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“Horror Literature through History” an unexpected Amazon bestseller

Much to my surprise, a two-volume encyclopedia priced for institutional purchase by academic and public libraries has become a bestseller at Amazon. I don’t know the actual sales figures, and I’m sure they’re pretty small in terms of absolute numbers, since the book’s category (the history and criticism of horror and supernatural literature) is a rather narrow one. In other words, a book of this type probably doesn’t have to move many units in order to qualify as a bestseller. But for what it’s worth, for much of the past two weeks Horror Literature through History has hovered in the top ten books in that category, peaking at number six and then dropping much lower, but then spiking up again a few times. Amazon sold out of its original stock of the title and had to order more. A couple of days ago I saw that it was briefly flagged as the bestselling new encyclopedia of any kind. Currently those numbers have trailed off again.

In any event, I hadn’t expected so much interest from individual readers, given the book’s steep pricing. I’ve seen a couple of early readers among that crowd speaking glowingly of it in an online forum that I frequent, so that felt good. There’s a forthcoming interview with me about the project at a major horror website. I’m also slated to be interviewed on a major horror podcast a few days from now. I’ll post the links when they become available. In the meantime, if any of my Teeming Brain readers are among those who have purchased the encyclopedia, please know that I sincerely appreciate your interest and support, and I hope the book rewards your investment of time and money.

Update, October 17: The encyclopedia has also sold out at the website for Barnes & Noble.

Teeming Links – May 30, 2014

FireHead

Remember America’s “new oil boom” based on fracking? Well, you can say goodbye to it: the Energy Information Agency just downwardly revised its estimate of the amount of technically recoverable oil in America’s #1 shale reserve by 96 percent .

Check it out: a straightforward business interview with Ilidio F. Santos, an environmental consultant for the Angolan oil company Sonangol E&P, suddenly turns all doomer when Santos says human civilization is done for: “The more you study, the more you read, the more you discuss the environmental problems of the planet and its inhabitants (be they human or other), the more you understand that this is a lost cause. The human civilization is doomed in the decades to come, as there is no way that the people who have the power to stop the suicidal path understand the urgency and nature of the problem. Those who do not know about it at least live oblivious to the horror that will come to this planet in a few decades.” The interviewer responds by saying, “You are scaring me, Ilidio.” To which Santos replies, “Be scared!”

Superbug threat as grave as climate change, say scientists: “Superbugs resistant to drugs pose a serious worldwide threat and demand a response on the same scale as efforts to combat climate change, infectious disease specialists said on Thursday.”

Adventures in the Land of Illness: A superb essay by Sam Harris, available in both audio and text form, about his recent experiences with ill health: “It has been interesting for me, as a proponent of science and skepticism, to experience the feelings of vulnerability and desperation that come with an illness for which science has no clear remedy or even a diagnosis. . . . As someone who will soon release a book about meditation, the illusion of the self, and the transcendence of unnecessary suffering, I feel I should offer some account of how my own mind has fared when tested in this way.”

CNN reports 50 percent chance of Armageddon-level asteroid strike in 2041. Or actually not. Seriously, not. (Maybe CNN should consider a name change and pay for the rights to an old HBO series title: “Not Necessarily the News.”)

Astronomer and astrobiologist Caleb Scharf explains why searching for extraterrestrial life yields enormous benefits here on earth: “[T]he cosmic sprawl can help us disentangle the complex terrestrial systems and histories of which we are a part. This is not a frivolous exercise. On the contrary, it could be the key to overcoming our scientific ignorance.”

The psychology of Soylent and the prison of first-world food choices: “Why are some repulsed by Soylent, but others desperate to receive their orders?”

The Internet as we know it is dying: Andrew Leonard explains how “Facebook and Google are killing the classic Internet and reinventing it in their image,” with nods to Amazon as well.

Dear graduates: A commencement speech for the mediocre: “Invariably, commencement speakers tend to be the lucky few, the ones who followed their dreams and still managed to land on their feet: Most of us won’t become Steve Jobs or Neil Gaiman, regardless of how hard we try or how much passion we might hold. It’s far more likely to get stuck working as a waiter or bartender, or on some other dead-end career path. Most people will have to choose between ‘doing what they love,’ and pursuing the more mundane promise of a stable paycheck and a promising career path. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making the latter choice; in fact, I’d usually recommend it.”

It’s been nearly 90 years since John Maynard Keynes started predicting the rise of a technologically enabled leisure society. And yet life in today’s high-tech America is a plague of busyness.

The Rise of Nintendo: A Story in 8 Bits: “From ‘Donkey Kong’ to the NES — how a Japanese company took over the American living room.”

