“A Memory of Light,” the finale to Robert Jordan’s "Wheel of Time" series, remains at the top of bestseller lists even after fans, incensed that the book will not be released in electronic format until April, began giving the book low ratings on Amazon.
“A Memory of Light” was co-written by Jordan and Brandon Sanderson after Jordan died in 2007. Sanderson worked from Jordan’s notes to complete the last three books of the series.
The controversial decision to wait to release the e-book format of “Light” was announced by Tor, the book’s publisher, in March. Earlier this month, Sanderson explained that neither he nor Tor had wanted to wait to release the e-book but that Harriet McDougal, Jordan’s wife, who also served as his editor, had felt more comfortable delaying it.
“She is uncomfortable with ebooks,” Sanderson wrote on his website. “Specifically, she worries about ebooks cutting into the hardcover sales. It isn't about money for her, as the monetary difference between the two is negligible here. It is about a worry that her husband's legacy will be undermined if sales are split between ebooks and hardcovers, preventing the last book of the 'Wheel of Time' from hitting number one on either list. (Many of the bestseller lists are still handling ebooks in somewhat awkward ways.)…. I personally feel her worries are unfounded, and have explained that to her, but it is not my choice and I respect her reasoning for the decision. She is just trying to safeguard Robert Jordan's legacy.… After talking about the issue, we were able to move the ebook up from the originally planned one-year delay to instead come out this spring.”
At this writing, “A Memory of Light” has almost as many one-star reviews on Amazon (272) as five-star reviews (349).
A commenter from Kentucky who named herself Sarah wrote on Amazon, “I'll buy the book when it comes out in a format I can enjoy on my digital devices. It's 2013, I'm not going to lug around a hardback to read on the bus, in line at the grocery, or even snuggled in bed.”
A commenter named Sutodak agreed, writing, “Pretty pathetic that they are trying to force hardback editions on everyone. It is the year 2013, ebook versions should always be available for such popular releases. Being a long time fan of this series, I had planned on buying both the ebook version for actually reading and the hardback version for the bookshelf. That won’t be happening now until I can buy it used.”
But some Jordan fans had harsh words for the protests of others.
“I don't care if my false review, combined with all of the other false reviews of my comrades, deflate the rating of this book and influence someone's purchasing decisions,” wrote a commenter named Cat Overlord. “I don't care if it hurts the author's livelihood. I'm here to please myself and I don't believe that anyone's hard work should be rewarded. From now on, I'm going to read books like 'Fifty Shades of Grey' and anything I can find by Piers Anthony. Those books are worth buying and reading because they're available electronically. I don't care about merit, art, or value. I care about me and the satisfaction of my childish needs.”
Despite the brouhaha, “A Memory of Light” is selling well on traditional bestseller lists, currently holding the number one spot on the IndieBound bestseller list for hardcover fiction the week of Jan. 17.
The last year or so has certainly been a mixed bag for booksellers. After a holiday season in which Barnes & Noble posted dismal sales while some independent bookstores rejoiced in brisk business, Kobo is now reporting surprisingly strong numbers for its e-reader sales over the past year.
Kobo – owned by Japanese retailer Rakuten but based in Toronto – is reporting that its e-reader sales doubled in 2012, with 4 million of the devices sold in the last six months. That brings the company’s number of registered users up to more than 12 million, which, according to a recent DigiTimes report, means that Kobo now has about 20 percent of the global market for e-readers.
The holiday season was a particularly strong period, the company says, with e-reader sales increasing by almost 150 percent in December.
December also marked the company's third anniversary.
Here in the US Kobo has aligned itself with the country's independent bookseller through a partnership with the American Booksellers Association. For now, however, Kobo remains a relatively small player in a US market dominated by Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble.
But globally 2012 was a big year for Kobo. In addition to launching three new devices – the Kobo Glo and Mini e-readers and the Arc tablet – Kobo expanded services into Japan, Spain, South Africa, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, and the Netherlands.
In Canada, where the company is based, Kobo appears to be the market leader, reportedly outselling Amazon Canada.
In 2013, the company says that it intends to further its global expansion, with plans to enter the Russian, Chinese, and Indian markets.
Kobo's year-end report also offered a bit of a snapshot of its customers and their buying patterns. According to the report, the "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "Hunger Games" series were the most-read books on Kobo devices; the average Kobo customer bought 20 percent more e-books in 2012 than in 2011; the company sells most books in English, followed by French and Japanese; and romance books are the most popular genre among Kobo customers.
