome, and scary.

Basically, the story is about two children and their pet gazelle who sneak past their father, out of their house, and down into a world beneath the city, with only a treasure map to guide them. The world below is filled with dangerous pirates, monsters, and skeletons. You wonder if the kids will ever make it out alive.

I LOVE this book. I wish they had books like this when I was a kid. I want to share The Dangerous Alphabet with every parent I know, but I have only bought it for one friend’s daughter. Why? Because I don’t know how most parents will react to me giving their child a book with lines like, “F is for fear and its many devices.” Will they think I’m a weirdo who’s trying to scare the bejesus out of their kid?

I bought the book for my friend because I knew she and her husband would appreciate the wry take on typical boring alphabet books. Plus, I knew they’d love the sinister illustrations by Chris Grimly. But would all parents feel this way? I just don’t know.

Lovecraftian Terror

I haven’t read a ton of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s work, but I’ve read enough to know that the short film, Late Bloomer, encapsulates his tone and ideas exactly. The spoof’s setting is a terror-filled sex-ed class, complete with chalkboard drawings of a uterus and fallopian tubes.

The video is 13 minutes long so it’s a bit of a commitment, but it’s oh so worth it! The language is creepy and hilarious, and the narrator’s voice is just like what you’d find in the movie versions of Lovecraft’s stories. Enjoy!

A Deathly Friendship

Oh, wow.

The book, Practical Jean, by Trevor Cole, is excellent! I couldn’t put it down. It’s a funny, sad, dark tale about a fifty-ish woman named Jean who has just spent the last three months caring for her dying mother. Jean feels that no one should suffer the way her mother did, so she decides to give her closest friends “one last perfect poem.” In other words, she’s going to murder them during their most happiest moments. What are friends for, right?

The book recently won the 2011 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. And it was funny. I found the humour dry and subtle, and I loved the way Jean is wholeheartedly convinced that murder is the only thing to do. She’s a woman with a mission, despite the overwhelming stress she experiences planning the perfect death for each of her friends–because it can’t be any old run-of-the-mill murder; each death must be unique, and fit perfectly with her friends’ personalities.

Some of the funniest moments are when Jean laments about what a good friend she is, and how she wishes that her friends cared enough to give her a “last poem.” Because really, after she kills everyone, who will be left standing to do the same for her?

In addition to the in-depth look at female friendship, the book is an examination of small-town life. I especially felt for the character, Fran, an out-of-towner who can’t seem to forge a friendship with Jean or anyone else in Kotemee, probably because she unintentionally insults people with all her big city/small town comparisons. Fran is a woman desperate for a friend, for a connection, who thought that small-town living would be filled with neighbourhood barbecues and book clubs and drinks with pals. Sadly, she’s been pushed away by most everybody. It’s uncomfortable to see Fran try so hard to fit in.

One of the funniest lines in the book is when Fran discovers what Jean is up to. (Fran had answered Jean’s cell phone and Jean’s husband, Milt, had told Fran to “run for her life.”) However, Jean tells Fran that Fran never had anything to worry about; that Fran was perfectly safe, because honestly, they were never that close. And Fran is actually a little disappointed.

This morning, I rambled on about this book to Trevor because I couldn’t keep it inside. People need to read this book.

Like breathing…

Great interview on salon.com the other day with the legendary editor Robert Gottlieb. He’s in his eighties now and has worked in publishing since 1955. I especially like the part I’ve excerpted below, where he talks about making the transition from editor to writer:

Get it done, whether it’s writing the piece or doing the dishes: Do it. Don’t sit around moping.

On the other hand, I do sit around moping! When it comes to writing, I can’t haul myself to the computer. I put it off all day. Usually around 11 at night, I drag myself over there and I say, “OK, I’ve got to type something.” Then when I’m actually doing it, it’s fine. It’s not the doing it, it’s the getting myself to do it. And then of course, I go over and over and over it.

I’ve dealt with writers, or observed writers, who aren’t like that at all. They’re automatic writers. They sit down and they type. I’ve known three of them, two of whom I was quite close to: Doris Lessing, Anthony Burgess and Updike. You just felt that between the desire and the act fell no shadow. …Doris…always said that if she hasn’t written during the day she feels she hasn’t lived that day. These three were writers the way the rest of us are breathers. But that’s not me: For me it’s reading that’s like breathing.