A Beautiful Man: On Peter Parker and the Amazing Spider-Man: “[I]t’s not so much that Spider-Man was the superhero who could be you, though Lee used that very phrase in the comics. Spider-Man was one of the few superheroes who was more interesting than the supervillains he fought. . . . In his New York, he could be a most beautiful man, like Don Quixote or Jean Valjean or Samuel Pickwick — Dostoevsky’s three famous examples of the archetype — a figure whose greatest creation, born out of neurosis and genius, is himself.”

The Survivor: On Magneto, Mutants, and the Holocaust: “Magneto stands as . . . a rebuke to everyone who wishes to contain the lessons of the Holocaust, to everyone who has a simple explanation for its occurrence, to everyone who wishes to valorize victimhood, to everyone who believes that survival is an unmitigated blessing. The X-Men movies and the comics tell you things you don’t want to hear, that Hitler won World War II, that the Holocaust never stopped happening, that it continues to happen and that it will keep happening.”

The Rosicrucian Vision: “Although the Rosicrucian philosophy was presented as a total package of religion, science, etc., it tended to divide into three different streams: first, there was the scientific, philosophical stream; secondly, the social and political stream; thirdly, the Hermetic-Cabalistic-Alchemical stream. . . .When we look at something like Rosicrucianism, or at the Templars or at Freemasonry or at the legends of the Holy Grail, we are looking at the tip of an iceberg. I believe that behind these phenomena lies a very ancient current. What precise form it takes I know not, but I believe that every so often in human history this current comes to the surface.”

The Elf Whisperer of Iceland: “The whole affair, from the cause célèbre behind the protest (Save the Elves?!) to the government’s eventual acquiescence, is indicative of the unusual and complicated relationship Iceland has with elves and other hidden people. Jónsdóttir was advocating for the lives of invisible tiny beings that most of us associate with building Santa’s toys . . . and the government listened.”

 

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why I’m fed up with Amazon

Night_Sky_with_Stars

In the past I have both 1) praised Jeff Bezos for displaying what looks like a true love of books and reading, and 2) highlighted Amazon’s bullying and heavy-handedness in the publishing industry by linking to Steve Wasserman’s damning 2012 article “The Amazon Effect,” in which Wasserman, the former editor of the Los Angeles Times Books Review, explains how his early positive view of Bezos and Amazon soured over time as it became evident that the company is intent on “bulldozing any real or perceived obstacles to its single-minded pursuit of maximum clout” by imposing “increasingly harsh terms on both its competitors and its clients.”

Recently it’s looking like the scale has tipped definitively in favor of the negative judgment on both Bezos and his company. Or at least that’s my take, which is based on the fact, revealed just last week, that Amazon is now flat-out blackmailing publishers and authors into complying with their draconian demands by charging higher prices and delaying shipments for products from companies that resist them. Various other tactics are also involved, such as removing entire promotion pages for some books. What’s more, Amazon isn’t afraid to play this kind of hardball with books by big-name authors. Titles by J. K. Rowling, Anne River Siddons, and James Patterson are among those that have been affected.

Says The New York Times‘ David Streitfield and Melissa Eddy:

Amazon’s power over the publishing and bookselling industries is unrivaled in the modern era. Now it has started wielding its might in a more brazen way than ever before. Seeking ever-higher payments from publishers to bolster its anemic bottom line, Amazon is holding books and authors hostage on two continents by delaying shipments and raising prices. The literary community is fearful and outraged — and practically begging for government intervention. . . . No firm in American history has exerted the control over the American book market — physical, digital and secondhand — that Amazon does.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m personally fed up with this kind of crap, and this feeling applies to more than just the Amazon situation. Amazon is emblematic of a major cultural shift that has taken place in the Internet era as megacorporations representing various sectors of the business world and cultural life at large have attempted to hold us all hostage by playing an egregiously monopolistic game. And it all seems doubly sinister in a way that’s distinct from the monopolies of a past age, since this time the imperialistic and totalitarian business practices are hitched to, and also — or so the corporate titans hope — enabled and sweetened by, the digital-populist tone of “personal freedom and empowerment” that still attends the Internet like a lingering morning mist at midday.

This kind of thing makes me remember all over again why I ditched Facebook and Twitter. Among other reasons, I just got sick of being a willing pawn in the war of the Digital Overlords, where my personal data and decisions are used as leverage and ammunition. I’ve been thinking for many months that it may be time to ditch Amazon as well, and this recent revelation adds some serious weight to that consideration. This would of course mean going back and removing all of the Amazon affiliate links here at The Teeming Brain. I also own a Kindle and subscribe to Prime, so, you know, I’m pretty deeply entangled. And don’t think for a minute that I’m not aware of the tarry syrup of irony that automatically coats every word I type here, on a blog, using a computer that’s running a Windows operating system, thus reinforcing the basic thrust of the entire digital economy and cultural technopoly that I’m ostensibly criticizing.

