Replacing Goodreads—

Sun 31 Mar 2013 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , | 10 Comments| Posted by: Gavin

Goodreads tells me I joined the site in December 2008 and that, weirdly, in 2009, 2011, and 2012, I added 70 books to the read shelf. (If I didn’t know myself better I’d think I was messing with the numbers!) I added older titles and then settled in to mostly keeping it up to date. I friended people I knew, some people I knew and didn’t friended me back, and I was fascinated to see what people were actually reading. I really enjoyed it and I’d been so proud to keep some of the Goodreads books in their database when they stopped using Amazon’s data!

And then last week Goodreads announced that Amazon had bought them. I was completely scunnered by the sale. Like Rob Spillman of Tin House I figure it’s kind of too late, Amazon have just bought the last 5 years of my reading history, but I’m deleting my account this week. (Already added my books to my LibraryThing account as a stopgap) I didn’t do it straight away as I wanted to think through my gut reaction of: “Oh No!” But a couple of days later, it’s still the same. So this week all the Goodreads widgets will be cut from the site. Through our distributor, we sell books through Amazon and in turn they’d like to run us and all other publishers into and under the ground for daring to publish books instead of all authors signing their horrible print contract. So for many years it has been our policy not to link to Amazon or (when I can keep all of them in mind, any of their many subsites, see next para) and the only time I pay for anything through Amazon is for Kickstarter.

Amazon own (bold = book related): Amazon Publishing, Amazon Web Services, Abebooks, Audible, Book Depository, BookSurge, BoxOfficeMojo, Brilliance Audio, CreateSpace,, Goodreads, IMDB, Lexcycle, 40% of Library Thing (through Abebooks—although this is apparently complicated), MobipocketShelfari, Woot, Zappos. Etc.

Wikipedia notes: “In August 2005,[110] Amazon began selling products under its own private label, “Pinzon” . . . . AmazonBasics is a private-label consumer electronics product line.”

Amazon positives: their data mining is intellectually fascinating. They give out tiny halo-effect grants to literary organizations (so that everyone has to pay lip service to them). Their BreakThrough Novel Award (which is now their in house publishing competition). They pay sales tax in a few states now. Jeff Bezos, as millionaires have always done, follows his own weird (Blue Origin) with his investments.

But. Amazon wants to be everything to everyone. Some people have suggested they want to kill off public libraries (because kids need tablets instead of storytime and parents don’t need any free places to take their kids . . .) They want to make the product (cup, book, sheets, cable, movie, whatever) and sell it to you. Instead of inefficient towns and shopping centers, they’d rather everyone ordered online and got stuff delivered to them and in the end it will be Amazon and the delivery company left standing.

Sounds utterly vapid and uninspiring to me.

We spend our time publishing books we love and trying to get them into the indie bookstores we love so that readers can find them there. It mostly works. We expect we’ll be doing it for a while.

And then there is temptation. On Metafilter Open Library was mooted as an alternative user George_Spiggott posted “I would seriously pitch in time and technical effort to building a new site that everyone could simply pick up and move to. Because that would be a frickin’ brilliant outcome. Especially if the ToS at signup committed the site to remain nonprofit and to have no exclusive marketing agreements.”

Which is where temptation lies. I mentioned earlier today on Weightless that Michael and I were tempted to build an alternative to Goodreads:

” … building a new community reading site with books, reviews, comments, forums, all the things we liked about Goodreads, but without the all-encompassing Univac behind it. To keep it independent I figure we should make it a $4.99 annual subscription built along the lines Flickr uses: you could add up to 500 books for free then the oldest ones would disappear (from public view, not to you) unless you subscribed. Maybe there could be other subscriber only features, not sure, the site would do best if people use it for a while for free. If you’re seriously interested in kicking this idea around, email me!”

Kickstarter might be the way to fund it: obviously we’d need to pay for data feeds, storage and usage, and coding, coding, coding. Again, Wikipedia: “In December 2007, the site had over 650,000 members[3] and over 10,000,000 books had been added.[4] As of July 2012, the site reported 10 million members, 20 million monthly visits, and 30 employees.[5]” That’s a lot of data going back and forward.

