A damn impressive Dalkey Archive Press fall list is now also online to cruelly whet your appetite.
A great deal to look forward to, including Jon Fosse's Melancholy, another Lydie Salvayre novel, Juan Goytisolo's Marks of Identity (the first volume in his famous trilogy -- outrageously out of print for a while now (and outrageously still not under review hereabouts ...)), and the first English translation of a Dumitru Tsepeneag novel (see also our review of his Hotel Europa).
It seems that according to the book's American marketers, the last thing American book-buyers want to see is the year "1599" right up front as the first word of the book's title.
I guess the reasoning is that in a country where everyone is focused on tomorrow, or next year, or the next decade, "1599," connoting a year, shouldn't be on a product that anyone is thinking of purchasing.
I mean, it's like over four hundred years ago.
"I almost bought this great book today but it had the year '1599' on the cover and when I saw that I got incredibly depressed."
A very short Xinhua article, announcing the publication in Chinese of a book originally written in English, shows some (well, many) of the hazards of translation.
It begins with the article-title, American best seller to be published in Chinese.
Given that the book isn't even going on sale in the US until September, calling it a bestseller seems something of an exaggeration.
They do explain -- not very helpfully:
By the end of May, 15,000 copies of the book's manual script have been sold out on the international market.
Ah, yes, that manual script .....
Well, the authors do seem to have handed out copies (see the official site).
They also note:
After the China debut, over ten translations including French, German, English and Italian will hit book stores worldwide on September 5.
Will that be an English translation of the Chinese translation that hits stores ?
And Xinhua itself could probably use some translation help, too, or is this really what this person meant:
"It's a typical story of American dream, however, as market competition is fierce in China, the book will be widely received by Chinese readers who are experiencing a transitional period of hardships," said Wang Pengsheng, president of the Anhui People's Publishing House, the book's authorized publisher.
The Lit-Idol-like Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis -- where authors read their stories publicly and get immediate feedback/criticism from the panel of judges -- is currently being held in Austria.
They've been at this for thirty years now, and it's usually a fairly interesting show.
See this year's authors.
A fairly fancy German literary information site (all German-language, for now) went live a couple of days ago: Das Literaturportal.
Some decent potential here (and good backing), but relatively limited information so far.
A very odd story out of Finland, where Finnish novelist admits to using ghost writer for 16 crime novels.
It turns out all sixteen of Tuula Sariola's crime novels were actually written by her friend Ritva Sarkola.
Sariola is the widow of a very popular crime author, Mauri Sariola, so the name-recognition probably played a role in setting this kooky scheme into motion, but things seem to have gotten out of hand.
(See also a Finnish author page with information about her and all the books she didn't write.)
The discussants also responded to questions on the challenges of writing literature in indigenous languages.
Though the lecturer hinted of her readiness to write in Igbo language, her mother tongue, she stated that a writer runs the risk of limited readership if he or she ventures into that.
Lasisi, however, said that the problem of using an indigenous language to write could be traced to the home, where many parents are putting their children under pressure to learn English language to the detriment of indigenous languages.
And then there's the state of African publishing issue -- where at least some of the issues seem near-universal:
Commenting on the state of publishing in Nigeria, Ebika Anthony, Chairman, ANA, Oyo, lamented that Nigeria publishers no longer publish young writers, especially poets, saying that poetry has no prospect in the marketplace.
But authors are trying everything:
The moderator of the interraction, Maxim Uzoatu, a.k.a. the God of Poetry, asked both writers to comment on their marketing strategies.
Adenubi, who is published by Spectrum Books, Ibadan, disclosed that she receives her royalties annually from her publisher, though they are nothing to write home about.
She, however, makes additional sales from the American-based publisher, iUniverse Inc., and the online book marketing outfit, Barnes and Noble.
Again, she engages in self-marketing.
Ebereonwu, on his part, said that he has published all his books by vanity publishing.
The writer, whose first work was published in 1995, lamented that a decade after, he has only been paid N1,000 royalties.