I would be interested to hear anybody’s thoughts on this issue. Is Amazon really a tyrant? Would a personal boycott be advisable? Would it even be meaningful? More broadly, is the future just a giant playing field for megacorporations where the role of us peasants is simply to be trampled underfoot while saying thank you for it?

Image courtesy of mack2happy / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Recommended Reading 11

This week’s reading covers: social, political, economic, and cultural craziness and breakdown in America and Europe; a dystopian view of smartphones; an official CDC denial of a zombie holocaust in the wake of horrific incidents flooding the American media; the possible action of quantum effects in the macro-world; a cogent criticism of scientistic materialism in light of psychedelic experience and the mystery of consciousness; stories about and interviews with several leading figures in the new philosophy-spirituality-consciousness movement; a deep look at the economic imperialism of Amazon and the future of reading; thoughts from C.S. Lewis on why it’s always important to read old books along with new ones; and thoughts on the death of Ray Bradbury.

Read the rest of this entry

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos actually *gets* books and their value

Photo: Jeff Bezos

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos displays a Kindle

I’ve been quite enthusiastic about the Kindle and the e-reading revolution ever since buying a Kindle DX last year. I’ve also been pleased at the way Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos continues to say things that demonstrate his authentic commitment to positioning the Kindle as a device that doesn’t destroy the reading experience but instead preserves what’s most valuable about it.

Case in point: In connection with yesterday’s release of the most affordable Kindle yet, Bezos spoke to USA Today this morning about the stunning growth of the e-book market. And what he said indicates that both his head and his heart are in the right place regarding books and reading and their translation into a new digital environment:

USA TODAY: Why not add multimedia to e-books?

JEFF BEZOS: You want to enter the author’s world, the great novel or engaging non-fiction narrative. In the case of a physical book, you’re not noticing the stitching and the glue and the paper and the ink. That all disappears. We’re always trying to make Kindle get out of the way.

If it’s a book about music history, having music people can play at certain points in the book can be useful. Maybe biology textbooks can benefit from certain animations. You’re not going to make Hemingway better by adding animations.

— “Volume of Kindle book sales stuns Amazon’s Jeff Bezos,” USA Today, July 29, 2010

To which I reply: Yes! And not just because I agree passionately with the idea Bezos is advancing, but because I’ve actually experienced that disappearing of the physical technology and absorption into the author’s world that Bezos describes and the Kindle successfully accomplishes. Books have always done this. It’s their signature magical power. I well remember Stephen King describing his own experience of test driving a Kindle a couple of years ago, before I bought mine. He specifically highlighted the aspect of the experience that we’re talking about here:

Will Kindles replace books? No. And not just because books furnish a room, either. There’s a permanence to books that underlines the importance of the ideas and the stories we find inside them; books solidify an otherwise fragile medium.

But can a Kindle enrich any reader’s life? My own experience — so far limited to 1.5 books, I’ll admit — suggests that it can. For a while I was very aware that I was looking at a screen and bopping a button instead of turning pages. Then the story simply swallowed me, as the good ones always do. I wasn’t thinking about my Kindle anymore; I was rooting for someone to stop the evil Lady Powerstock. It became about the message instead of the medium, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

— “Stephen King: Books with Batteries — Why Not?“, Entertainment Weekly, January 23, 2008

And now, of course, the necessary disclaimers or caveats: Yes, I’m aware of the problems involved with Amazon’s insistence on using their proprietary, DRM-protected .azw e-book format instead of something that’s cross-usable like e-pub. Yes, I’m aware of the financial problems they’ve caused for book publishers by pricing most e-books at $9.99. Yes, I’m aware of the valid concerns about their odd new semi-incarnation not just as a bookstore but as a by-God publisher or publishing adjunct, which seriously muddies the waters of the publishing world, and especially the part having to do with the role, status, and ultimate fate of authors.  Scott Turow, who’s currently serving as president of the Authors Guild, talked to NPR two days ago about Amazon’s shocking new deal with the Wylie Agency. He called Amazon the “behemoth” behind the current turmoil in the publishing world, and identified them as the entity that really needs to get sand kicked in its face instead of the authors whom he says are suffering.

So all of this is duly noted. But nevertheless, I think a long-term e-book revolution is clearly inevitable — barring, that is, a (semi-possible) return to pre-industrial technological conditions within the next century or so — and so it’s great to know that a behemoth like Amazon is helmed by somebody who actually respects and loves reading in itself, and disdains the possible corruption and devolution of the printed word into a mere adjunct to whiz-bang digital videos and music and such.

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Image credit: aamazon_0622, used under Creative Commons from TimYang.net