Goodreads was seven years old, ancient!, and had a lot of bells and whistles and if we do take this on, the new site should get out the gate as an attractive site that’s worth joining early and taking part in.

What I’d love to do is kick the idea around some more, hear what readers want, and see if this seems possible for a small group of underfunded readers. Internets?

Con or Bust: New Orleans style

Tue 26 Mar 2013 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Gavin

I was the lucky winner in the recent Con or Bust fundraiser auction and I have to post this photo because the Care Package from New Orleans is one of the best packages I’ve ever gotten. It was stuffed full of goodies: some of the pralines are already gone gone gone (so rich, so tooth unfriendly, so gone!), and one set of beads has already been overplayed with by Ursula (so the rest might disappear for a bit until she’s more careful).

Everything’s vegetarian, yay!, although not everything scores high on the healthy index: beignets are healthy, right? Time to pull out the old deepfryer! And there’s lots of cajun spice mixes so everything’s going to be spicy for a while. Thank you, Con or Bust, and especially to superdonor Maria!

So, next year, when the Con or Bust auction comes around again, remember: don’t bid for the NOLA Care Package. Ha! In the meantime, if you missed the auction, pick up a Con or Bust T-shirt here.

Con or Bust auction FTW!


Mon 25 Mar 2013 - Filed under: Not a Journal. | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Gavin

We are in the process of moving webhosts so I expect there will be some email disruptions—sorry! If you need a quick response, you can always leave a comment here and if you don’t hear back by the end of the week, do drop us a line again. Thanks for understanding.

The State of the Book in the Digital Age

Thu 21 Mar 2013 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Gavin

I’m delighted to say that on Friday April 26th I’m on a panel at the Massachusetts Library Association conference—although I’m gutted I’ll miss the library cart drill teams on Wednesday. The conference runs from 4/24 – 26 at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge and our (Western Mass. transplants!) panel is:

9:15 – 10:30am

The State of the Book in the Digital Age

What’s up with books these days? Books are ordered online, created on demand, and distributed in digital form to individuals and libraries. Many bookstores have closed in recent years, and publishers have had to drastically downsize, retool or go out of business. How have individuals and businesses responded to this new environment? Are books giving a last gasp or being reinvented? An author, a book artist, a publisher and a bookstore owner will give their thoughts on the changing environment for books.  Co-presented by the Western Massachusetts Library Advocates

Speakers:  Susan Stinson, Author, Writer in Residence at Forbes Library, Northampton; Daniel E. Kelm, Book Artist;  Gavin J. Grant, Publisher, Small Beer Press; Nancy Felton, Co-owner, Broadside Bookshop.

Small Beer Podcast 17: Angélica Gorodischer’s “The González Family’s Fight for a Better World”

Tue 19 Mar 2013 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , , , , , | 1 Comment| Posted by: Julie

Trafalgar cover - click to view full size

I don’t always take authors very seriously, but when Angélica Gorodischer indicated in Trafalgar’s foreword that the stories should be read in order, something in her tone made me pay attention. And something in her writing. She amused me right from the beginning, and so I decided to take her at her word and allow the journey to unfold over the course of the novel. Honestly, it was no hardship. Once I started the first story, I realized nothing less than mainlining the entire book would satisfy.

Angélica Gorodischer is the recipient of the 2011 World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. She has published over nineteen award-winning books in her native Spanish. Still, for me, an English-only reader, Gorodischer feels like a “new author” discovery. Trafalgar may have been written in 1979, but it’s already one of my top five books for 2013.

A fix-up novel, a mosaic novel, or as the book copy suggests “a novel-in-stories:” whatever the term you choose to describe Angélica Gorodischer’s Trafalgar, it is funny, dry, and always engaging. Trafalgar feels like some sort of Douglas Adams, Gabriel Garcia Marquez hybrid. The narrator of Trafalgar is Trafalgar Medrano’s coffee-shop companion. It is she who transcribes the various intergalactic adventures Trafalgar describes over cups of strong, black coffee. And it is she who understands Trafalgar and his foibles enough to fill in the blanks he might have left in these stories. Unlike Dr. Watson, this biographer has no misapprehensions about human nature.