"I gave myself a ten-year target to make it as a writer, eleven years after, I am yet to make it," he rued.
Issue 19 of Context is now available online; as always, packed with stuff -- especially information about books from Dalkey Archive Press we can look forward to !
All of it is worth perusing, but part five of John O'Brien's-Translations-series is of particular interest, as he provides a chart giving an idea of "how many works of fiction have been translated in the United States from a variety of languages in the past six years".
It is, unfortunately, restricted to "a representative number of countries" -- all of them European or Latin American (i.e. ignores all Arabic translations, as well as those from the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, among many other languages) --, but still gives a depressing picture of the state of fiction-in-translation in the US.
We know we're not the only ones who actually care about content rather than window-dressing, but sometimes it feels that way.
Form over content.
Form over content.
That's the industry mantra, isn't it ?
Angel Gurria-Quintana's disturbing article in the Financial Times, Canon fodder, describes the constant re-packaging of classic content -- apparently that's the only way readers can be made to buy the stuff.
God, is this depressing:
Modern publishers wishing to rebrand other great works from the past must be increasingly imaginative.
An eye-catching example of such creativity is the recent launch of Penguinís Epics series.
Penguin has chosen fragments from 20 of the worldís most famous sagas -- including The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Ramayana, western Africaís Sunjata -- and has repackaged them in a set of slim volumes.
The series design by Tony Lyons evokes antiquity in modern graphic language.
The result is stylish and striking.
Sadly, 'rebranding'and 'repackaging' apparently works.
Penguin Group chairman and chief executive John Makinson notes:
Penguin has a 17-volume series of Freudís collected writing.
We sell 2,000 copies a year.
But when we put Freud into Great Ideas or into Penguin 70s we sell, between them, 100,000 copies.
So we create an audience by the way in which we package and present.
(Of course, that begs the question: why don't they put everything they publish into Great Ideas or into Penguin 70s ?)
Because, yes, apparently covers are all that count:
Almost identical sentiments are expressed by Jamie Byng, publisher at Canongate.
"The book trade demands it, even more so now than ever before.
They like those perennials to be changing their covers, too."
As if this weren't enough, we then turn to The Guardian, where we find Sarah Durant complaining about stickers covering the nice artwork on the cover of her book in You've been stickered .....
Sometimes we really despair of the world we're living in.
In The Times Erica Wagner profiles Amanda Ross, the woman behind the Richard & Judy book selections.
Wagner claims Ross does care about books, and perhaps she does, but how disheartening to read:
"I really, really donít -- and I donít pretend that I know what definitely will make a bestseller.
Thatís not how I choose the books.
My criteria, honestly, is: is this book going to entertain and engage people enough to generate 12 to 15 minutes of gripping television ?
The bottom line is: whatís the sofa chat ?"
Well, it could be worse - her criteria could be the appeal of the book-covers .....
(Meanwhile, we continue to despair of the world we live in, and wonder why the hell we even bother.)
With great jealousy we note that the new Murakami Haruki book -- the collection of stories, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman -- is due out in the UK soon; US audiences inexplicably have to wait until 29 August.
Ruth Scurr already reviews it in The Times (approvingly).
Get your copy from Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order at Amazon.com.
We've reviewed Antal Szerb's Journey by Moonlight and have long longed for The Pendragon Legend.
Now Pushkin Press have brought it out (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com), and we do hope they send us a copy .....
Lucky Nicholas Lezard got his hands on a copy and reviews it in The Guardian, writing:
There is so much in this book that it is impossible to summarise, except to say that it is a romp, but one which romps within itself; it has fun with the conventions, and has fun with having fun with them, too.
It is an absolute treat, deliciously ludic, to be read with a big smile on your face throughout.
The National Bestseller Award -- the only respected nationwide literary prize that has its award ceremony in St. Petersburg - this year went to Dmitry Bykovís expertly written biography of the poet and novelist Boris Pasternak.
Since the one work of non-fiction nominated took the prize, we're none too thrilled.
