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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Shall You Read A Classic Or Something New?




One of the oldest bookstores in New York City, Argosy Book Store, established in 1925, sold me a copy of Cyclopedia of World Authors.  How fitting that I bought a used book from 1958 about hundreds of famous authors from the well-worn shelves of the vintage shop.

Argosy Book Store, near where I work on East 59th Street in New York City, sells old and rare books, antique maps, fine prints and autographed books.  Not quite as popular as Strand Book Store, it is nevertheless a pleasant midtown oasis for the discerning bibliophile.

The book that I purchased came with a book mark that was adorned with the words of Virginia Wolf that resonate today when one reflects on the experience of browsing at a used bookstore;

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books, they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feathers, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.  Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”

The book that I hold in my hands features 753 condensations of authors’ lives that give illuminating facts about their philosophy, writing perspectives, and temp of the periods they wrote in.  For just 15 bucks I got to smell the past.  Literally.  Just flipping the yellowing pages reminded me of when I’d rummage through the bookshelf of my grandmother’s books.

This book represents another era, published by Harper & Row. Though published 60 years ago, it includes many authors we’d still consider important and relevant, from Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Browning, and Albert Camus to Marcus Cicero, Daniel Defoe, and Benjamin Franklin.

What’s interesting about this book is it attempts to introduce the writers of influential books where the writers come from all over the country and world, and represent thousands of years of writings.  The accompanying biographies not only include greatest works and basic details of the writers, but rather, they seek to tell a story that gives context to their writings and puts their work into a historical perspective.

However, the book fails to show by what litmus test the editors and contributors employed to figure out who is worthy of inclusion.  Such a book, if published today, would be burdened to judge not only all of the books of the distant past but the millions of volumes that have exploded in recent decades. It’s almost an unmanageable task.

It gets harder and harder to rank the most important authors, or even the best books – of an era, genre, or of all time.

I also think that the more emphasis we give to a canon of hand-picked books, such as Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities, the more we limit ourselves from experiencing other books that could be just as worthy and maybe even more relevant to us today.  If we don’t explore new books will we be relegated to the past works of great authors, leaving us in a time warp?

Great books teach us important lessons or awaken us to certain philosophies, tap into deep emotions, make us laugh uncontrollably, or explore fantasies guilt-free.  Whatever books can do for us, will we always find what we need in the so-called classics, or do we need to constantly revise that list and measure them to the newest generation of books?

This can be said of music, movies, television, and other forms of cultural art and content.  We must honor the past and take from it what we can, but we also must be open to recognizing the newly published classic right before us.

I find combing through the Cyclopedia of World Authors both overwhelming and comforting.  It burdens me to think there are at least 750 authors, each with several, if not, dozens of books, worth reading.  I could never in my lifetime get to all of their books – and certainly would have no time to explore any books that were published after 1958.

But it also comforts me to know that self-selected experts and book lovers could come together and, narrow down, from all of the books ever written and salvaged, a list of books and authors deemed significant and worthy of our attention.  By just reading about them, one can start to absorb the messages and principles espoused in the words of these authors, all of them dead and long gone.

This book allows me to fall back in love with George Orwell, Alexander Pope, Arthur Miller, Dostoyovsky, Hugo, and Edgar Allan Poe while discovering so many authors I never heard of or couldn’t recall having read, including Llewelyn Powys, Fernando De Rojas, Sappho, and Torquato Tasso.

What should you read next?  Will it be today’s best-seller, a university press title, or a self-published collection of poetry?  Or will it be a book from another century?  Mix it up and discover your own canon of great books.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource."

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Interview with author Donald Pitts



Pam Smith and the Phantom Church: The Lamb and the Dragon II

Donald Pitts has a very unique way of telling his tale about good versus evil, sharing his beliefs on spiritual warfare in his Christian fiction series The Lamb and the Dragon. Pitts is an ordained Pastor at two churches, and has multiple degrees including a Master’s in Theology and a Bachelor’s in Education. See: Amazon


1.      What really inspired you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and conveying it into a book? I wanted to make readers aware of Spiritual Warfare, which is the belief that forces of good and evil are in constant battle. If we could see in the heavenlies for a split second, we would see angels and demons battling over our very souls. “Pam Smith and the Phantom Church” introduced readers to this notion and the fight that is taking place.

2.      What is it about and whom do you believe is your targeted reader? It’s centered on a classic story of good versus evil. My book is written in such a way that ages from 13 on up can read, understand and appreciate this harrowing tale.

3.      What do you hope will be the everlasting  thoughts for readers who finish your book? What should remain with them long after putting it down? No matter what obstacles we have to overcome, we can see our dreams come true. Also, that spiritual warfare is real in the natural world as well as the supernatural. It is a current and present danger that should be taken seriously.

