Saturday, April 18, 2009

The First Time is Always Awkward

Welcome, nameless, faceless, perfect stranger. Thanks for stopping by. Tell me, what was it that finally pushed you into my arms? Was it something I said? (That thing about your teeth, perhaps? It was meant constructively.) Something I wore? (Or didn't wear -- hint, hint.) Or was it the recent links/shout-outs that The Hooded Utilitarian and Vertigo Books gave/shouted at us?
No, wait. You don't have to answer that. You don't have to say anything. All that matters is that you're here. Now. Finally. And I plan to make this experience a magical one for both of us. That's why I'm pointing you towards the 'Categories' listing on the lower left hand side of your screen. From there, you can direct yourself to those posts of personal and particular interest, whilst deftly skirting those subjects that might make you bored or uncomfortable or self-righteously indignated. ('Indignated.' Is that even a word? Spell Check doesn't seem to think so, but then, Spell Check still gives me the red, dotted line under the words 'Barack Obama,' and he's our First Black President. Racist!)
Okay, so I'm going to leave you alone now while I slip into something more comfortable. In the meantime (Have you ever tried to squeeze your head into a spiked, pleather face mask without baby powder or Vaseline? It aint easy.), feel free to look around, sign up as our follower (I promise: No mass suicides), and talk mad sh*t in our comments section (Note: Please refrain from using cuss words unless said cuss words use asterisks in lieu of vowels).
On behalf of the tender, loving, and completely non-judgmental staff here at The Inkwell Bookstore, I'm delighted that you decided to join us.
It's about goddamned time.

Friday, April 17, 2009

We Celebrate the Last Day of 'Bashing the House that Bezos Built' Week With A Quote

Posted by "Mike" (in response to Clay Shirky's elaborately explained about-face regarding Amazon's recent anti-gay "glitch"):

I don’t think Amazon has any kind of secret agenda, but there is something rotten with their search algorithms. Even today, if you go to Amazon and do a simple search on “homosexuality” the top hit is a virulent anti-gay book.

I have no problem with Amazon selling these books, but making this the top search result is like making “Mein Kampf” the top search result for “Judaism.”

The Amazon Pile-On Continues:
Amazon's Top Reviewers Are Frauds!

In the Jan. '08 article, Who Is Grady Harp?, exposed The Big A's 'Top 10 Reviewers' to be a mix of blatant liars and coordinated groups of attention-seeking shut-ins.
An excerpt:
Harriet Klausner, No. 1 since the inception of the ranking system in 2000, has averaged 45 book reviews per week over the last five years—a pace that seems hard to credit, even from a professed speed-reader. Reviewer No. 3, Donald Mitchell, ceaselessly promotes "the 400 Year Project," which his profile identifies only as "a pro bono, noncommercial project to help the world make improvements at 20 times the normal rate." John "Gunny" Matlock, ranked No. 6 this spring, took a holiday from Amazon, according to Vick Mickunas of the Dayton Daily News, after allegations that 27 different writers had helped generate his reviews.
What's crazy about this is not the fact that Amazon was the 'victim' of fraudulent postings. With a website that size, it was inevitable. No, what's crazy is that a year has passed since this article came out, yet these 'reviewers' continue posting 'reviews.'
To read the whole article, click here.

Boston Based Book News, In Brief

The Harvard Book Store has come up with a brilliant way to blend eco-friendliness with customer convenience. They've begun offering home delivery -- by bike messenger.

A Lexington aerospace engineer wants to open an indie bookshop where the Waldenbooks once stood. All he needs, he says, "is the right staff."
(Note to Inkwell employees: Don't even think about it...) has put together a sweet slideshow highlighting Boston's lesser known bookshops. Each photo is accompanied by a brief paragraph describing the shop's focus, genesis, and address. again. This time they're reporting on the recent closings of area Barnes & Nobles and Waldenbooks, linking it to a larger change in the public's preferences. Or, as Brookline Booksmith manager, Dana Brigham, put it, "I do think there's a swing back to valuing local and independent."

