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Reviews in Haiku #8

It was a short month, but there were plenty of reviews to haikuify.

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Bloodline

Dracula sequel?

better than I would have guessed

this was not Twilight

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The Unit

isn’t too unique

good read if you’re up for it

at least it is fun

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Plain Pursuit

vapid and trite trash

paper dolls could emote more

books should welcome thought

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Going Rogue

Marcos gets ranty

but he kept his points valid

ha! moose excrement

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Fun With Problems

Stone’s best writing is

all about the dalliance

too bad he needs plot

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The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death

Nico: not impressed

ending fizzles out badly

won’t get an Edgar

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Worlds at War

top-notch history

comprehensive as all heck

Pagden spins a yarn

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Read This Book Now Series

Malcom X and Reap

led off our months-long series

oh, what will come next?

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Wednesday Links 2-24-10

Exactly How Bad a Writer Is Douglas Preston?

Douglas Preston is a jerk and an author who gets his jollies by viciously insulting his readers, and then continuing to insult them.

I’ve ranted twice about Preston in the past two weeks, and I’ve called him a hack more than once. I wanted to see just how good or bad a writer he is, so I borrowed one of his ebooks (Riptide) from the library. Turns out he’s pretty bad, and I’m going to show you exactly why. This probably won’t be the last time I make fun of Preston, but considering he still hasn’t apologized for insulting his readers (and pretty much all readers of ebooks), he’s got some insults coming his own way.

The point of this isn’t (just) to mock Preston because he’s a hypocritical, self-righteous blowhard who’s trying to exploit his readers instead of appreciating them. It’s also to put the lie to Preston’s comments about how readers don’t want to pay “the real price” for his books. Going by these passages, his readers are, in fact, significantly overpaying.

(This book, and most of Preston’s, are co-written by Lincoln Child, who didn’t insult his own readers. But he did sign off on this insultingly condescending open letter, so he’s guilty of at least aiding and abetting.)

Let’s have some fun.


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Douglas Preston (Jerk) Comes Crawling Back to His Readers

Douglas Preston: Still a jerk, now a much more careful jerk

An arrogant hack author named Douglas Preston appeared in a New York Times article two weeks ago, wherein he said that readers who wanted ebook editions of his book (and wanted them for less than the cost of the hardcover) were astonishingly entitled and, quite literally, he accused them of making America unhealthy.

So. That ticked some people off—including me. Two weeks later, Preston has realized that maybe he shouldn’t run around insulting his customers, and he has now offered up a half-assed backpedal (via), in which he attempts to mollify his readers with about half a Hallmark card’s worth of affection. He succeeds, however, only in proving he thinks his readers are stupid enough to believe his obvious lies.

Chris Meadows at TeleRead debunks Preston’s turnaround pretty thoroughly. I just want to add a couple of “how stupid does he think we are?” points about both the statement and his other new comments:

  • Preston never apologizes. He should apologize.
  • Preston says he wants to make money for Wal-Mart. In his original comments, he said “the Wal-Mart mentality…is very unhealthy for our country.” Is this a joke?
  • He says he has no control over pricing or windowing (the practice of delaying ebook releases to force people to buy hardcovers), then says he supports windowing. He uses movies as an example of windowing, but fails to mention that movies in a theater offer more value and a different experience than DVDs, while hardcover vs. ebook editions of books offer exactly the same experience (and the people who disagree can still buy the hardcover).
  • In his statement, he says, “We want to write the best books we can.” Uh, no. If that was true, you’d spend longer than 9 months apiece on them.
  • He says he wants his “publishers to make [his books] available to you in the format in which you prefer to read them.” Come on, Preston, you’re not even trying.
  • And, of course, the ultimate lie: “From our perspective, the most important element in all this is you, the reader.” What does it mean when my BS detector shrieks and then melts?