4.      What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers? Pursue, Persevere, Pray.

5.      What trends in the book world do you see and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? I see more audio books and eBooks becoming more popular. Additionally, publishers are more willing than ever to help the first-time author. Since the 1960’s, and up until recently, publishing companies were owned by a handful of large conglomerates based in New York and London. Today, thanks to technology – eBooks, audio books, etc.—unknown authors can get published at a more local level through self-publishing companies.

6.      What great challenges did you have in writing your book? In 1996 I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease, an inner ear disorder affecting hearing and balance. There’s no cure. It took me 18 years from start to finish writing my first novel. My current book only took about two years to complete.

7.      If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours? readers like “Harry Potter”, they will love my book. Talking frogs and flying brooms aren’t real but angels and demons are real. My book conveys that in a fun and interesting style.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource."

Friday, February 23, 2018

Misadventures In The English Language



It’s always a joy to curl up with a book like Caroline Taggart’s Misadventures in the English Language.  If you love words, as I do, you’ll enjoy this lively look at vocabulary, punctuation, parts of speech, sentence structure, the creation of new words and all things English.

If you want to know what kind of writer Caroline is, let her say it in her words:  “I believe in precise language, the right word in the right place.  I think it’s a shame to lose nuances (such as the much argued-over differences between uninterested and disinterested) for want of paying a little attention, punctuation is there to help convey meanings; so is correct spelling.  Obeying grammatical rules can help avoid ambiguity – if you say what you mean, you don’t have to shrug and say, “Well, you know what I mean.’”

She proposes a short list of expressions she’d love to see disappear, including:

·         The elephant in the room.
·         Firing on all cylinders
·         On message
·         Seeing how it will pan out.
·         Win-win situation.
·         Taking your eye off the ball.

She also notes how words can be confusing:

·         Apprise (advise) vs. appraise (assess).
·         Averse vs. adverse.
·         Disinterested vs, uninterested.
·         Imply vs. infer.

Her book dances with split infinitives dangling participles, auxiliary verbs, and all facets of grammar.  But it doesn’t come off as elitist, boring, or stuffy.  She makes it fun to understand the building blocks of our language.

She also throws some foreign words at us that have been adopted into our lexicon, from vendetta and schlep to tete-a-tete and schaden freude (German expression:  the pleasure we feel at someone else’s misfortune).

Early on she discusses how new words - or neologisms -- come to be and notes how we get them from a variety of sources, including:

·         New coinages that cover new inventions, discoveries, or developments-television, amphetamine, Internet.
·         Words formed from amalgamating two or more existing words -- workaholic, brunch, blog, motel.
·         Words adopted from others languages, such as foods (spaghetti) or other fashions, utensils, building styles, etc.
·         They come from existing words whose meanings are now applied to some new phenomena, such as satellite, disc, file, forum or avatar -- all words that had been used for something different than how we think of them today.

I leave you with a few passages that cover topics that may interest you:

Apostrophes
If we were to abandon them, think what confusion there would be in the use of words such as wont, cant, well, ill, hell, shell and were.  Okay, it is not difficult to tell from the context the difference between, say, We found a pretty shell on the beach and if you ask her nicely, shell drive you to the station, or Hell for leather and Hell be with you in a minute.  But, as with my ‘I was in a state of course’ example earlier, it might make a reader pause for a moment to work out what you mean.  That would interrupt the flow of his or her reading and, as an author, you don’t (donut) want that, do you?

Punctuation
Punctuation may be the bane of many people’s lives, but its intentions are entirely honorable: it’s there to help.  It should – it really should – clarify meaning, indicate emphasis, distinguish a statement from a question or an exclamation and show where one train of thought stops and another begins.

Spelling
We hear a lot about the illogicality of English spelling  - the many pronunciations of ough, for example (borough, bough, brought, cough, dough, rough, to name but six); the silent letters in castle, gnome, psychology and thumb; and the fact that mint doesn’t rhyme with pint while main rhymes with both rein and reign and row can rhyme with either cow or show, depending on whether you are having an argument or competing in a boat race.  It makes English a joy for lovers of puns and crosswords and something of an ordeal for foreigners.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource."

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Have You Tried Reading An Encyclopedia Of Literature?



Could one book properly catalog, identify, and detail all that makes up literature?

Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature attempts to do just that.  It’s book of over 1250 pages that captures more than 10,000 entries.  The entries cover names of authors, names of books, literary terms, topics from all eras, spanning all over the world, literary characters, and all things reflective of the diversity of literature through the ages.

Part-dictionary, part-encyclopedia, this thick tome provides coverage of all literary forms and genres, including novels, poems, essays, plays and literary criticism.  It presents facts and insights about a wide variety of literature, including science fiction, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, children’s literature and other forms of literature.