And now we have one of these stories available on the podcast. When Amalia Gladhart offered to read for the podcast, I was thrilled. Amalia translated Trafalgar; she read the original novel and she shepherded that novel from Spanish to English. What better person to read the English translation?

Episode 17: In which Amalia Gladhart reads Angélica Gorodischer’s “The González Family’s Fight for a Better World” from Trafalgar.

Subscribe to the Small Beer podcast using iTunes or the service of your choice:

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Read an excerpt from A Stranger in Olondria

Thu 14 Mar 2013 - Filed under: Not a Journal., | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Gavin

One of the real pleasures of the last year has been spreading the word on Sofia Samatar’s debut novel A Stranger in Olondria. It is an incredibly rich novel, dense, and welcoming and from the very first time I read it, I loved it and it reminded me to slow down and enjoy all parts of the novel: the story, writing, the characters, the world, the poetry, the language, and always the story. Sometimes it’s hard to step back and take that time: there are so many things that need or must be done and then there are all the shiny things out there.

Now you can read an excerpt on and if you’d like more, you can download a pdf of the first 70 pages from Weightless.



Sun 10 Mar 2013 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , , , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Gavin

UntitledI never managed to catch up with all the people I hoped to, I enjoyed the bookfair so much I didn’t see any panels, I didn’t manage to arrive on time 2 out of 3 mornings, but besides all that, AWP was, somewhat unexpectedly, a ton of fun! We have a pile of new books from a few quick trips around the fair—including a new subscription to Tin House and more poetry than I’ve gotten in ages. It was invigorating to spend three days with 13,000(!) people who care deeply in one way or another about words on pages. (Not as much chat about ebooks as expected, none about the possible horrors of the used ebook market, yay!)

Tin HouseWe stayed with friends (to whom we are very grateful!) and Kelly’s mom looked after Ursula (and brought her in on Saturday when the fair was open to everyone) which made the whole thing much more relaxed.

Friday there was a snowstorm so I was late. On Saturday morning smoke started coming out of the ceiling of the T at Fenway. “Driver, there’s smoke in here,” someone shouted. Doors opened: we all trooped out. Looked like a long wait, walked in.

Our neighbors in the fair were the very lively H_ngm_n Books on one side and our real-life near neighbors, the excellent Perugia Press. I am very happy to say that somewhere in that 13,000 people there is a contingent who read books from H_ngm_n, Small Beer, and Perugia.

We talked to hundreds of people and I owe apologies to some people for the times when I could not stop my anti-Am*zon invective: sorry. (They really do want to put everyone else out of business and all the fun out of life. Ya boo sucks to them.)

We sold out of LCRW on the second day: awesome! Wish I had brought more but it was—again—invigorating to meet so many readers.

Malarky, indeed.I can’t even begin to list the excellent people I met. Wait, I can. People from: Paris Press, One Story, Milkweed, McNally Jackson, Porter Square Books, Coffee House (got a copy of Raymond McDaniel’s new superhero-themed poetry collection(!) Special Powers and Abilities and Geronimo Johnson’s excellent sounding New Orleans novel, Hold It ‘Til It Hurtswhich is one of two Coffee House titles, the other being Laird Hunt’s Kind One, up for the Pen/Faulkner Award!), Shape & Nature, Eleven Eleven, Unstuck, Biblioasis, oh, wait, no I can’t list everyone. Sore hands and: Lists = I will miss people, sorry friends! And! We just added Puerto del Sol over on Weightless so while I met tons of people from New Mexico State U., I am kicking myself for missing the Puerto del Sol table. Argh, mea culpa. Didn’t take photos. Argh x 2.

A few of the goodiesIt turns out tons of our books are being taught in schools around the country, including Karen Joy Fowler’s What I Didn’t See and Other Stories, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud’s A Life on Paper, Ted Chiang’sStories of Your Life and Othersand others including pretty much all of Kelly’s books. For which I say to all those teachers: it was awesome and heartening to hear that you are reading and teaching and studying these books. Thank you!

And that’s it. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to say hi. Hope you got home ok and that you too went home with some books you’re looking forward to reading.