Bykov -- up for the prize for the fourth (!) time (for a prize only founded in 2001) didn't even bother showing up either:
Bykov, who had been unsuccessfully nominated for the prize four times before, did not attend the award ceremony at the Astoria hotel on last Friday. The writer was on a trip to Paris, and left a soft toy of a bullfrog to serve as a stand-in. The toy, which wittly resembles the author, was introduced to the audience by Bykovís nominator, local critic Nikita Yeliseyev
Ha, ha, ha !
Funny folks, these Russians, eh ?
Still, the other (fictional !) stuff sounds considerably more interesting (well, maybe not the Rubanov ...):
Competing for the respected award with Bykovís high-brow literary study, were Sergei Dorenkoís lively political satire 2008, Andrei Rubanovís semi-autobiographic novel Plant, And It Will Grow and Pavel Krusanovís American Hole, set in St. Petersburg in 2010 and featuring the late avant-garde composer Sergei Kuryokhin mysteriously reappearing in town.
Other contenders were Igor Sakhnovskyís apolitical and romantic The Happy and the Mad and Zakhar Prilepinís intense social drama Sankya.
None on the jury voted for Dorenko, Sakhnovsky or Krusanov.
We don't bother much with Salon, the watch-this-advert requirement to gain entrance to the site annoying enough to keep us away.
Beside, we figure if there's anything really worth having a look at, we'll hear about it somewhere.
And, indeed, Bookslut mentions something that may be of interest: The Literary Guide to the World.
Hillary Frey explains what they're planning in What is the Literary Guide to the World ?:
It's a grand name, to be sure, but one that suits.
From Turkey to Togo, D.C. to L.A., Rio to Russia and beyond, the Guide promises to recommend the best books -- fiction, history, memoir or otherwise -- to take with you on your travels.
And if there's a place that you've always dreamed of seeing, but won't visit in the foreseeable future, the Literary Guide will point you to the books that offer the best virtual tours around.
Why should authors be penalised for pressing their return buttons ?
Opening up the Man Booker to writers such as Heaney and Walcott would have a healthily bracing effect on their prose counterparts.
The example he uses is The Donkey's Ears (see the Faber publicity page), but in fact we're not certain that poetry is ineligible for the prize.
There is no prose-requirement in the rules, which state only:
Any full-length novel, written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland, is eligible.
Such a book must be a unified and substantial work.
Neither a book of short stories nor a novella is eligible.
(The more substantial Fredy Neptune by Les Murray might have been a better example for him to use, since there's no question that that is a full-blown novel.)
In fact, the problem is likely the one we always complain about: that books must be submitted by publishers, and that publishers only "may enter up to two full-length novels".
No way Faber would have submitted The Donkey's Ears for one of their two slots !
The question isn't: 'Why shut poets out of the Man Booker Prize ?' (as they apparently aren't), but rather: 'Why shut so many novels out of the Man Booker Prize ?'
(Amazingly, there's practically no criticism of the Man Booker on this count, though we think it's outrageous (and have (obviously to absolutely no avail) been railing about it for years).)
We totally missed this (and couldn't find any media mentions), but the Man Booker International Prize (to be awarded again next year) announced who the judges would be: joining previously announced chair Elaine Showalter will be Nadine Gordimer and Colm Toibin
(The lack of media mentions does not bode well -- is this prize spiralling quickly into oblivion ?
The bi-annual schedule certainly doesn't help.)
Next big announcement:
The judgesí list of contenders, approximately fifteen writers under serious consideration for the prize, will be announced in Toronto in April 2007
Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll opened yesterday, and so far we've seen only one review: in The Times Benedict Nightingale gives it 4 out of 5 stars and writes:
Elsewhere, too, Stoppard seems to be decrying reason and exalting the passions.
Hence his seemingly irrelevant invocations both of the great god Pan and of the first poet to celebrate erotic desire, Sappho.