Look, Preston, here’s the thing: you write books because they make you money. You hate ebooks because you think you’ll make less money on them. You hate your readers because they want ebooks, and because they don’t like being bossed around, or being told they’re stupid and greedy.

You grudgingly crapped out this… this statement, whatever it is (not an apology), in which you transparently lie and say you like your readers. Hopefully, it’s not fooling anybody, but TechDirt put this news in the “good-for-him dept,” so you got at least one. Basically, you’re a jerk. But now you’re being slightly more diplomatic about it.

Listen, you owe your readers nothing less than a debt of immense gratitude, especially if they’ve allowed you to write full-time and make a decent living at it. You should be fighting your publisher to give your readers what they want. They don’t want free books, and they don’t want to rip you off. They just want a fair deal, and when you call that “entitlement,” you should come crawling back on your knees and beg for their forgiveness. Instead you throw this sloppy mess of platitudes at them. It makes me furious, and I’ve never given you a dime.

OK, deep breaths.

The person I really feel sorry for is Lincoln Child, Preston’s writing partner, who hasn’t said anything stupid about this. But then, he’s worked with this colossal jerk for years, so… I guess he’s not entirely innocent.

Read This Book Now, Part 2: Reap

This is the second installment of our new series, “Read This Book Now.” Put aside everything you’re doing and read Reap immediately. (See the other entries here.)

Reap, by Eric Rickstad, is a coming of age story set in rural Vermont, where life is bleak and there is little hope of a future.  Jessup Burke, an easily distracted, over-trusting youth stumbles into the company of Reg Cumber, a callous ex-con who introduces him into a ruined and paranoid world of drug trafficking.

Reg and Jessup’s worlds intersect when Reg nearly runs down Jessup with his car.  Reg, a mechanic by trade, pledges to resurrect Jessup’s inoperable Vega.  Lured by prospect of finally being able to visit his out-of-state girlfriend, Jessup agrees to work for Reg, unaware at first that he’s getting paid for harvesting and transporting drugs.  Despite sudden moments of fear and unease, Jessup welcome’s Reg’s company, and soon the older man is introducing him to abusing booze and weed.

Rickstad captures the youth and innocence of Jessup, his habit of daydreaming and mooning over his girlfriend, Emily, without being sappy or sentimental.  Jessup’s character undergoes complex changes as he is gradually corrupted.  As Jessup sheds his adolescence, Rickstad (with wonderful directness and careful prose) allows him to grow increasingly aware of some of his circumstances while retaining a boyish obliviousness to others.
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J.K. Rowling Sued Again + Other News

J.K. Rowling

Not really a full links post, but a few things caught my eye this morning. So here we go.

First of all, J.K. Rowling has been sued for plagiarism, again, hilariously. This time the plaintiff is the estate of a writer who died thirteen years ago. They claim she stole from a 36-page pamphlet called “The Adventures of Willy the Wizard.”

The entire case rests not on copied passages, but on the fact that “both Willy and Harry [are] required to solve a task as part of a contest, which they achieve in a bathroom assisted by clues from helpers.”

So, your case rests on the word “bathroom.” Good luck.

My other favorite line from that story is the estate’s PR guy (not lawyer) saying: “‘All of Willy the Wizard is in the Goblet of Fire.’” That’s a joke, right? Because “Willy” is only 36 pages long? Right?

And there’s a lot of other funny stuff in the Guardian piece. In other news:

  • Engadget reports the new iRex ereader is finally coming out, only four months late. This new model, the cutely named DR800SG, is notable because it costs less than $800, and it gives Engadget a chance to backhand the stupid Nook by calling the iRex “Barnes & Noble’s first big play in the space.” Since it has a stylus-driven touchscreen, file it under Y for Yet another reason not to get a QUE.
  • And, finally, The Rapture, one of my favorite bands, says this about their upcoming release:

“Our new album’s gonna be fucking 100 times better than the iPad,” [band member Gabe Andruzzi] jokes. “With this record you’re going to be interfacing with your soul in ways that have never happened before.”

