Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Thomas Piketty's Capital: Everything You Need to Know About the Surprise Bestseller

by Paul Mason)

Anti-capitalist protesters in front of St Paul's Cathedral, London, 2011. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images Europe

That capitalism is unfair has been said before. But it is the way Thomas Piketty says it – subtly but with relentless logic – that has sent rightwing economics into a frenzy, both here and in the US.

His book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, has shot to the top of the Amazon bestseller list. Carrying it under your arm has, in certain latitudes of Manhattan, become the newest tool for making a social connection among young progressives. Meanwhile, he is been condemned as neo-Marxist by rightwing commentators. So why the fuss?

Piketty's argument is that, in an economy where the rate of return on capital outstrips the rate of growth, inherited wealth will always grow faster than earned wealth. So the fact that rich kids can swan aimlessly from gap year to internship to a job at father's bank/ministry/TV network – while the poor kids sweat into their barista uniforms – is not an accident: it is the system working normally.

If you get slow growth alongside better financial returns, then inherited wealth will, on average, "dominate wealth amassed from a lifetime's labour by a wide margin", says Piketty. Wealth will concentrate to levels incompatible with democracy, let alone social justice. Capitalism, in short, automatically creates levels of inequality that are unsustainable. The rising wealth of the 1% is neither a blip, nor rhetoric.

To understand why the mainstream finds this proposition so annoying, you have to understand that "distribution" – the polite name for inequality – was thought to be a closed subject. Simon Kuznets, the Belarussian émigré who became a major figure in American economics, used the available data to show that, while societies become more unequal in the first stages of industrialisation, inequality subsides as they achieve maturity. This "Kuznets Curve" had been accepted by most parts of the economics profession until Piketty and his collaborators produced the evidence that it is false.

In fact, the curve goes in exactly the opposite direction: capitalism started out unequal, flattened inequality for much of the 20th century, but is now headed back towards Dickensian levels of inequality worldwide.

Piketty accepts that the fruits of economic maturity – skills, training and education of the workforce – do promote greater equality. But they can be offset by a more fundamental tendency towards inequality, which is unleashed wherever demographics or low taxation or weak labour organisation allows it. Many of the book's 700 pages are spent marshalling the evidence that 21st-century capitalism is on a one-way journey towards inequality – unless we do something.

Thomas Piketty in his office in Paris. Photograph: Ed Alcock for the Guardian

If Piketty is right, there are big political implications, and the beauty of the book is that he never refrains from drawing them. Piketty's call for a "confiscatory" global tax on inherited wealth makes other supposedly radical economists look positively house-trained. He calls for an 80% tax on incomes above $500,000 a year in the US, assuring his readers there would be neither a flight of top execs to Canada nor a slowdown in growth, since the outcome would simply be to suppress such incomes.

While bestriding the macro-economic agenda, the book's sideswipes against trendy micro-economics, often in footnotes, read like a sustained in-joke against the generation for whom all problems seemed solved, except the street price of cocaine in Georgetown.

The book has, in addition, mesmerised the economics profession because of the way Piketty creates his own world, theoretically. He defines the two basic categories, wealth and income, broadly and confidently but in a way nobody had really bothered to before. The book's terms and explanations are utterly simple; with a myriad of historical data, Piketty reduces the story of capitalism to a clear narrative arc. To challenge his argument you have to reject the premises of it, not the working out.

From page one he illustrates with visceral reminders of the unfair world we live in: he begins with the Marikana mining massacre and he never lets up. He marshals not just 18th-century interest rates as evidence but also the work of Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac. He uses both authors to illustrate how, by the early 19th century, it was logical to disdain work in favour of marrying into wealth. That it has become so again busts the central myth of, and moral justification for, capitalism: that wealth is generated by effort, ingenuity, work, wise investment, risk taking etc.

For Piketty, the long, mid-20th century period of rising equality was a blip, produced by the exigencies of war, the power of organised labour, the need for high taxation, and by demographics and technical innovation.

The Bank of England, standing in the heart of the City. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Put crudely, if growth is high and the returns on capital can be suppressed, you can have a more equal capitalism. But, says Piketty, a repeat of the Keynesian era is unlikely: labour is too weak, technological innovation too slow, the global power of capital too great. In addition, the legitimacy of this unequal system is high: because it has found ways to spread the wealth down to the managerial class in a way the early 19th century did not.