Towards the end, the play itself seems over-complex and over-busy (please tell me why must we bother with the emotional intricacies of Coxís granddaughter and the rest of his family ?).
But never mind.
There's also a report, of sorts, by Louise Jury in The Independent who offers little beyond the prominent folk in the audience (Vaclav Havel, Mick Jagger, and Dave Gilmour), and:
Theatre insiders said the work was warmer than the "all head, no heart" reputation that has often accompanied Stoppard.
(Updated): See now also Paul Taylor's review in The Independent.
Some of the intellectual debates have a rather rigged ring and Max feels throughout like a convenient amalgam of different types of academic. I preferred the parts where Stoppard the Romantic asserts himself in ways that are less easy to paraphrase.
It remains an impressive play, likely to expand in the mind.
(Updated): See now also a few more reviews: in The Guardian Michael Billington gives it 4 out of 5 stars as well and begins his review: "Tom Stoppard's astonishing new play is, amongst many other things, a hymn to Pan.".
But the remarkable thing about the play is that it touches on so many themes, registers its lament at the erosion of freedom in our society and yet leaves you cheered by its wit, buoyancy and belief in the human spirit.
James Shapiro's book on Shakespeare was awarded the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2006.
Bizarrely, the book is titled 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare in the UK and A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 in the US .....
In his brief report in The Guardian John Ezard mentions that it's sold 21,000 copies, compared to the 335,000 copies favourite Untold Stories by Alan Bennett has sold.
See also the Faber publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Louis-Ferdinand Céline's wild Conversations with Professor Y.
Dalkey Archive Press is reissuing this bilingual edition, and it's a whole lot of fun -- way out there, but fun.
The IMPAC announcement makes for a good test of whether you're getting competent news coverage, by the way.
On the one hand there's coverage like the BBC's (Toibin's Master takes Impac award, where they claim: "Irish author Colm Toibin has won the world's richest literary prize") or RTÉ's (TóibŪn becomes first Irish IMPAC winner, where they also call the IMPAC "the world's richest literary prize").
It seems they forget even about that Nobel-thing, but aside from career prizes, the IMPAC isn't even tops in the single-book category: as we've mentioned repeatedly, the annual Premio Alfaguara de Novela is worth considerably more ("dotado con 175.000 dólares (cerca de 148.000 euros)").
So the right way to say what a big deal this prize supposedly is is the way Kevin Smith's Reuters report has it: the IMPAC is "the world's richest literary prize for a single work of fiction in English".
Is that so difficult ?
Formed between 1945 and 1965, this unique ensemble features over 700 lots and documents the history of the book around the world.
The sale offers remarkable examples of the book in all forms including Babylonian cuneiform tablets, Greek papyri fragments, Persian and Asian manuscripts, European medieval manuscripts, Hebrew manuscripts, fine bindings of all periods, and an interesting group of book-related curiosities
But they want to concentrate on other things .....
Anyway the stuff is going under the hammer at Christie's in New York 27 and 28 June -- and at least the catalogue is online for you to drool over.
(And you can view the items pre-auction 23 to 26 June.)
Oh, and anyone wanting to get us a trifle ... feel free.
Yes, we've never met a local language and literature we weren't happy to support.
Yesterday -- Dinka (see below) !
At The News Today Bryan Mari Argos asks that burning question, Can Hiligaynon literature fare ?
Argos perhaps expects a bit too much from non-local readers in beginning:
While we all already know the state Hiligaynon literature is in at the moment, we can never really tell the state it will be in five or ten years from now.
Sorry, we don't know the current state.
But the article does help a bit -- we get the idea.
The problem is a common one:
Most young people, especially those made to think that the 'in thing' is being able to speak and write in perfect English consider the local tongue 'buki' and therefore would rather write in English than in Hiligaynon.
What they don't know is that writing in the local tongue does not only lift the status of the language itself but helps in the preservation of local culture as well.
And we're on board with:
I truly hope that the more senior and accomplished Hiligaynon writers would validate my cause for alarm and do what they can in preserving the language and doing what we can to help and preserve Hiligaynon Literature.