Waltham bookstore owner Alex Green was pimping city pride when he wrote the following, but the sentiment will be familiar to booksellers-turned-event planners everywhere. Via Waltham Words: In four years of owning a bookstore in Waltham, I have hosted over 250 author events. I am frequently asked to do more to publicize these talks, but the reality is that despite expert training in publicity [...], I am often unable to convince local literary publications (like The Boston Globe Book Review) to list events for Waltham in their print edition. Even a visit from last year's Pulitzer recipient for fiction went unprinted last month.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Long-Winded Link for An Amazing War Comic

I came across the above image this morning at Journalista. At first glance, it looked like an excerpt from a typical MAD Magazine comic. It is, after all, done by two of the original MAD creators, John Severin and Will Elder. But when I started reading it, I immediately realized that this was not ripped from the pages of MAD. Instead of giggling deliriously at the unbridled absurdity that usually accompanies one of Severin and Elder's comics, I found myself getting sucked into the tense drama of a Korean War night patrol.
Talk about range!
Think about it. These are the guys that inspired Peter Sellers, Monty Python, the cast of the original Saturday Night Live to be as insanely funny and taboo-bashing as they were. And yet here they are, illustrating the horrors of war and the fragility of the human psyche using only Bristol board and India ink.
Talk about talent!
Take another look at that excerpt. (Better yet, click here for an enlargement.) You wouldn't think that cartoony sound effects laid beneath bulging word bubbles would effectively get across the cacophony of war, but here, it does. Nor would you think that such exaggerated facial expressions and bare bones backgrounds could trick your brain into reading them as realistic, but again, they do. And that rain! Jet black and ruler straight, you can almost feel it pouring down on the soldiers, soaking through their uniforms, wet...cold...unrelenting.
Talk about genius.

To read the complete comic that this was clipped from, plus two more war comics by MAD Magazine alumni, click here.

Book Review:
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

The Good Thief is a rare find, a feat of imagination that thrills and captivates the reader from the very first chapter. Set in Colonial New England, the unsettled and unlikely cast of heroes faces squalor and hard luck with a curious mix of deadpan humor and hope. Tinti tells a gripping tale about a one-handed orphan boy named Ren and his search to unravel the mystery of his past. The answer might lie with the charismatic and enigmatic con man, Benjamin Nab, who adopts twelve-year-old Ren from St. Anthony’s orphanage. Nab introduces Ren to a shadowy world of thieves, grave robbers, and mercenaries. A quirky household forms around Ren and Benjamin: Tom – an incurably drunk teacher, Mrs. Sands – who lets them stay for a night then can’t get rid of them, a dwarf - who lives on the roof and sneaks in at night by descending the chimney, and Dolly – a hired killer who was buried alive. Ren glues these strangers together in his humble desperation for a family, and he is the catalyst that cracks the hardened hearts of the adults around him who have been broken and scarred.
It’s not just the wonderful characters and plot that make The Good Thief a novel to treasure, it’s the talent and insight that Tinti exhibits with her assured writing style. From the very first paragraph, the reader is a willing accomplice to the story. Tinti writes with a precise pen, using words with care – lavishly when Benjamin is in his tall-tale telling mode, and sparingly when a scene is sentimental:
“Is that what you wanted to hear?”
The man reached over, took hold of the lantern, and blew it out. Night enveloped the barn.
“Well,” he said at last to the darkness between them, “that’s when you know it’s the truth.”

The irrepressible Ren lodges in your heart with his mix of world weary acceptance and yearning hopefulness. His search for his place in the world reveals the most basic of human needs: the desire to love and be loved.

Reviewed by Michelle.
For two more staff reviews of this same book,
click here.

To read Flavorwire's interview with Tinti, click here.

Yet Another Anti-Amazon Screed;
This One Comparing the Online Behemoth to Your Local Indie

I usually try to keep the anti-Amazon sentiment to just one post per week, but once a rule is broken...well, I figure I might as well just smash it to bits. That's why we're making 'Bashing The House That Bezos Built' this week's Official Blog Theme. (Cuz who doesn't love a themed pity party?) Plus, negativity is just sooo much easier to write!
Today's installment comes courtesy of West Coast wunderkind, AutumnBottom. It's an OP-ED piece from Slog writer and former bookstore worker, Paul Constant. Its title is Re: Yeah, OK, But.... Its topic is The Big A vs. the little us.
Here are a handful of highlights:

It is true that businesses exist to make money. Nobody would create a business with the intent to lose money unless that person is either A) a scam artist or B) the government. But the economic issues that we're dealing with right now seem to prove (to me, at least) that successful businesses will keep making money until they become too huge to be healthy for the rest of us. They don't have an "OK, that's enough money" valve. It's a complex issue. We used to have monopoly and antitrust laws to protect the public from giant companies going bad or getting too goddamned big, but the government has pretty much been defanged in that respect.