The book goes in-depth in its coverage, which includes:

·         Listings of literary landmarks, journals, prizes, and characters.
·         Plot summaries and dates of publication of major literary works.
·         Definitions, spellings, pronunciations, and the etymologies of literary terms.
·         Biographical sketches of authors, literary scholars, and literary theorists.

The copy of this edition that I came across at a used book store is from 1995 – nearly a quarter-century ago.  Clearly a lot more can be added and updated.  Perhaps some of it would be edited out, as time may obscure some of the entries.  But this book manages to tie the long ago past with the recent present, linking the Tales of the Genji or Wuthering Heights with Satanic Verses and 1984.  It connects Toni Morrison to Dante Alightes and it combines the mythological and folklore figures like Agamemnon with fictional characters such as Sam Spade or Heathcliff.  It also keeps us informed of literary styles and movements, such as Baroque and Transcendentalism and of literary terms like accentual verse, haiku, and intertextuality.

The book is merely alphabetized and not broken down into categories, time periods or any clearly defined category, which presents an overwhelming feeling for the reader to get a clear grasp of the literary universe.  But it does allow for instant, random learning of all things literature.  One minute you may read of Galt, a prolific Scottish novelist admired for his depiction of country life in the 1820’s and 1830’s, and the next moment your eyes are on text about interior monologue, which the book defines as: “A usually extended representation in monologue of a fictional character’s sequence of thought and feeling.”

Because it’s not ordered information – covering thousands of years, scores of nations, and mixing up authors with terms, books with movements, the book becomes more trivial than resourceful.  It’s for the ADHD-imparted pursuer of knowledge.  It’s fine if you need to look something up but to comb through it is challenging.  Still, I don’t deny the book’s utility and value, for it’s a wonderful effort out to compile a lot of interesting information.

Where else will you find a listing for a scholar like Samuel Johnson or Harold Bloom interspersed with a listing about The Kenyon Review, Hugo Award, and Zola?  Students, readers, writers, editors, and anyone interested in books will embrace this book even if they become frustrated by its unorganized, dense representation of literature.

The book combines two powerhouses – Merriam-Webster, Inc., founded in 1831 by the man who wrote the dictionary, Noah Webster, and Encyclopedia Brittanica, which, since 1768 became the oldest continuously published reference work in the English language.

I leave you with the lasting words of the book’s preface, written by the editor, Kathleen Kuiper:

“It is through the naming of objects, the telling of stories, and the singing of songs that we know ourselves and others.  Whether trickster tales or nursery rhymes are the first things we remember hearing, we have learned how to live our lives by means of narrative – the stories our mothers told us, the books our brothers and sisters read to us (and the volumes we chose to read to them), the holy books and textbooks we memorized as children and still recall with perfect clarity.  By these means we develop -- however weakly or strongly – our moral natures; we discover who we are and who we are not, what we would give anything to be and precisely what we would be willing to sacrifice to gain that prize.  We need stories and songs to live fully.

“Reference books are one of the most efficient means we have organizing what we know.  The most useful reference book on literature will help us find biographical data on the greatest writers of all places and all periods and on less-well-known contemporary writers, too.  It will remind us of the plots of favorite folktales as well as inform us of the significance of an epic novel.  It will introduce us to major literary characters, explain the meaning of a literary term, and describe the significance of a literary style or movement.  It will permit us to quickly review a mode of criticism and tell us precisely what the adjectival form of an author’s name is meant to convey.  If, in addition, it includes an etymology and gives us a clue about how to pronounce the subject at hand, then we have a satisfying book, a true companion.”

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource."

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future



I came across a book that was published in 2000: Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future. The author, Jason Epstein, was the right person to pen it nearly two decades ago.

The book offers insights as to how book publishing functioned, dating back to when the author broke in during the 1950s and even references how things were back in the 1920s. To now read a book nearly 20 years after it was written, one that tried to predict where book publishing was heading, is a very interesting exercise.

This book is an expanded version of three lectures that he had delivered in October 1999 at the New York Public Library, sponsored by the Center for Scholarship Writers.

Here are some selected excerpts from the book – I think you will find them revealing:

Movable Type to Electronic Books
1.      In the past dozen years movable type has been replaced by technologies that were unimaginable when I entered the book business in the 1950s.  Like the technologies of oral and written language and of movable type, these electronic technologies will radically change the way information is transmitted, stories are read, and cultures are formed.  Book publishing in the next ten or twenty years will be very different from the quaint trade that I entered fifty years ago.

