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The Future of Barnes & Noble

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Barnes & Noble Sold

I just heard that Barnes & Noble was sold to Elliot, a venture capital firm that also owns the U.K. bookseller Waterstones.

I have had a tenuous, love/hate kind of relationship with B&N, and have blogged about it in the past. I’m not a fan of the way Barnes & Noble annihilated numerous other book retailers and mom&pop shops through the late 1990’s and 2K’s (similar to Blockbuster Video), but it’s nice to have an option besides Amazon if my local indie book seller can’t get what I want. Plus, I’m still one of those weirdos who reads “enthusiast magazines” and B&N is literally the only brick and mortar retailer I know who stocks a variety of those.

Venture capital firm purchases are almost always dicey, but at least B&N will still exist.

What I’d like to see happen

  • Get some personality: The pitch is a more “decentralized” model where the individual stores have a bit more autonomy. I think this is a great idea, and knowing some actual real-life B&N employees, I think its for the best. I have three Barnes & Noble in my general vicinity, and the one that does best allows its workers to inject personality and unique style into the space. It makes the place feel a bit more like a large indie book store, and feels inviting.
  • Re-focus on books: Get rid of the toys, games, Funko Pop figurines, and all that other junk, and add a wider selection of things to read! I’m still all for book-related gifts like Moleskines, bookmarks, and reading lights. That’s fine. But if I want vinyl I’ll go to a record store. Give me a horror and expanded literature section.
  • Kill the Nook: Just do it. Please. Put the thing into the landfill with all those copies of “E.T.” for the Atari.
  • Engage local reading and and writing communities: More local author readings, more book clubs, more big names stopping in on their book tours. All of it. Give readers a reason to drop by.

Better Than Nothing

I’m still a proponent of local independent bookstores over Barnes & Noble (support your local indie!) but it’s better than having no stores at all. Amazon is just the coldest experience possible. No tactile feel, no page whoosh, no book smell.

I guess we’ll see what the future holds for Barnes & Noble, and I hope it’s a turn for the better.

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Dealing with Racism in Genre Writing

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I’ve recently been reading The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard.

They were recommended to me by a friend after I mentioned enjoying other sword & sorcery stories such as “Conan”, “Kull”, and Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books.

The recommendation came with a caveat that some of the stories contained racist language and imagery. I’m not easily offended as a reader, so I felt fully prepared for it.

I was unprepared.

“The Moon of Skulls”, in particular, was a story I could barely finish. I forced myself to read it entirely, but I was completely disconnected from it once all the deeply racist imagery and description appeared. This was similar to certain stories I’ve read by H.P. Lovecraft, who, in addition to being a brilliant writer, was unfortunately a terrible xenophobe and bigot.

This post isn’t meant to be an examination of their beliefs. The guys were racist and wrong. Full stop.

What I want to understand is why the racist imagery struck me so hard, versus other books I’ve read like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Huck Finn.

I believe it is because those stories were consumed as Literature (with a capital L) and in a scholastic setting. There was discussion and analysis that framed the reading of the books, and the “language of the time” was part of that larger critical discussion. That Howard and company were “genre” authors shouldn’t diminish their stories or the impact of their language, but I it feels more jarring in writing intended primarily for “entertainment”.

I’m a firm believer that genre stories can tackle tough subject matter, including social issues and politics. That said, outlets like Weird Tales and other pulp magazines were very much intended as entertainment during their heyday around the 1920’s. The very concept of “pulps” identified that this was not literature or high-brow stuff. It is writing as pure escapism, and I often read it because I want to escape the depressing and nasty things delivered by the media in a seemingly never-ending stream these days. So for it to appear in my escapist pleasure reading, I was angry and turned off.

I’m interested to know how the rest of you handle language that is offensive or distressing to you when you come across it.

Do you continue reading and try to “separate the art from the artist”? Do you stop reading it and find something else? Do you throw the book across the room and recoil in terror? Although I finished that initial story, I skipped later ones where I saw racist text, since I knew I wouldn’t enjoy the stories.

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Colombian Donkey Libraries

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Every once in a while a story about books & reading comes along that I need to share.