There are two main issues with Amazon that booksellers struggle with: 1) The enormous selection coupled with the 24/7 availability and 2) the discounted prices. No brick and mortar bookstore is available all day, every day, and no one physical location can contain all the books that Amazon has on its website. That's why I will sometimes browse on Amazon when I'm looking up books about a specific topic and then go find the books in a real store. (Inkwell interjects: What's funny about this is, most Amazombies do exactly the opposite!) The number of books that I've positively had to have within 12 hours of learning of their existence is really very small.


I consider the prices I have to pay at bookstores—not actually inflated prices, but the actual price listed on the book, and a price that is not actually that much higher than the bookstore has to pay for the book—part of the "urban tax" on having all these wonderful places nearby for me to enjoy. Amazon has never recommended a book to me that has changed my life, but real, living booksellers do this all the time. Amazon recommends similar books and books that other people moved on to. It's a lateral recommendation system, and it simply can't take the glorious leaps that sometimes happen when you engage a real person in a real human interaction.

To read the whole piece, click here.
(To feel utterly irrelevant, stick around for the comments.)

Book News, In Brief

England's Oxford presses are for-profit businesses, so why are they receiving tax breaks made for charities? The Guardian UK investigates.

This is not Amazon's week. First there was the anti-gay "glitch," now they've got BusinessWeekOnline snooping around their carefully concealed records, curious as to what the bookselling behemoth is hiding.

The book industry is like the record industry. No, I'm not referring to the suicidally stupid ways in which both groups deal with downloads and digital content. I'm talking about the way they're both willing to neglect numerous no-name talents in hopes of hitting it big with one high-priced celebrity signing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Recommended Viewing:
Jennifer Baszile @ Google

Clipped from the YouTube entry:
Princeton grad/Yale professor Jennifer Baszile stopped by Google's New York office to discuss her book, A Memoir - The Black Girl Next Door.
Black Girl explores what happened during the early years of America's racial integration. As a thirty-something black woman, Baszile was part of the first generation of Americans born after lawmakers outlawed segregation and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. defined the dream of black and white children playing together. But after five hundred years of African American exclusion, no one knew how to make the dream a reality.
Baszile shares moments that confirmed the best hopes of the American Dream, and her family's relentless pursuit of achievement. She also looks inside her own family to understand how segregation, the underside of the American Dream, affected her parents' approach to everything from her hairstyle to dating.

A Lesson In Class:
Vertigo Books' Autobiographical Epitaph

College Park's Vertigo Books is closing. In addition to the going out of business sales and tears of regret which normally accompany such somber occasions, they've offered up a wonderfully written post describing the reasons they've been forced to call it quits after almost eighteen years. Without coming off as whiny or preachy, they detail the ways in which shopping locally benefits one's community, and how shopping elsewhere (cough, cough -- WITH THE "GLITCH"-PRONE HOMOPHOBES AT AMAZON.COM -- cough, cough) negatively effects you and yours.
As a final touch of class, Vertigo closes their post with an e-invite to a free-form Irish Catholic wake at/for their shop, complete with potluck food and booze.
Do you think Borders does that when they shutter a store?

Book News, In Brief

What does it say about brick & mortar bookstores when Toronto's only French bookstore is forced to close its doors? R.I.P. Librairie Champlain.

I used to get nervous when I was walking under skyscrapers and a plane flew overhead. Now it's bookstores that make me skittish. Reasons 1, 2 & 3.

Say what you will about Brett Ratner's movies, but when the director of Rush Hour 3 decided to start a publishing imprint, his choice of film books proved impeccable.