Let us start here in our region and maybe move out to the country and to the world to once again see the old glory of our beloved Hiligaynon tongue.
For those who want or need more information, Leoncio P. Deriada's concise Hiligaynon Literature is an excellent introduction.
Hiligaynon is the lingua franca of the West Visayas in Central Philippines.
(Also: there are about 7,000,000 speakers.)
The relatively short period from the 1920's to the coming of the Japanese is considered the Golden Age.
We mention the VLS Beach Reads list because they're usually at least vaguely creative in their selection -- but we're surprised to note that we have not a single one of these titles under review (though our review of Fuentes' The Eagle's Throne should be available shortly).
The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels) is probably the most prestigious international (semi-)literary prize the Germans offer; recent winners include Orhan Pamuk last year (which got a lot of press), Susan Sontag in 2003 (which got very little -- in the US) Chinua Achebe, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Amos Oz.
But they do like to toss in local talent too -- Jürgen Habermas, Martin Walser, Annemarie Schimmel, etc.
This year's winner has now been announced, and it's Wolf Lepenies.
(See also more information -- admirably also available in English -- at the official site.)
Wolf who ? you ask ... or maybe not.
With excellent timing Princeton University Press have just brought out his book on The Seduction of Culture in German History (see their publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
And it has even gotten decent review coverage -- see, for example, Andreas Huyssen's review (The Nation) or Steven Ozment's (Weekly Standard).
This being a German prize, the actual awards ceremony will only be months from now -- in October, at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
We're fascinated by literary (and other artistic) estates and the often outrageous things executors wind up doing.
In this week's issue of The New Yorker D.T.Max writes about the guy handling the Joyce estate in The Injustice Collector.
Steph -- "he insists on being addressed as Stephen James Joyce, his full given name", so we'll just be calling him 'Steph' -- controls the Joyce estate, and he does so with an iron hand and a very limited outlook.
The wonders and confusion of copyright law mean that he is in a fairly strong position, and few appear willing to challenge him.
It's a complicated issue -- whose interests are (and should be) served ? -- but he seems yet more living proof that relatives are not the ideal people to be handling these things.
It's a fascinating article (well worth your time) -- though parts are tough to take (he destroyed postcards and a telegram sent to Joyce's daughter Lucia by Samuel Beckett ...).
Perhaps the most disturbing part is:
Paul Zukofsky, the son of the poet Louis Zukofsky, said of Stephenís efforts, "What Iíve heard sounds very, very good.
He is a staunch defender of rights."
In fact, Steph isn't a staunch defender of 'rights' at all.
Instead, he uses -- and, arguably, abuses -- legal (and entirely artificial) claims (the law that is 'copyright') to put his own (and not necessarily grandpa's) interests above any and all others.
Which is his 'right' (more or less -- even legally there are some debatable points here) but may not be what's best.
The workshop, which will run until June 14, will discuss the proper methods of censoring an article, material or any related matter without altering the content of the subject.
Upon completion of the course, the participants comprising personnel from government departments will each receive a certificate.
In some ways it's impressive that they're this open about it ... but it still sends shivers down our spines.
And somehow we're not surprised that even we don't have any literature from Brunei under review.
Through donations from members of the 65th and 71st Infantry Divisions, heís put together a robust library of about 12,000 volumes at the Black Hawk education center.
He hopes to begin turning over the collection to local leaders in nearby Balad later this month.
He said he originally had some apprehensions about the arrogance of offering English-language materials to native Arabic speakers.
Those concerns, he said, were immediately dismissed by the Balad City Council.
"I asked the city council, ĎI have all these books, theyíre in English, is this something you want ?í " he said.
"They said, ĎAbsolutely.í "
And there are some pretty decent titles that he eventually wants to turn over.
The first donation will consist of medical texts for a local hospital, and National Geographic magazines and Readerís Digest condensed books for the Balad city library.