This is one of them, and it restores my faith in humanity.

This guy has been traveling Colombia with his two donkeys for years, spreading the joy of reading to kids. This is a feel good story, and those “biblioburros” are even cooler than Bookmobiles.

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Why I Started Reading Less Books

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“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

Oh Mr. King, I still believe you, but so much has changed since 1999.

Enter…The eReader

Reading for pleasure is one of my favorite hobbies. I’ve always loved books, and in our hyper-paced, media-obsessed culture, I look to them for quiet solace and entertainment even more than I used to. They are also a source of inspiration to study of the craft or writing, particularly in my chosen genre.

So imagine how my reading life changed when I got a Kindle as a gift way back in 2012.

The thing was a revelation. So many books all at my fingertips, and so much easier to bring on vacation! Plus, that Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, and the untapped gold mine of authors giving away their books for FREE! What could be better?

Fast forward to 2017, and I’m totally burnt out on reading. My gusto to read has waned across all genres, but especially horror, and when I do pick up the Kindle, everything on it feels “same-y”. Yes, I am a writer and have mastered powerful descriptive techniques.

…And Then What Happened

After spending a few months with my Playstation in lieu of books, I got the hankering to read something new. Rather than immediately charge up the Kindle, I perused Reddit looking for book recommendations. I stumbled upon The Fisherman by John Langan, which ultimately became my 2017 Book of The Year (read it!)

It charted me on a new path with a huge revelation in the rear-view mirror. Moving forward, I would be extremely picky about which books I actually read, and consider each one as a valuable time investment.

Careful Curation

Reading less books is the last thing Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads want you to do. Right? They pummel you with nearly unlimited choices in an effort to get you just the right book to suit your fancy.

The fact is, they want your money. Quality (outside the measures of their algorithms) is fairly inconsequential to them. In fact, once you’ve bought the book, they don’t care if you read it or not.

I burned myself out reading too many crappy cheap and free books that were set up as “marketing funnels” (gross) or just tossed into the Amazon ebook digital sludge heap, and forgot what good stories were.

Aside: Yeah, I know there is this “anti-criticism” mentality in a lot of internet writing communities that masquerades as “only giving constructive criticism and support”. But lets get real, there are some BAD self-published and small-press books on Amazon. Ones with little thought or care put in before they got slapped up in the marketplace. I reserve my right to levy harsh criticism against anyone who is obviously just phoning it in. They hurt the rest of us who are legitimately trying.

I’m still refining my own system, but here are the key points I now read by:

  • I pay for books. Even if it’s a dollar. Print or ebook. Paying for the book creates a tangible relationship of value in my mind, and drives me to read what I purchase, no matter what I ultimately think about the book when I finish it.
  • I research before I buy. I’ve cut down on impulse purchases. They are almost exclusively limited to great sales on my various “Wish Lists”. Less books means a lower signal-to-noise ratio. Less choice equals greater happiness. I heard that in a TED Talk or something…
  •  I won’t finish what I don’t like. I am a horrible completionist. I used to keep reading books I didn’t like just to give myself closure, or under the pretense of “giving it a chance to get good”. No longer. Even my carefully chosen books must keep me interested, lest they be banished to the Forbidden Zone (a bottom bookshelf where my DNF pile goes to await library donation).
  • I study and contemplate what I read. I read much slower, and try to fully consume (mentally) what I read. Prose, theme, subtext. I give myself a few days in between books to really absorb and contemplate what I read. This is where I’m “reading like a writer” and gaining the takeaways to use in my own stories.

Not only have I re-discovered the pleasure of reading by reducing the number of books I pick up, but I’m also retaining far more of what I DO read, than when I was marathon’ing a bunch of stuff that just congealed into a Goodreads Annual Goal bar.

It came down to treating my reading time, and the books I choose, as a valuable commodities. Quality trumps quantity, always. There are now enough books on Earth to fill multiple human lifetimes, with more published every day. You should definitely be picky about the ones you choose to read in your own.

So here is Stephen’s quote again, updated for 2018.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot of carefully selected, high quality books, and write a lot.” – Stephen King & B.L. Daniels