If he is right, the implications for capitalism are utterly negative: we face a low-growth capitalism, combined with high levels of inequality and low levels of social mobility. If you are not born into wealth to start with, life, for even for the best educated, will be like Jane Eyre without Mr Rochester.

Is Piketty the new Karl Marx? Anybody who has read the latter will know he is not. Marx's critique of capitalism was not about distribution but production: for Marx it was not rising inequality but a breakdown in the profit mechanism that drove the system towards its end. Where Marx saw social relationships – between labour and managers, factory owners and the landed aristocracy – Piketty sees only social categories: wealth and income. Marxist economics lives in a world where the inner tendencies of capitalism are belied by its surface experience. Piketty's world is of concrete historical data only. So the charges of soft Marxism are completely misplaced.

Piketty has, more accurately, placed an unexploded bomb within mainstream, classical economics. If the underlying cause of the 2008 bank catastrophe was falling incomes alongside rising financial wealth then, says Piketty, these were no accident: no product of lax regulation or simple greed. The crisis is the product of the system working normally, and we should expect more.

One of the most compelling chapters is Piketty's discussion of the near-universal rise of what he calls the "social state". The relentless growth in the proportion of national income consumed by the state, spent on universal services, pensions and benefits, he argues, is an irreversible feature of modern capitalism. He notes that redistribution has become a question of "rights to" things – healthcare and pensions – rather than simply a problem of taxation rates. His solution is a specific, progressive tax on private wealth: an exceptional tax on capital, possibly combined with the overt use of inflation.

The policy logic for the left is clear. For much of the 20th century, redistribution was handled through taxes on income. In the 21st century, any party that wants to redistribute would have to confiscate wealth, not just income.

You would expect the Wall Street Journal to dissent, but the power of Piketty's work is that it also challenges the narrative of the centre-left under globalisation, which believed upskilling the workforce, combined with mild redistribution, would promote social justice. This, Piketty demonstrates, is mistaken. All that social democracy and liberalism can produce, with their current policies, is the oligarch's yacht co-existing with the food bank for ever.

Piketty's Capital, unlike Marx's Capital, contains solutions possible on the terrain of capitalism itself: the 15% tax on capital, the 80% tax on high incomes, enforced transparency for all bank transactions, overt use of inflation to redistribute wealth downwards. He calls some of them "utopian" and he is right. It is easier to imagine capitalism collapsing than the elite consenting to them.

Paul Mason is culture and digital editor of Channel 4 News. His book Postcapitalism will be published by Penguin in early 2015.

Book Fetish: Volume 109


Jazz up your life with a little bookish goodness. Let’s accessorize and glamorize literary style.

Need some heavy duty book ends? How about these repurposed bricks featuring “beast literature?” This will certainly keep your books in line.

I can imagine no writer would inspire quicker wound healing than Edgar Allan Poe. I bet you could even wear these as a fashion statement without an injury.

Go through the looking glass with this gorgeous Alice in Wonderland necklace. Of course, you’d pair that necklace with this seller’s tea pot and tea cup earring set. (I checked the earring set is no longer available)

If you’re in the market for a new case for your macbook, may I suggest this one that looks like an old book? The level of detail on this is impressive.

The Book Fetish series is sponsored by StitchFix. Keep your wardrobe up to date with the latest styles hand-picked just for you and shipped to your door.


by Adam Gopnik)

Of all the books written in French over the past century, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “Le Petit Prince” is surely the best loved in the most tongues. This is very strange, because the book’s meanings—its purpose and intent and moral—still seem far from transparent, even seventy-five-plus years after its first appearance. Indeed, the startling thing, looking again at the first reviews of the book, is that, far from being welcomed as a necessary and beautiful parable, it bewildered and puzzled its readers. Among the early reviewers, only P. L. Travers—who had, with a symmetry that makes the nonbeliever shiver, written an equivalent myth for England in her Mary Poppins books—really grasped the book’s dimensions, or its importance.

Over time, the suffrage of readers has altered that conclusion, of course: a classic is a classic. But it has altered the conclusion without really changing the point. This year marks an efflorescence of attention, including a full-scale exhibition of Saint-Exupéry’s original artwork at the Morgan Library & Museum, in New York. But we are no closer to penetrating the central riddle: What is “The Little Prince” about?