Most folks would never dare to say that Mary Shelley and William Shakespeare 'accidentally crapped out masterpieces,' but then, isn't written by 'most folks.'

I've got good news and bad news for those of you currently experiencing financial hardships. The good news is that used bookstores and comic book shops are offering tax-free cash for your beloved collectibles. The bad news is, most of your 'collectibles' were mass-produced bestsellers and not really worth a damn.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Literary Quote of the Day

"It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." - Oscar Wilde

Bookstore Sales Drop 10%, But Half-Hearted, Half-Day Boycott Could Boost April's Numbers

This morning's Publishers Weekly reports that bookstore sales plunged 10.8% in February. While normally this would be cause for concern (especially considering the downward spiral of our current economy), in the heart of this underpaid bookstore employee, hope springs eternal.
Amazon's recent anti-gay "glitch". While highly offensive and completely inexcusable (well, one would've thought so, anyway), it did cause a momentary knee-jerk reaction among concerned Lefties. In a bold move that hearkened back to the Alabama bus boycotts, Twittering Liberals temporarily abandoned Amazon's ever-changing discounts and computer-generated 'personal recommendations' in favor of long-forgotten brick & mortar bookstores with their rectangular, rainbow window stickers and topical, 'What's Obama Reading?' end-cap displays. Granted, this self-aggrandizing, socio-economic, take-the-power-back stance only lasted until Amazon's spokesman, Drew Herdener, released a boardroom-backed apology excuse wherein he blamed it on a "cataloging error," but hey -- it might've been enough to shrink next month's sales drop to the single digits!
Here's hoping Amazon offends the Far Right next month.

Tuesday's Tips for Flailing Writers

Sex scenes can be messy, and not always in the good and gooey ways. Novelist Maeve Haran has trouble writing hers, as does Stiff author, Mary Roach. For a voyeuristic peek at their sinful solutions, click the highlighted links.

According to The Rejecter, Young Adult novels have evolved to the point where scenes involving sex, drugs, murder and torture are all considered perfectly acceptable. In fact, there's really only one thing that publishers won't accept in YA: P.W.P.

Over at, freelance manga translators Alethea and Athena Nibley have written an article examining the pros and cons of their writing work. While they admit that it's tiring and time-consuming, they still feel as if they're 'getting paid to have fun.'

The Book Deal is accepting proposal letters for free online critiquing. But before you send them anything, make sure to check out their article, The Book Proposal — Here’s What Publishers Want, for formatting and content tips. A little bit of homework could save you infinite internet embarrassment.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Behold, Feministsploitation!

Last month, comics analyst Noah Berlatsky wrote a highly addictive series of blog posts on Wonder Woman and the way that the character has evolved from a feminist and/or S&M icon into a bland, boobed Superman. Well, Berlatsky's back, and this time he's comparing the Steinem-approved aspects of Wonder Woman with the Pam Grier-packed world of Women In Prison films.
Behold, Feministsploitation!

Book News, In Brief

House star Hugh Laurie has a hit book on his hands. While Hollywood stars regularly grace the bestseller lists, Laurie's listing is unusual for two reasons: 1. The book isn't a memoir. 2. It isn't even new.

Author Colleen McCullough feels that a new, British adaptation of her novel, The Thorn Birds is a "vast improvement" over the US TV mini-series. But while McCullough has had a guiding hand in this adaptation, it may still feel unfaithful to the book's longtime fans. The reason why? It's a musical. has denied accusations that they'd purposefully removed books featuring 'adult content' from their sales rankings, claiming it was all a "glitch." Unsurprisingly, this "glitch" excuse has already been exposed as corporate PR b.s. According to author Mark R. Probst, when he contacted Amazon about his disappearing sales ranking, they told him that "In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude 'adult' material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists." Oh, and he's got the email to prove it.
Recent & related: The Kindle is Conservative!

The NYTimes has found a new way to write about the current economic crises: They're pontificating on its effect on publishing advances. An excerpt: In the latest of a string of eulogies for the book industry as we know it, Time magazine fingered advances as part of the “financial coelacanth” of publishing’s business model, doomed to disappear like brick-and-mortar bookstores. Yet despite the economic downturn, and the fact that 7 out of 10 titles do not earn back their advance, the system doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.