We're tempted to say it'd be better if they got those Harlequin romances .....
(It's nice of people to donate books, but come on ... don't libraries stateside actually prohibit donations of National Geographic magazines and Readerís Digest condensed books ?
(Which maybe explains how they wound up here .....))
Local languages versus colonial languages is a big debate in Africa -- or at least some, including Ngugi wa Thiong'o, want it to be (see our recent mention of an interview with Ngugi).
Now Mading de Ngor Akec de Kuai takes it up in the Sudan Tribune, arguing Literacy through indigenous languages a must.
Consider this: When I was a child in my village in Bor I was taught 22.214.171.124 and A.B.C.D in English.
It wasnít until much later where I would learn to recite Dinka alphabets.
I noticed that the teaching of my language was a church matter: a woeful comparison to English (a foreign language) that has always enjoyed its own separate and independent space in our land.
With exception of Bung Mariar, there are no major Dinka language publications available unlike English that came from England (a distant land then) that I had to learn as a child.
In this case, Ngugi articulate it so well that "the language of my education was no longer the language of my íreal lifeí, the language of my culture: I was now being exposed exclusively to a culture that is a product of a world external to me.
I was being made to stand outside of myself to look at myself."
Here, it is pristine how the African child is taught a worldview that is alien to him.
He is caught up in a sort of bubble where he looks back to see if where he is, is where he was.
He mirrors his world from another angle and finds himself in a vague state where he compares his former to the later.
This kind of confusion that arise may be terminated by promoting our languages at schools.
I hope our generation sees that we are multi-tasked and developing our languages and literatures are one of those challenges we have to surpass.
Obviously, there are other pressing issues to deal with in the southern Sudan at this time; still: always worth keeping in mind.
Jan Kjærstad's The Seducer has now finally almost reached the US; the Overlook Press continues their impressive streak of bringing out significant contemporary literature in translation by making it available in the US later this month.
Susan Salter Reynolds reviews it in this week's The Los Angeles Times Book Review -- an only briefly-accessible link, hence our mention now of the review and the book .....
Note, however, that it's only volume one of a trilogy (though it stands pretty well on its own, too); see also our reviews of the two other volumes, Erobreren and Oppdageren
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Amélie Nothomb's Acide sulfurique, as we finally got our hands on a copy.
It's not yet available in English, but British readers can look forward to the publication of The Life of Hunger which is coming out in the UK in a couple of weeks -- a considerably better effort and well worth a look.
And the title of her forthcoming book (she spits out one a year), due out 23 August, is Journal d'hirondelle; we hope to be able to get a copy before next summer .....
The book editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Frank Wilson, has been particularly open to the literary weblogging community -- and, with his own weblog, Books, Inq. even taken a prominent place therein.
He's also tapped the talents (well, in this case possibly: services) of several literary webloggers and invited them to review books in the Inquirer -- most recently local barkeep M.A.Orthofer, whose review of Jane Gardam's Old Filth ran in yesterday's paper.
Zadie Smith's On Beauty was awarded this year's Orange Prize, and now one of the judges, India Knight, profiles her in the Sunday Times, in Please don't call me multicultural.
A 2000-word profile, where the only mentions of the prize-winning title are in the introduction and:
Sheís a great fan of older women, and wrote On Beauty with one in particular in mind -- her mother, a psychotherapist but who was a social worker for 25 years.
She complains a good deal about the attention but even here almost all of the attention is on her person rather than her work.
Some of the attention is, apparently, 'frantic', as Knight just can't let it go:
Perhaps, I suggest, the frantic interest in her is because weíre all scrabbling about for a spokesperson for multiculturalism.
"Well, yes," she says, "except that Iím not that multicultural, Iím only half Jamaican and half English.
Iím always being described as if I were representative of all nations.
Iím not qualified. Itís really not that exotic -- Iíve lived in Willesden for 30 years.
A reporter mentioned the other day that some lit blogs get a cut of sales generated from their site traffic.
I presume she was speaking of online bookselling affiliate programs.
