Dog-Eared and Dispatched: November 10, 2013It’s been a week of triumphs and ongoing trials in the wild world of book culture, literary citizens. We begin with a recap of James Patterson Day, Washington, D.C.’s newest holiday. Next, we report on Mackenzie Bezos’s one-star review of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon . Meanwhile, independent bookstores continue their efforts to stay afloat at home and abroad through fundraising efforts, unionized strikes, and government initiatives. Finally, poet Margaret Atwood gives her eight stanzas’ worth on why she now blurbs exclusively for the dead.
Washington, D.C. held its first annual James Patterson Day on Monday, November 4. Spearheaded by Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilman Jack Evan , the celebration honored Patterson’s decision to donate books to every middle school in the District of Columbia (approximately 4,000 titles) and for his “positive portrayal” of Washington, D.C. in his Alex Cross detective series . The festivities began with Patterson’s visit to Stuart Hobson Middle School, where the official christening of the day took place. Following this, Patterson headed to the Library of Congress to speak at the 2013 Literacy Awards. During his speech, Patterson discussed the connection between reading and critical thinking, the instrumental role parents play in helping their children become lifelong readers, and the importance of humor in both literature and everyday life: “Growing competent readers can only happen with the right stimuli. We need to pay attention to what [kids] want to read. It’s important not to turn them off . . . I love the idea of reaching kids with humor. There should be more humor in life, and certainly in books.” At this same event, the Library of Congress named Patterson the Champion of the Young Readers Center, a five-year-old reading room that is entirely open to the public sans library cards or age restrictions. [Publisher’s Weekly, Shelf Awareness]
While Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has garnered much public attention these past few months (if not these past few years), it is his wife MacKenzie Bezos who has earned the scrutiny of the press this week. A novelist herself, Ms. Bezos stepped into the limelight following her decision to evaluate former New York Times reporter Brad Stone’s nonfiction book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Little, Brown) , giving the publication a one-star review on Amazon’s website (which, at the time, was the only review available for the book) . Within her write-up, Ms. Bezos states, “Everywhere I can fact check from personal knowledge, I find way too many inaccuracies, and unfortunately that casts doubt over every episode in the book .” Little, Brown publisher Reagan Arthur replied to these accusations by stating that the manuscript was “scrupulously sourced and reported,” with a note included in the preliminary pages of the work acknowledging how Mr. Bezos declined to be interviewed. “Many interviews [were] with current Amazon executives and former Amazon executives,” Stone explained within his own written response, going on to say, “Most of the readers and reviewers have been inspired by Amazon’s story. To me, it’s not an unflattering account.” Former Amazon Executive Shel Kaplan has backed Stone’s assertions about the book’s objective nature, stating, “I spent considerably more time in the Amazon work environment during those years than MacKenzie Bezos did. By and large I found Mr. Stone’s treatment of that which I know firsthand to be accurate — at least as accurate as it is possible to be at this great a remove, and with no contemporaneous documentation of the early chaotic days or access to certain of the principals.” Melville House Managing Editor Dustin Kurtz conveyed a similar, albeit more facetious, opinion as well, stating, “We are not what you might call ‘fans’ of Amazon over here. You might say that we don’t ‘respect’ the company or that we ‘think they are an agent of selfishness, poverty and the death of literature’ and that we ‘hope somebody gave Jeff Bezos cat poop hidden in a Tootsie Roll wrapper for Halloween.’ The point being, if Stone’s book had been a fiery takedown of Bezos and his cruel empire, nobody would be happier than us. It is not. Instead, it is a remarkably even-handed look at a divisive figure. Stone clearly admires Bezos and what he’s accomplished, but is willing to recognize the greed, cruelty and, elitism that drives company and man.” [Shelf Awareness, The New York Times, The Wrap, Melville House]
Revolution Books , an independent bookstore located in Manhattan, has become a beacon of hope for indie bookstores everywhere following the fundraising campaign that earned them $32,299. With an original goal of $30,000, this summer fundraiser was put in motion as a way for the bookstore to keeps its West 26th Street residency. Part of these fundraising efforts consisted of hosting an authors series called “Hidden Lives, Human Possibilities: Authors Present to Save Revolution Books ,” and included such names as Edwidge Danticat , Walter Mosley , and Henry Wiencek. This kind of campaign is only one example within the growing revolution of independent bookstores over the past few years—stores that are saying “no” to attempts by Amazon to lure them into the fold and instead seeking out greater partnership and advocacy from among their authors and readers . This quest doesn’t end in the United States, either: both Quebec and France are facing book culture crises of their own. In Quebec, nearly one-third of Renaud-Bray bookstores went on strike this week, with CBC News reporting that unionized workers are “demanding higher wages, more control of their work schedules, and recognition of their job skills as booksellers.” Meanwhile, centuries-old Parisian bookstores are battling for survival against Amazon.com, with the French government discussing the implementation of laws that would make free book shipments and a number of other book-related discounts prohibited. [GalleyCat, Publisher’s Weekly, CBC News, Global Post]
Send your requests elsewhere, publishers, because Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood has said good-bye (and good riddance) to the blurb. The discovery of Ms. Atwood’s refusal to pen praise for her fellow authors came to light when Melville House received a letter outlining Atwood’s policy in the form of a poem (included below) . A less lyrical explanation of her policy can be found under the FAQ section of Ms. Atwood’s website , wherein the author writes, “It takes four to six hours to read the book, and I get 10 or so of these requests a week. Multiply 5 hours times 10 requests and you get a 50-hour a week job. Choosing a few of the books to blurb doesn’t make things much easier, partly because it takes a long time to make a well-informed choice, and partly because choosing between books is akin to choosing which of your two sisters should be your maid of honor . . . no matter what you do, someone’s bound to have their feelings hurt.” [GalleyCat, Melville House]