So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

REVIEW: Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West

This book has been chosen as  a Great Read

Author: Anthony Pagden

2008, Random House

Filed under NonfictionHistorical

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 10

So I’ll say right away that I really enjoyed Worlds at War (I’ve nominated it a Great Read). I don’t have much experience with history books, so writing this review was a tad tricky. It would take 3000 words to summarize this book even cursorily, so I can’t do that.  Therefore, this review is pretty short, but please don’t mistake my brevity for disregard.
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REVIEW: The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death

[2010 Edgar Award nominee for Best Novel] — I’m reading all the Edgar nominees in the top two categories (Best Novel, Best First Novel By An American Author), and handicapping the choices before the winners are announced in late April. You can track all my reviews of Edgar nominees here.

Author: Charlie Huston

Ballantine Book, 2009

Filed under: Mystery

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 4

After I finished Mystic Arts, I was shocked to discover that it was Huston’s ninth novel, and not his first. It reads like a talented but inexperienced student wrote it; it bears almost every sign and symptom of a juvenile writer’s work. That’s not all bad: while Huston is guilty of simplicity of plot and character (especially emotional simplicity), he also charges the novel with exuberance and passion.

While Mystic Arts isn’t exactly well written, it offers stylish fun, snappy prose, and a flair for the fascinatingly gruesome. It’s a quick-reading, simplistic yarn that primarily wants to entertain you—a goal that’s all too rare these days. And it succeeds, at least until the final act, when the plot finally unravels and leaves the reader in the lurch.


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Read This Book Now, Part 1: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

This is the first part of our new series, “Read This Book Now.” Each week, for the next few months, one of our contributors will recommend a single book. Put aside everything you’re doing and read it immediately.

I found The Autobiography of Malcolm X on the sale table of an Orlando bookstore. Years earlier, a friend of mine had read it for class—he called it the greatest thing he ever read—and told me it should be at the top of my reading list. I took his reaction for hyperbole, and ignored his suggestion. But when I saw The Autobiography of Malcolm X on sale, I thought, “What the heck? For $4.99, why not?”

I like books, but I have never reacted to a book the way I did to The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It was all I could think about. For weeks, my conversations with co-workers all started with the phrase “When Malcolm X was….” I carried the book in my back pocket and read it whenever I had a free minute. It took over my life in a way that no book ever had, or has since.

I wasn’t sure why the book captivated me the way it did. There are very few similarities between Malcolm X and I, and he doesn’t seem like a person with whom I would immediately identify. Yet I did.

In retrospect, I believe that my love for this book came from my background in literature. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the closest thing to an epic we have in American literature, and Malcolm X is the closest we have to an epic hero. (I know, you’re going to make the case for Moby Dick or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and you may have a point. But this is my review, so I stand by my assertion.)


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REVIEW: Fun With Problems

Author: Robert Stone

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010

Filed under: Literary, Short Stories

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 5

In this collection, Stone is at his best when he’s dallying. Whether it’s an old lush sitting around, freaking people out, or a foolhardy suburban warrior stumbling drug-addled toward some quixotic goal, Stone excels at the second act. He runs into problems after that.

For most of these stories, Stone uses an odd pattern to build twisting, dogleg plots. We start with a man, a lawyer or a writer or a professor, who’s an incorrigible womanizer and a drunk or a druggie. After a length of time establishing a premise (and dallying magnificently), the story veers off in some wild way and leaves that premise—and often the main character—behind.

Sometimes the veering off involves a new point of view, sometimes a new location, sometimes an entire set of new characters. A couple of the stories here, most notably the title piece, “Fun With Problems,” succeed (more or less) with their cutback plot twists. More often, though, the narrative runs off the track, gets lost, and then lays down and dies.

So, while Stone’s writing, and especially his dialogue, are characteristically excellent, Fun With Problems is unsatisfying because the stories’ arcs so often bewilderingly abandon their first halves.


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