Perhaps it's that old print background rearing its head, but isn't this a (rather large) conflict of interest ?
How can you actually claim to blog blindly if the chances are, a positive or salesworthy blog might generate some extra income?
Of course, who the hell blogs 'blindly' anyway ?
What exactly would a literary weblog written that way look like ?
Presumably, he's talking about (possibly) compromised objectivity.
We link to the various Amazons (and receive a cut for any sales generated by users clicking through and making purchases there) -- both here on the weblog and on our review-pages -- but don't feel too conflicted.
A bit, but not too much.
(We're actually much more queasy about direct advertising (which Freeman has less of a problem with) and haven't experimented with anything other than the Google AdSense ads, where we have (or at least choose to exert) little control over what is being advertised.)
Obviously, it's somewhat problematic recommending book X and then providing a link that allows (or suggests ...) readers to purchase it.
Among the reasons we don't worry about it too much is that it's fairly transparent (most users are aware we get a cut, even if we aren't as explicit as the Poynter-example Freeman points to) and fairly ubiquitous: as best we can tell, the vast majority of weblogs and review-sites do the same thing.
(Some do provide the links without cashing in, however.)
As users know, we link to pretty much all the online information we can find about a book on our review-pages, and quite honestly, the Amazon pages are generally also fairly informative.
If we're looking for information about a book, that's generally the first place we'll look -- so we don't think it's the worst place to send you.
(Since only two to three percent of users clicking through from one of our reviews to Amazon.com (and a far smaller percentage at the French, German, and Canadian variations) via our site wind up purchasing that title it seems most users also are looking for information rather than going there with the intent to buy.)
As to the commercial aspect: strangely (or perhaps predictably) enough, there is almost no correlation between how we judge a book and how many copies people choose to purchase via our links to Amazon.
I.e touting and shouting seems to have very little effect.
(Of course, a mention is better than none .....)
There are some exceptions, but there are also quite a few titles we literally warn people off of which have proven depressingly popular.
The money actually ain't that bad, either -- but the way the Amazon-programme works, we get a commission for any item sold to a visitor who goes to Amazon via the complete review.
But over the past month, of the items we've earned a commission on, only a quarter were books purchased directly via our links (i.e. possibly as a result of our review-coverage).
And aside from other (unreviewed) books users purchase, among the other products we earned (generally much larger) commissions on in the past month were numerous DVDs and CDs, a USB extension cable, a scanner, an electric shaver, and -- we kid you not -- a 13-gallon trash can (perhaps to toss all those books we recommend into ...).
An example: over the past thirty days 987 people have clicked on the Amazon-book-link at our review of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation.
A single one of those people purchased the title.
(One other person did buy another edition of the book.)
So among the obvious questions is: why do we bother ?
Well, because the link is obviously of value to our users (as evidenced by the number clicking on it), over the long term even sales of a mere book a month add up (we have a lot of books under review), -- and even if they didn't buy this title, some users presumably did go on to buy other books or products on which we earned a commission.
Are our reviews compromised by the Amazon links ?
We like to think they're not, but everyone has to judge for themselves -- and one advantage of the large and readily accessible archive here is that everyone can look and decide for themselves if our opinions are worth anything (check what we've said about books you've read, and see if we're on your wavelength ...).
I.e. our tastes are pretty transparent and easily checked (though perhaps it would be worthwhile double-checking that we don't give much stronger buy-recommendations to more expensive titles (i.e. ones which we'd get a higher commission on) ...).
We do always strongly urge all readers to be highly suspicious of any and all reviews, including ours.
Still, most weblogs -- this one included -- do seem fairly 'blind' in what they present -- mentioning a title out of enthusiasm, rather than because they believe the mention and the Amazon-link will lead to a few more sales.
(Especially given how little money is involved here, other factors seem like they would be cause for greater concern, such as personal relationships with authors and/or publishers.
(Bloggers often mention these, but this area doesn't seem nearly as transparent.))