Controversy always seemed to follow Christopher Hitchens. In its latest iteration, controversy has followed the late polemicist, now the center of controversy in a new book, to his grave.
In “Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens,” political activist and author Richard Seymour employs a unique technique to shred Hitchens’s political philosophy to pieces: Seymour puts the late writer on trial.
“It is written in the spirit of a trial,” Seymour tells the UK’s Guardian. “I do attempt to get a sense of the complexity and gifts of the man, but it is very clearly a prosecution, and you can guess my conclusion.”
In that spirit, “Unhitched,” released today, interrogates Hitchens and builds a case against the man whom Seymour calls an “amanuensis” of the George W. Bush administration. The book also charts his shift from “career-minded socialist” and “left-wing firebrand” to “neoconservative Marxist” who Seymour describes as “an advocate of America’s invasion of Iraq filled with passionate intensity.”
Seymour explores Hitchens’s early days as a socialist with the Labour party and casts doubt on the late author’s own version of events in his memoir, “Hitch 22.” “I’ve interviewed a lot of his former comrades. If you read Hitch 22, it’s not an entirely reliable account – what he remembers and what others remember are different,” says Seymour. “He’s subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, revised things.”
While the book is highly critical of Hitchens’s views on war, politics, and religion, there are characteristics of the late writer Seymour openly admires. “There are parts in his writing where you read it and glow, it’s so perfectly put,” Seymour says. Still, all in all, “Unhitched” is “a denunciation of the changes he underwent in the last 10 years in particular, with Iraq and America the two central themes,” Seymour adds.
“Unhitched” grew out of an essay Seymour had written about Hitchens which was published in a collection called “Christopher Hitchens and His Critics.” After Seymour sent Hitchens a copy of that essay, their relationship deteriorated. “We stopped exchanging emails shortly afterwards,” Seymour recalls. “He thought of it as an insult and threw a few back.”
Based on that initial essay, radical leftist publisher Verso commissioned “Unhitched” about six months after Hitchens’s death in December 2011. In spite of the bad blood between the two, Seymour is hopeful that, were he alive today, Hitchens “might have had a bit of a laugh” about the new book. “One thing in his favor is that he was narcissistic but not prickly or vain,” he told the Guardian. “I think he would have thrown an insult or two at me. He described Max Blumenthal as ‘a young skunk who hasn’t learned to piss yet’ and I think I could expect something along those lines.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Betty Abbott Sheinis was 84 and in the final weeks of her life when we met her. But we were immediately enchanted by her warm personality and peaceful spirit.
Anet James and I are owners of a local art gallery. Sheinis's husband Arnold had invited us to their home to see his artwork. As gallery owners, we often visit artists' studios to consider their work for exhibition. This particular home was packed with hundreds of pieces of artwork. There were stacks of art piled three and four feet high in the basement; many closets were filled to capacity and in virtually every room in the house the walls were covered from floor to ceiling with drawings, paintings, and photographs.
About half of the art on display was Arnold's and the rest was Betty’s. She specialized in beautifully crafted watercolors depicting landscapes, city scenes, and the ocean. Like Arnold, she had been an artist all her life.
But our biggest surprise on this March morning was a beautifully illustrated watercolor which Betty had painted 30 years earlier, found peeping out from underneath a pile of folded laundry in a storage room on the the second floor of the house. It was intended to be the cover art for a stunning children’s book. It featured a rabbit and a woodchuck, sipping tea in a lush forest setting.
"At first glance, we thought it might be an original Beatrice Potter or Tasha Tudor illustration for an unknown book,” Anet remembered later.
It was clearly a project dear to Betty's heart, produced with incredible skill. The mystery was, why had it not been published and where were the missing pages for the book?
“Is this my painting?” Betty asked when we showed her the book cover. She no longer recognized her own beautiful works of art but she accepted our praise with grace and humility.
Since Betty had no memory of producing the painting, we had was little hope of getting her to tell us the location of the missing pages. This was going to be a treasure hunt and, at the same time, a unique opportunity to learn more about this inspiring woman’s creative life. We were also given an insight into her 60-year love affair with her husband Arnold, her loyal friend and fellow artist.
“Oh, that’s Betty’s book.” Arnold said when we asked. He had no idea where the rest of the illustrations were or if they even still existed.
“Betty kept everything, so they must be here somewhere," he said. It was clear he wasn’t confident that they would be found.