VIDA 2012

Tue 5 Mar 2013 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , | 3 Comments| Posted by: Gavin

For those publishers and editors who look at their part of the literary world and see no discrimination, the VIDA Count for 2012 is in. I find myself quickly scrolling down through it just looking at the red and blue shapes, rather than the numbers. It is incredibly effective use of graphics, and incredibly depressing. When I came out of university in 1991 I knew a lot of stuff and expected the world to be different and better than it is now. I knew that women and minorities in this country were paid significantly less than men for the same work. I didn’t expect that to be true 20 years later. Bah.

I was looking at the VIDA count last night with Kelly and we wondered for the first time if we should cancel our subscription to the New Yorker. I love their long articles and who doesn’t love Anthony Lane, Hilton Als (educating me about theater against my will with his great writing, damn him), Emily Nussbaum, et al. But if week after week, month after month, year after year the editors don’t see that what they are producing is a magazine that consistently doesn’t see one half of the world’s population’s experiences, then is it worth our money? Maybe not.

Time to put our money where our mouths are. I don’t expect them to notice one lost subscriber, but I’ll write and tell them why. And then instead of being sad about the imbalanced table to contents each week, I’ll wait and check the VIDA numbers and see if they improve. Oh, New Yorker, how I will miss you.

I’m not exactly up on the state of my subscription (I can check the cover, I think, when I get home) but when renewal time comes around, I think we’re going to pass.

That AWP thing

Mon 4 Mar 2013 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , | Leave a Comment| Posted by: Gavin

Hey, Thursday through Saturday of this week we will be participating in the annual literary scrum commonly known as AWP. This year it’s in Boston where the weather should be a comfy 40 degrees (or 5 centigrade) with maybe rain and snow TK. Yay! Bring your boots!

Before I forget: on Saturday the book fair is OPEN TO EVERYONE! Come on by! It’s in Exhibit Halls A, B, & D,  Plaza & Level 2. Phew.

We haven’t been to AWP since 2009 and it will be awesome and overwhelming to catch up with everyone and see  all the new flashy things that people are up to. Woohoo! Kelly is teaching at UMass Amherst on Wednesday afternoon, so we drive to Boston in the evening—already missing out on the early parties! Oh well. Thursday or Friday early in the evening she is part of a UNCG alumni reading somewhere in Cambridge (details TK). Other than that, not sure how many things we’ll be doing. Would love to see Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott in conversation . . . But there may have to be strategic withdrawals as we are old, and, of course, parents!

The best thing about the whole bedazzling thing: it’s being held at the Hynes Convention Center. Ok, that’s not soooo fab, but it is within a quick T/bus/taxi/car ride to Yoma Burmese restaurant and Pho Saigon (both in Allston), the latter of which is in the Super 88 Hong Kong Supermarket food court  and they have the best banh mi sandwichs. Otherwise, sure there are plenty of restaurants around the convention center. The worst thing: the Other Side Cafe closed last year. Oh I am so sad.

Anyway, the conference is expected to be brutal. Woohoo! We will be at table L26 in the book fair—no doubt behind a pillar, under the a/c, so far from where it’s all happening, man, that when we look around we are actually in New Hampshire. But, hey, we will have books on sale! Or, books for sale at discount prices? Something like that. Also, we like trades, so bring them on!

Kelly is on one panel at 9 am on Thursday morning with two local-to-us writers, John Crowley and Jane Yolen, one used-to-be-local writer, Kate Bernheimer, and one new-to-me writer, Anjali Sachdeva:

Room 107, Plaza Level

R108. Modern Fairy Tales and Retellings. (Anjali Sachdeva, John Crowley, Jane Yolen, Kelly Link, Kate Bernheimer) Many of us grew up reading the same stories our grandparents read when they were children. But contemporary writers are also creating their own fairy tales or crafting surprising variations on traditional stories, for both children and adults. In this panel, authors who have written modern retellings of old tales will discuss the need for fables in modern society and the literary marketplace, as well as the writing process they use to go beyond archetype and tradition to create new tales.

(Here’s the schedule. Note, that’s just Thursday. AWP is a just little huge.)