Print on Demand Books
2.      Books as physical objects will not pass away to be replaced by electronic signals reader from glowing, hand-held screens. Nor will bookstores vanish.  But they will coexist hereafter with a vast multilingual directory of digitized texts, assembled from a multitude of sources, perhaps “tagged” for easy reference, and distributed electronically.  From this directory readers at their home computers may transfer the materials they select to machines capable of printing and binding single copies no demand at innumerable remote sites and perhaps eventually within their own homes.

A Concentration of Best-Selling Author Dominance
3.      Between 1986 and 1996 the share of all books sold represented by the thirty top best-sellers nearly doubled as retail concentration increased.  But within roughly the same period, sixty-three of the one hundred bestselling titles were written by a mere six writers, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton, and Danielle Steel – a much greater concentration than in the past and a mixed blessing to publishers, who sacrifice much of their normal profit, and often incur losses, to keep powerful authors like these.

Retail Booksellers in a Digital World
4.      It is less clear how new technologies will transform retail bookselling as the chains in their over-saturated marketplace face competition from Internet booksellers and the prospect of limitless virtual inventories available on demand in electronic or printed form at random locations.  These factors have already discouraged investment in the retail chains, whose share prices have stagnated at low levels.  Nonetheless, a civilization without retail booksellers is unimaginable.  Like shrines and other sacred meeting places, bookstores are essential artifacts of human nature.  The feel of a book taken from the shelf and held in the hand is a magical experience, linking writer to reader.  But to compete with the World Wide Web, bookstores of the future will be different from the mass-oriented superstores that now dominate the retail marketplace.  Tomorrow’s stores will have to be what the Web cannot be:  tangible, intimate, and local communal shrines, perhaps with coffee bars offering pleasure and wisdom in the company of others who share one’s interests, where the book one wants can always be found and surprises and temptations spring from every shelf.

A New Literary Culture
5.      In the technological future, readership of such books will expand as authors, with the help of editors and publicists, and no longer constrained by the turnover requirements of a physical marketplace, present their work directly to readers over the World Wide Web, where word of mouth is instantaneous, credible, and widespread.  Publishers had welcomed television as a powerful tool to promote their titles to the mass market created by the malls.  But television is a one-way medium addressed to an undifferentiated audience to which access is at the discretion of the broadcaster.  The Internet, by connecting readers and writers one on one, offers the possibility of almost limitless choice and foreshadows a literary culture thrilling if also alarming in its potential diversity.

A Consortium Sales Solution
6.      If publishers formed a consortium to sell their books directly to readers over the Internet, the logic of Internet marketing, to which middlemen are extraneous, would be acknowledged and the problem of insufficient margin would be overcome.  What I had in mind was a consortium open to all publishers, old and new, large and small, on equal terms.  This consortium would create a combined annotated catalog of all its titles and maintain warehouses where books from diverse publishers would be packed and shipped directly to Internet buyers.  The elimination of wholesalers and retailers would permit the consortium’s component publishers to reduce prices to consumers, pay higher royalties to writers, and increase their own margins.  To the extent that books are sold by the consortium directly to consumers, the problem of returns from overstocked retailers would also be eliminated.

The concept of such a consortium was simple.  To implement it proved impossible.  Though the Internet made such a consortium sooner or later inevitable, the conglomerate managers to whom I presented the idea were not enthusiastic, nor was Jeff Bezos when I suggested to him that a solution to his problem of insufficient margin might be to convert Amazon from a retailer to a brokerage, transmitting orders for a fee to a publishers’ consortium, if one could be arranged.

The Future
7.      My guess is that future publishing units will be small, though they may be related to a central financial source.  To the extent that writers deliver the contents of their minds directly to the minds of their readers over the Web, as Stephen King has done, such vestigial publishing work as marketing, sales, shipping, and warehousing together with their bureaucracies and inefficiencies can be minimized and assigned to specialist firms.  Book publishing may therefore become once more a cottage industry of diverse, creative autonomous units, or so there is now reason to believe.

According to the book’s flaps, here is what you need to know about the author:

“Jason Epstein has led arguably the most creative career in book publishing during the past half-century.  In 1952, while a young editor at Doubleday, he created Anchor Books, which launched the so-called quality paperback revolution and established the trade paperback format.  In the following decade he became cofounder of The New York Review of Books.  In the 1980s he created the Library of America, the prestigious publisher of American classics and The Reader’s Catalog, the precursor of online bookselling…


“For many years, Jason Epstein was editorial director of Random House. He was the first recipient of the National Book Award for Distinguished Service to American Letters and was given the Curtis Benjamin Award by the Association of American Publishers for “inventing new kinds of publishing and editing.”  He has edited many well-known novelists, including Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, E.L. Doctorow, Philip Roth, and Gore Vidal, as well as many important writers of nonfiction.”

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource."