This headline from Consumerist says it all: "Amazon Will Reportedly Pay Self-Published E-Book Authors $.006 Per Page Read."

According to the Guardian, that means the payments received by authors could be as little as $0.006 per page read, estimating that if an author publishes a 220-page book each page would have to be read by every person who downloads the book in order for the writer to make the $1.30 they get under the previous pay-per-download payment system.

Some authors have already left the program, "citing an estimated 60% to 80% reduction in royalties." The per-page payment system is classic Amazon-style shrewdness, in that it makes perfect sense and it's difficult to argue in terms of fairness. But even advocates for the plan have to admit that it's a hard-assed maneuver.

Think about it: when you go to a bookstore, how often do you buy books with the intent to read them right away? At least for me, the books that I buy wind up in a pile on my nightstand until the perfect moment for that particular book arrives. That moment might arrive two days after buying the book, or two years after buying the book. Maybe that day never comes.

When Amazon sells a self-published book to a customer, Amazon instantly makes money from that transaction. If the buyer never gets around to reading the e-book, the author will never make any money from that transaction. So Amazon is profiting from the author's hard work — plainly, the book wouldn't exist without the author, so Amazon would have nothing to sell — and paying nothing in return for that sale until the reader starts turning pages, a moment that is not guaranteed to ever arrive.

In this age of hyper-analytics, Amazon's new royalty policy is technically appropriate. But it's morally wrong.

The perpetual naked lunch of Starvation Mode

Published July 01, 2015, at 11:00pm

Paul Constant review Elissa Washuta's Starvation Mode, and My Body Is a Book of Rules.

In which Elissa Washuta answers a very important question for memoirists: “Are we bad friends? Should people avoid being in relationships with people like us?”

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The Hugo House has announced its 2015-2016 season, and it's a stellar lineup, featuring terrific big-name writers like Jonathan Lethem, Heidi Julavits, Dinaw Mengestu, Maggie Nelson, and Susan Orlean paired with some of the best local writers in the business today, including Maged Zaher, Sarah Galvin, and Sierra Nelson.

Novelist Peter Mountford took the helm as the House's curator a while ago, and this lineup feels like a manifesto. Or more accurately, as Hugo House prepares for a massive demolition and construction project, it's more of a statement of purpose. Come what may, Hugo House is here, in Seattle. It might have to move for while, but it's not going anywhere.

On some whiteboard at Scribd, there is a chart of the amount of reading a particular genre lover does, compared to the overall cost of keeping books of that genre stocked.

Romance readers found themselves on the wrong side of that line, by actually taking advantage of the service as advertised.

If you're a writer who needs a little help getting a project done, take note: now is the time to apply for CityArtists Projects funding. There is a literary category. Go get some of that money and make something beautiful out of it.

Here is the cover of Grace Jones's upcoming memoir, I'll Never Write My Memoirs.

Grace Jones graces the cover of her new memoir

The Seattle Review of Books is in love with Grace Jones. That is all.

You should read Robyn Jordan's excellent comic about arts education in Seattle public schools. What a beautiful way to tell a positive story.

The #AskELJames hashtag went horribly wrong.

Seattle Mystery Bookshop has announced that their co-founder, William D. Farley, passed away on Sunday, June 28th, "just three days short of the shop’s 25th birthday." Our thoughts are with the staff of Seattle Mystery Bookshop at what must be a tremendously difficult time. What a legacy, though! The store he helped found is keeping a proud tradition of Pioneer Square bookshops alive.

Sticking the landing

Published June 28, 2015, at 9:26am

Martin McClellan review Neal Stephenson's Seveneves.

Even Neal Stephenson has to acknowledge that "Neal Stephenson has trouble ending his novels" is a popular opinion. Does Seveneves end well? Is it even worth getting to the end?

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The governor of my native state of Maine, Paul LePage, is unequivocally an imbecile. He's combative and unempathetic and ignorant and proud of it. He says terrible things on a very regular basis. But his most recent gaffe, as explained in the Portland Press Herald, is particularly troubling:

Gov. Paul LePage’s joke about shooting a political cartoonist is falling flat. The governor was laughing when he made the remark after the teenage son of Bangor Daily News cartoonist George Danby asked what LePage thought of his father’s satirical cartoons.

So let's restate this for proper context: a few months after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Governor LePage made a joke about shooting a political cartoonist...to the cartoonist's teenage son. It should be noted that LePage (who is called "LePlague" by many Mainers) has also "joked" about blowing up a newspaper and punching a political columnist. I suppose it's too much to expect a subliterate man to understand the significance of using violent language, but someone on the governor's staff really must pull him aside and have a little talk about the fact that words have meaning. Use grunts and extravagant hand gestures, if necessary!

If you ever wanted to learn what the process of recording an audio book is like, Judy Oldfield Wilson's interview with Kathleen Wilhoite about the recording of the audio version of Where'd You Go, Bernadette is fascinating stuff. Bernadette was Wilhoite's first book recording experience — she was enlisted by Bernadette author Maria Semple for the job — and by all accounts, she nailed it.

Is it presumptuous to say that book covers are on the whole better now — more attractive, more informative, less clichéd — than at any other time in history? I believe that to be true, but I'm probably setting myself up for some epic arguments in the near future. Still, this retrospective on the life and work of H. Lawrence Hoffman inspires no small amount of nostalgia for the boom days of paperback books. Nobody is making anything quite like Hoffman's covers anymore, and that's kind of a shame. They're a little gaudy, sure, but they're great fun. I especially like the cover for FOG.

Design Milk published a photo-heavy tour of the Press Hotel, a new boutique hotel constructed from the old Portland Press Herald newspaper building in Portland, Maine. It's a little too precious — my heart hurts to see perfectly good typewriters used as decoration — but on the whole it's a gorgeous, writerly space. Maybe they'll offer a writer-in-residence program? Those writing desks look particularly welcoming.

Lunch date: Butterflies in November

(Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.)

Who’s your date today? Butterflies in November, an Icelandic novel written by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and translated into English by Brian FitzGibbon.

Where’d you go? Queen Bee Cafe on Madison Ave.

What’d you eat? The BLT crumpet sandwich with fruit cup ($7.95) and a pot of Earl Grey ($2.75).

How was the food? Delicious! For the past billion years or so, Seattle has had exactly one excellent crumpet shop (that’s The Crumpet Shop in the Pike Place Market, for the uninitiated). I thought one great crumpet shop was enough for one city. I stand corrected: Queen Bee’s crumpets are baked fresh daily and they’re delightful — airy yet substantial, chewy but not too chewy, just the right texture. The produce in my BLT was fresh and delicious, the bacon was righteous, and the sandwich was accompanied with a cup of fresh berries; for eight bucks, I’d call that a steal. Queen Bee’s ambiance is a little overproduced — it looks slick, like a chain restaurant — but it’s got a lot of comfy seating and the employees are super-friendly. I plan on spending a lot of time there from now on, eating crumpets and drinking tea and reading books and otherwise being downright civilized.

What does your date say about itself? From the publisher’s promotional copy:

After a day of being dumped—twice—and accidentally killing a goose, a young woman yearns for a tropical vacation far from the chaos of her life. Instead, her plans are wrecked by her best friend’s four-year-old deaf-mute son, thrust into her reluctant care. But when the boy chooses the winning numbers for a lottery ticket, the two of them set off on a road trip across Iceland with a glove compartment stuffed full of their jackpot earnings. Along the way, they encounter black sand beaches, cucumber farms, lava fields, flocks of sheep, an Estonian choir, a falconer, a hitchhiker, and both of her exes desperate for another chance. What begins as a spontaneous adventure will unexpectedly and profoundly change the way she views her past and charts her future.

Is there a representative quote? “He’s home. I linger on the frozen lawn before entering, looking in at the light of my own home, and shilly-shally by the redcurrant bush with the goose in my hands, wondering whether he can see it on me, whether he’s noticed. From here I can see him wandering from room to room for no apparent reason, shifting random objects and alternately flicking light switches on and off. I move from window to window around the illuminated home, as if it were a doll’s house with no façade, trying to piece together the fragments of my husband’s life.”

Will you two end up in bed together? Yes, although I’ll admit to a little bit of discomfort. The protagonist of Butterflies in November is at first an almost ridiculously passive character. She lets everyone walk over her, do whatever they want with her, say whatever they dare to her. Too-passive main characters are a pet peeve of mine, and one of the most common problems plaguing literary novels. But based on the publisher’s description, I expect the passivity to decline after the first fifty or so pages of Butterflies. At least, I hope that’s the case.

Anyway, the writing is fantastic. Since I don’t speak Icelandic I can’t say for certain, but FitzGibbon seems to do a good job of capturing the cadence of Ólafsdóttir’s prose; the language is at once searingly human and alien-like. The protagonist’s is a voice that sticks with you, even as her actions infuriate you. The opening few chapters of Butterflies are a bumpy ride, but they promise something more meaningful just around the next bend.

The case against Ayn Rand

Published June 22, 2015, at 5:09pm

Paul Constant review Darryl Cunningham's The Age of Selfishness.

If you only read one comic book takedown of Ayn Rand's philosophy, Paul Constant writes, it should be The Age of Selfishness.

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Traveling light

Published June 21, 2015, at 11:06pm

Paul Constant review Phil Hogan's A Pleasure and a Calling, Arkady Strugatsky, and Boris Strugatsky's Definitely Maybe, Sebastian Faulks's Devil May Care, William Davies's The Happiness Industry, Patton Oswalt's Silver Screen Fiend, Adam Roberts's Jack Glass, John Green's Paper Towns, Joe Hill's Horns, Kerry-Anne Mendoza's Austerity, and Åsne Seierstad's One of Us.

When he gets ready to go on vacation, Paul Constant crams his backpack full of as many heavy books as possible. There's a reason for this, and it's not masochism.

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