But several weeks after Betty’s death, Arnold woke up in the middle of the night remembering that she had a secret hiding place for her favorite paintings. Beneath her grandfather’s antique bed, he found all the original paintings for the book stored safely in an old portfolio. They were in perfect condition. He also found the manuscript for the story printed in a small mock-up she had created for potential publishers to review the book.
It was time for this work to meet its public, Anet and I agreed. We decided to publish it ourselves.
The book – titled "Rhoda's Ocean" – tells the story of Wilma Woodchuck and Rhoda Rabbit, who are best friends. But Wilma and Rhoda are very different.
"Practical Wilma believes in neatness, while Rhoda is a dreamer who forgets her shoes and wonders what an ocean looks like," says Arnet. "'Rhoda’s Ocean' celebrates creativity, friendship, and the rewards of being yourself."
In some ways, it tells the story of Betty herself.
She grew up in the Great Smoky Mountains of rural Tennessee where she was the only daughter of five children. At the age of 19, she received a full scholarship to Cooper Union and bravely moved on her own to New York City to attend the prestigious art school. After graduation, she went on to work as an illustrator for a top advertising agency, The Washington Post, and other newspapers. She won several major awards for illustration during her career.
Betty had met Arnold in the late 1940s at Cooper Union, where he was also an art student. Arnold often shares the story of how they met. “I asked her to have a cup of coffee at the local Automat," Arnold reminisced with a twinkle in his eye. "That was a strong cup of coffee, because we were together for sixty years.”
They went on to be married in 1952 and raised three sons in the same house in Natick, Mass. where they had moved in 1970. They have seven grandchildren, to whom the book is dedicated.
“I remember her working on the book, but I never really paid much attention to it," Arnold said. "Betty was always doing artwork even while she was cooking or playing with the boys. We would travel and paint together all the time. She liked the mountains and I enjoyed painting by the ocean.,"
At her funeral, Arnold gave a moving eulogy, ending with, “She was a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, companion and friend. She was the only woman I ever loved romantically. Goodnight sweetheart, till we meet tomorrow.”
I asked Arnold if the characters in the book reminded him of anyone.
“I think I was Wilma and she was Rhoda," he replied. "I liked things to be a little neater than she did.”
Arnold lives alone now and paints every day in his basement studio. He also works out in the weight room at the new senior center in town and often stops by the library where Betty had been a volunteer for years. “She was a real lady,” a co-worker there says of her, recalling her “gentle and kind personality.”
Arnold also visits the gallery weekly to check on the book’s progress. He often tells us how much Betty would have loved seeing it finally published.
“She would have been thrilled," Arnold said. "She was a wonderful artist... I miss her very much.”
John Mottern and Anet James are owners of Gallery 55 in Natick, Mass. Gallery 55 is also the publisher of "Rhoda's Ocean."
I must admit – I am a binge reader. I will go weeks without reading a book, but then something will catch my eye and I’ll read it in a couple of hours. After that I’ll make multiple trips to the library to see if they’ve got anything more by the same author. I’ll check out three or four and have them back in two days. When I’m on the wagon, I’ll stay up late reading and get up early the next morning to read more. Which is why Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series has been one of the more agonizing experiences of my life.
I started reading the series when I was 13. My best friend, who had the locker next to mine in middle school, handed me “The Eye of the World” (the first book in the series), and I couldn’t put it down. I was drawn in by Rand Al'Thor, Mat Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, the mysterious witch Moriane and her dangerous warder, and the strange magic known as the One Power. Their long (14-books-long) journey to the Last Battle to fight the Dark One was just beginning. The fascinating detail of their world and the lack of annoying Tolkein-esque songs didn't hurt, either. I am well aware of the series' weaknesses (endless subplots, too much description), but the books endeared themselves to me. They are old friends now.
It’s strange having lived with these books for so long. It’s like being one of the kids from Narnia – there’s a secret world only a few page-widths away that only I and a few hundred thousand other nerds know about.
I caught up to Jordan as a junior in high school. I’d read 11 of his books in five years. I found out that the next book wouldn’t be released until my freshman year of college. I buried my frustration, and waited.
Then came the news that Jordan had passed on. After that, more news – some guy named Brandon Sanderson would finish the series based on the notes that Jordan had kept. I didn’t know what to think.
Freshman year, when the 12th book arrived in my mailbox (figuratively, that is – the books are actually too big for mailboxes), I took a day off from school to read it. Sanderson did a great job of cleaning up the subplots and rebuilding momentum for the Last Battle. I was again a happy reader.
And now, two books later, here we are – at the end of the journey with "A Memory of Light." It will be a bittersweet goodbye to this gargantuan series for me. And yet I do know that the sound of the back cover closing on the last page of this book will be one of the most satisfying sounds heard in my life to date.
(Check out the audiobook clip below, courtesy of Macmillan Audio.)
Ben Frederick is a Monitor contributor.
Actress Anne Hathaway, currently the subject of Oscar buzz for her role as struggling mother Fantine in the film adaptation of “Les Misérables,” will now star in a movie adaptation of the Shakespeare comedy “The Taming of the Shrew,” according to TheWrap.com.
Hathaway already has some Shakespeare under her belt – she appeared as Viola in the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park’s performance of “Twelfth Night” in New York's Central Park in 2009. In “The Taming of the Shrew,” Hathaway will presumably play Katherine, the rebellious daughter who is married off to a man who is sure he can make her a "biddable" wife.
Abi Morgan, who penned the script for “Iron Lady,” will write the screenplay, and the movie will be produced by Working Title and producer Debra Hayward. “The Taming of the Shrew” will be updated to a modern setting for the film (as in the 1999 romantic comedy “10 Things I Hate About You,” which starred Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger).
There is no set release date for the film.
It will be interesting to see how the adaptation is handled. “The Taming of the Shrew” has long been controversial in modern theater circles for what some view as its themes of spousal abuse and misogyny. In order to break Katherine’s spirit, her new husband Petruchio denies her food. The play ends with a speech by Katherine in which she declares her intent to be an obedient wife from then on and suggests that all wives should do the same.
Bestseller lists are about to get a little more crowded this spring.
Dan Brown, author of the mega-hit “Da Vinci Code” and “The Lost Symbol,” will release a new book May 14, his publisher Doubleday announced today. The adventures of “Da Vinci Code” protagonist and Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon continue in “Inferno,” which will center on the literary masterpiece “Dante’s Inferno.”
“Although I studied Dante’s Inferno as a student, it wasn’t until recently, while researching in Florence, that I came to appreciate the enduring influence of Dante’s work on the modern world,” Brown said on his website. “With this new novel, I am excited to take readers on a journey deep into this mysterious realm.... a landscape of codes, symbols, and more than a few secret passageways.”
The new novel will be set in Italy and has Langdon battling “a chilling adversary and [grappling] with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science” against the backdrop of Dante’s epic poem, according to a description of the book on Amazon.com.
In a brilliant marketing move appealing to “Da Vinci Code” fans’ love of puzzles, the book’s title was revealed by readers themselves who posted items on social media, which linked to a mosaic that slowly uncovered the book’s title.
“Dan Brown's enthusiasm for puzzles, codes and symbols is a passion shared by his readers,” Suzanne Herz, senior vice president at Doubleday, told Bloomberg, adding that the marketing stunt was intended “to harness that passion and use it as a catalyst to reveal the new title.”
Like the epic poem that inspired it, “Inferno” is likely to be among Brown’s darker works. In Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” Dante is led by Virgil through hell, purgatory, and heaven. As such, “Inferno” will probably be in keeping with the religiously themed books that came before it.
One thing’s for sure: It’s not just readers who are holding their breath for Brown’s latest release. The book will likely come as a huge boost to Doubleday and Transworld, Brown’s UK publisher, as well as bookstores across the country, which are probably already planning events for the forthcoming book. That’s because “Da Vinci Code” spent more than one year – 54 weeks – on New York Times’ bestseller list, was translated into 51 languages and, according to the LA Times’ Jacket Copy, is considered “the bestselling adult hardcover of all time with 81 million copies in print worldwide.” All told, Brown’s books have now sold over 200 million copies worldwide and two have been adapted into films starring Tom Hanks.
No doubt, expectations are high for “Inferno."
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
The bestselling “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy is reversing the usual release trend.
Rather than first coming out in hardcover, then being released in paperback, the trilogy by E L James found success first in e-book and paperback format and only now are being released in hardcover. The new versions of the books will be released on Jan. 29.
“As interest in the "Fifty Shades' trilogy has grown, readers have been asking for hardcover editions of the books,” Anne Messitte, James’ publisher, told USA Today.
Some observers of the book business have suggested that the e-book format of “Fifty Shades of Grey” contributed to its early success because it allowed curious readers to read the erotic trilogy without having to publicly display the books. Perhaps the degree to which the books have gone mainstream – the paper and digital versions have now sold more than 65 million copies worldwide – has put any fears of public exposure to rest.
The new copies will include not only the original text from the books but extras such as red ribbon bookmarks and paper inside the covers patterned in items taken from the book such as ties and masks. The books will be sold separately as well as in a boxed set.
The international contest co-sponsored by Publishers Weekly, now in its sixth year, invites aspiring novelists to submit book pitches for a chance to win a contract with Amazon Publishing. Four finalists receive publishing contracts and a $15,000 advance and one grand prize winner receives a publishing contract, plus a $50,000 advance.
“Over the past five years, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award has helped thousands of authors realize their dream of writing a novel, while connecting them with their peers as well as readers and giving them the opportunity to be discovered,” said Nader Kabbani, Vice President of CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing in a press release, as reported by Good E-Reader. “We’re excited to evolve the contest this year to recognize talented aspiring authors in even more genres, with bigger advances, more winners, and quickly bring the winning novels to readers around the world.”
Here’s how it works: Authors can submit pitches in one of five categories – general fiction, romance, mystery/thriller, science fiction/fantasy/horror, and young adult fiction at CreateSpace. Pitches should include concept, protagonist, setting, and writing style and be within 300 words. (See sample pitches from past entrants here.) Work fast: the deadline for entering pitches is January 27 and Amazon will stop accepting entries after it has received 10,000 pitches.
Those who advance to subsequent rounds will be asked for the first 3,000-5,000 words of a manuscript and later, complete manuscripts between 50,000- 150,000 words. The grand prize winner will be voted on by Amazon users and announced in June. Entrants can find published works of previous contestants, including books by past Breakthrough Novel Award winners, here.
This year’s contest comes with some changes. For starters, Amazon dropped Penguin as its publishing partner and now uses its own Amazon Publishing house instead. At 10,000 expected entries, this year marks the biggest contest field yet. And at five genres, it also marks the most categories open for entry, widening the field. We’re eager to see how quickly the entries pour in – and who is awarded the coveted contracts with Amazon in June.
For more information, see official contest rules here.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
There's a hot new literary genre being formed. The skeptical are calling it "Heaven Tourism" but for millions of readers it's proving a very real lure. Suddenly, accounts of near-death trips to heaven are all over the literary bestseller lists.
As USA Today notes, current bestsellers “Heaven Is For Real” by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent, “Proof of Heaven” by Eben Alexander, and “To Heaven and Back” by Mary Neal all detail their authors’ alleged experiences of heaven and what they saw there and all have drawn large and enthusiastic audiences.
No matter readers' religious views, it appears many are curious about the authors' accounts.
While they have similarities, each of the stories is unique.
In "Heaven is For Real," Burpo writes about the experiences of his son Colton who says that – during an emergency appendectomy while he was 3 – he went to heaven and met Jesus, John the Baptist, his great-grandfather, and his sister who died when his mother suffered a miscarriage, an event his parents say they never told Colton about.
Burpo said in an hour-long program about the book that he is telling the truth about his son's journey.
"As a pastor and as a dad, I want my son to know I tell the truth,” Burpo said during the program. “He can read the book. He knows if I exaggerated or if I didn't."
Alexander, a neurosurgeon, went into a coma after being diagnosed with meningitis and says that while he was unconscious he met a beautiful woman whom he describes as a guide who brought him into another world. Alexander says he saw God and that he doesn’t believe God has a gender.
“I would've said no,” Alexander said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey when she asked him if he believed in God before his near-death experience. “There was no way to explain it based on my neuroscientific career.”
Neal, who is an orthopedic surgeon, became unconscious while trapped underwater and says that she went to heaven and met angels who eventually told her she had to go back to her life.
There have been earlier books, of course, by writers who claim they traveled to heaven. These include the 2004 title “90 Minutes in Heaven” by Don Piper, which also cracked the New York Times bestseller list, and “Flight to Heaven,” a 2010 book by pilot Dale Black.
Barnes & Noble vice president for marketing Patricia Bostelman says she thinks some readers have been convinced by the fact that Neal and Alexander are doctors.
“When you have people from science backgrounds, it adds a certain credibility," Bostelman told USA Today. "They provide an authority from a scientific perspective. It's not a popular point of view in their world."
Phyllis Tickle, religious editor for Publishers Weekly, says the appeal of the stories is simple: people want to believe there is a heaven.
“We want to hear from someone who has gone there, done that, seen it,” she said in an interview with USA Today. “That there is something beyond this life.”