I can relate. Especially the part about just sitting down and writing, for goodness’ sake! I think it’s because I’m almost finished the first draft of my YA book… And now that I’m nearing the end, I’m a little overwhelmed at the need to tie it all together in a satisfying conclusion. I just need to sit down and do it; I have the plot points printed out on cards; it’s all there. Just do it! Sheesh.

Anyone got a copy?

Divergent by Veronica Roth came out a couple of days ago. I desperately want a copy of this book; I don’t know how I’ll get it, since 2011 is supposed to be my no-book-buying year. I put the book on hold at the library, but it will take months for it to come in—I’m number 88 on the hold list, and the library doesn’t even have copies yet!

Divergent is another dystopian YA novel. When I first read about it, it reminded me of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. There are similarities (strong lead female character, people separated into groups, sinister government at work, etc.), but, wow, Roth has created her own pager turner! You can read the first 80 or so pages on HarperCollins’s site. I couldn’t stop reading; and I don’t love reading books on a computer screen. The action pulls you in right from the start, and I like how the writing is crisp, no extraneous descriptions of the environment; the dialogue is believable—and the main character has a dry sense of humour.

Veronica Roth is only 22; she wrote Divergent while studying creative writing at university…instead of doing her homework. Her blog recounts the entire process.

Living on the Feed

Last night I started Feed, a book by M.T. Anderson. It’s a YA novel set in a dystopian future, where everyone is connected to each other—as well as the Internet and television—via a computer chip in their head. The Feed is like an electronic global consciousness that encourages mass consumerism.

At the start of the book, a few teens head to the moon for spring break, and that’s where disaster occurs: at a nightclub a strange older man touches them and they all collapse, later waking up in the hospital…disconnected from the Feed. Egads. They are re-connected, however, within a few days, but things aren’t exactly the same as before for the two main characters, Titus and Violet. They, especially Violet, begin to question the purpose of the Feed.

I really like the concept of this book, but if this were to happen in real-life, it would scare the bejesus out of me! I don’t want anyone in my head, and I certainly don’t want to know what everyone is thinking, either.

Feed is a short book, only about 200 pages, so I easily blasted through the first half of it. It took about 10 pages or so to get used to the book’s invented slang, but what I found most disconcerting was how empty-headed the teens sounded when they spoke…though I guess it’s understandable, considering most of them can barely read, and society is all about buying the next cool thing.

Dracula is Dusted

Finally finished reading Dracula on the Kobo. Let me rant for a quick second about the e-reader. It drives me crazy that I can’t tell how many pages along I am in a book. For example, I’ll be in Chapter 5, and at the bottom of the page it reads, 1 out of 36. Okay, so there are 36 pages in that chapter, but how many pages in the total book? Perhaps the fact that the Kobo tells me that I’m 35% finished is a good enough indicator of how far along I am?

Anyway, Dracula. I find it ridiculous that I have never read this book by Bram Stoker, considering I am a huge fan of the horror genre.

Initial thoughts: liked that the book was written as a series of journal entries by the main characters, Jonathan and Mina Harker, Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, and Lucy. At times, though, I found that the voices weren’t unique enough for me to distinguish whose journal I was reading.

A big pet peeve: the way the men talked and thought about women; that women are overly emotional; women are not known for their seriousness or intelligence; and specifically Van Helsing’s surprise that Mina had a good memory, could take shorthand, and, get this, work a typewriter.

Also, the constant fawning over Mina’s and Lucy’s goodness got a bit tedious, and how the men would do anything to save the women’s lives and souls, how they were sweet, good, pure, angelic, etc. Is this how men acted around women back in the late 1800s?

Dracula’s death scene: a major letdown. My best friend read Dracula before I did and she thought the ending rather abrupt, so this was in the back of my mind while reading, though I don’t feel it clouded my judgment. The buildup to chasing down, and then finally finding, Dracula was huge—all the preparation involved for the characters’ journey to Dracula’s castle, the general stress and worry of the main characters, Dracula’s elusiveness, his success at getting out of London—but the final staking of Dracula took mere seconds. No big confrontation, no final words from Dracula about his long life, etc.

Overall, I’m glad that I finally read Dracula. It’s interesting to see how vampires have changed so drastically in literature. When I think of the way vampires are portrayed now, especially in YA books, there’s practically no similarity. Dracula was evil; there was nothing attractive about him—unlike the sexy, brooding teen vamps of today.