Monday, August 20, 2012

a rethink, a rant revisit and a really cool publisher

Here it is August 20th and the end of the month is eleven days away.  It's also, following this post, the day I'm going to make the first post about reading the novels on the Booker longlist. Now, I do this every year, but this year I'm downright sluggish in getting started  for a couple of reasons, but one in particular worth noting. 

I've been having a bit of a rethink lately on writing about books I've been reading. It all started when I finished Deborah Levy's Swimming Home, did my writeup and then started perusing other reviews -- the normal sequence of events since I don't want anything to intrude on the way I think about a particular novel.  When I came to one literary review that talked about the novel's title being based on John Cheever's short story "The Swimmer," I just about panicked. I'd never read that story before so how in the hell is it even  remotely possible I would get what the author of Swimming Home is trying to say in her book?  I gave this a huge amount of thought and came to the realization that well, I can't. It's really no fault of mine if I haven't read Cheever's story; I mean, sheesh -- I can't have possibly read everything, but still, it made me feel really kind of stupid thinking that I can read Swimming Home, get every nuance, every subtext every yada yada yada and then actually write about it in some kind of meaningful way.  I actually finished this book last week but have just kind of sat here in a great deal of distress wondering why I even bother to do this at all.  The same goes for other novels.  I'll find a book I like or even dislike, write something about it and then go read what other people with a more literary bent say and feel like a dumbass for what I've missed or didn't pick up on.  So after a lot of inner turmoil, I've decided that what I'm doing  here in this online reading journal  shouldn't really be called  writing "reviews,"  but rather I'm  keeping a record for myself of what books I've  read and why, what I think the novel was about, and how I engaged or didn't with a particular story, and offer my humble opinion as to why.  And to settle my inner angst and feelings that I'm stupid, that's the direction I want to go with any future books I read and write about. The other thing I like to think I'm doing is calling attention to books that are not on any bestseller list or which have not been nominated for any spectacular literary prize, but that's another whole story I won't get into right now.   The long and short of it is this: I can't pretend to be someone I'm not or to write in a way that is "sophisticated," and if I don't get something that seems obvious to everyone else, well, there's not a whole lot I can do about it.   Enough. On to the next paragraph and a change of topic.

Another thing that's really been bothering me lately is this whole thing with pb shop and my purchase of Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng. I realize that very few people aside from myself really give a rat's ass about the whole thing, but if you live in the US and want brand new books from the UK, you don't have a whole lot of choice about who you deal with from over there, so this may be worth the two minutes you might have to spend reading this paragraph.   Publishing rights make these books unavailable in the US, sometimes for months.  You're not going to get them from Book Depository directly like you used to be able to; Book Depository was my go-to place until the whole Amazon/Book Depository thing made that impossible. Now you have to sidestep and look at Amazon's marketplace sellers which doesn't leave a whole lot of options if you use Amazon like I do. Generally I've had great  luck with the sellers, it's easy and it's efficient and frankly, they're one of the very few resources I can turn to that is affordable. Anyway, when I made my last post about this craziness with one of Amazon's sellers, pb shop,  I had just returned the incorrect book Madame Bovary to PB shop's Illinois venue on Friday the 10th; delivery confirmation gave me the entire history of where that book went between the 10th and the 13th, the day it was received.  I waited to hear something from these guys and nothing.  So I politely inquired about the status of the book I'd actually ordered, and I was, correctly, asked for the tracking number which I provided. I also copied and pasted the book's travel history, and asked when I might have an ETA for the replacement.  So this morning, I got an email from one person saying that they hadn't received my book, and asked for tracking information and dates; there was also an email from an entirely different person saying thank you, we received the book and here's your money back. It's seriously like these people have no idea what is happening in their own company.  On top of that mess, over the weekend I got a "request for feedback" email asking me how long it had taken to receive the book I'd ordered and that customer service was their highest priority.   That was a silent scream moment for sure.  The point is  I didn't want the freakin' refund, people, I wanted my book.  I mean, why is this so hard to understand? At least now the whole Book Situation (or as my husband calls it the "BS") is resolved, so on to paragraph the third and the


who took an interest in my tale of woe about my inability to get my copy of their novel and emailed me over the weekend with an offer of a copy of the book.  I didn't answer right away just in case pb shop had taken pity on me and had actually sent me the copy to which I was entitled, but this morning's BS email prompted me to respond with a grateful yes. Thank you again, Ed. You deserve a medal.

end and on to the next post, which puts me back on the Booker track.


  1. I just saw this long saga, and I'm thrilled that you added your pain about overseas availabilities and US restrictions. Other writers in larger forums are discussing this at this very moment and...once again, publishers are a little slow off the mark. But everyone has skin in this game, so perhaps soon the answers will be better than now. In the past, we had no idea what was being published overseas.

    Additionally, love the mini-trauma about not knowing enough, or having read enough, or being able to sound like you have...forget that. That's an old one, being able to make all those allusions. It's more a morale boost for the reviewer to make those connections than for the folks reading the reviews...we like you as you are, plain speaking and forthright.

    1. Forthright I am, for sure, although it's tempered in some cases. It struck me when writing this post that I was so tired of having to struggle when I read to get all of the literary references or literary allusions and I'm just not a fakey kind of person to try to BS my way through something. I've also decided that I'm just reading what I want to read, rather than what's trendy in uber-literary circles. It's just not me.

      re the overseas books -- I notice it especially in crime fiction. I just read Brenner and God by Wolf Haas which is the first book in that series to be translated but is #7 in the overall series. I'm one of those people who likes to watch characters grow and develop over the range of a series. #7 as an opener just doesn't cut it.

      I read non-US publisher catalogs to check out forthcoming books and end up spending $$$ to get the ones I think will be interesting but yet won't be out in the US for a year or two. It's ridiculous.

      you're so kind!


Say what you will, but at least try to be nice about it.