Everyone knows the basic bones of the story: an aviator, downed in the desert and facing long odds of survival, encounters a strange young person, neither man nor really boy, who, it emerges over time, has travelled from his solitary home on a distant asteroid, where he lives alone with a single rose. The rose has made him so miserable that, in torment, he has taken advantage of a flock of birds to convey him to other planets. He is instructed by a wise if cautious fox, and by a sinister angel of death, the snake.

It took many years—and many readings—for this reader to begin to understand that the book is a war story. Not an allegory of war, rather, a fable of it, in which the central emotions of conflict—isolation, fear, and uncertainty—are alleviated only by intimate speech and love. But the “Petit Prince” is a war story in a very literal sense, too—everything about its making has to do not just with the onset of war but with the “strange defeat” of France, with the experience of Vichy and the Occupation. Saint-Exupéry’s sense of shame and confusion at the devasation led him to make a fable of abstract ideas set against specific loves. In this enterprise, he sang in unconscious harmony with the other great poets of the war’s loss, from J. D. Salinger—whose great post-war story, “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” shows us moral breakdown eased only by the speech of a lucid child—to his contemporary Albert Camus, who also took from the war the need to engage in a perpetual battle “between each man’s happiness and the illness of abstraction,” meaning the act of distancing real emotion from normal life.

* * *
We know the circumstances of the composition of “The Little Prince” in detail now, courtesy of Stacy Schiff’s fine biography, “Saint-Exupéry.” Escaped from Europe to an unhappy, monolingual exile in North America, engaged in petty but heated internecine warfare with the other exile and resisting groups (he had a poor opinion of DeGaulle, who, he wrongly thought, was setting the French against the French, rather than against the Germans), Saint-Exupéry wrote this most French of fables in Manhattan and Long Island. The book’s desert setting derives from the aviator Saint-Exupéry’s 1935 experience of having been lost for almost a week in the Arabian desert, with his memories of loneliness, hallucination, impending death (and enveloping beauty) in the desert realized on the page. The central love story of the Prince and Rose derives from his stormy love affair with his wife, Consuelo, from whom the rose takes her cough and her flightiness and her imperiousness and her sudden swoons. (While he had been lost in the desert in ’35, Schiff tells us, she had been publicly mourning his loss on her own ‘asteroid,’ her table at the Brasserie Lipp.) The desert and the rose—his life as an intrepid aviator and his life as a baffled lover—were his inspiration. But between those two experiences, skewering them, dividing them with a line, was the war.

In the deepest parts of his psyche, he had felt the loss of France not just as a loss of battle but also as a loss of meaning. The desert of the strange defeat was more bewildering than the desert of Libya had been; nothing any longer made sense. Saint-Ex’s own war was honorable: he flew with the GR II/33 reconnaissance squadron of the Armée de l’Air. And, after the bitter defeat, he fled Europe like so many other patriotic Frenchmen, travelling through Portugal and arriving in New York on the last day of 1940. But, as anyone who lived through it knew, what made the loss so traumatic was the sense that the entire underpinning of French civilization, not merely its armies, had come, so to speak, under the scrutiny of the gods and, with remarkable speed, collapsed.

Searching for the causes of that collapse, the most honest honorable minds—Marc Bloch and Camus among them—thought that the real fault lay in the French habit of abstraction. The French tradition that moved, and still moves, pragmatic questions about specific instances into a parallel paper universe in which the general theoretical question—the model—is what matters most had failed its makers. Certainly, one way of responding to the disaster was to search out some new set of abstractions, of overarching categories to replace those lost. But a more humane response was to engage in a ceaseless battle against all those abstractions that keep us from life as it is. No one put this better than the heroic Bloch himself:

The first task of my trade (i.e. of the historian, but more broadly the humanist properly so called) consists in avoiding big-sounding abstract terms. Those who teach history should be continually concerned with the task of seeking the solid and concrete behind the empty and abstract. In other words, it is on men rather than functions that they should concentrate all their attention.
This might seem like a very odd moral to take from the experience of something as devastating as the war. But it wasn’t merely intellectual, an amateur’s non-combatant epiphany. At a purely tactical, military level, the urge to abstraction had meant the urge to fetishize fixed, systematic solutions at the expense of tactical fluidity and resourcefulness. The Maginot line was an abstract idea that had been allowed to replace flexible strategy and common sense. (One recalls Picasso’s comment to Matisse, when the troubled French painter asked him, in 1940, “But what about our generals, what are they doing?”: “Our generals? They’re the masters at the Ecole des Beaux Arts!” Picasso responded, meaning men possessed by the same rote formulae and absence of observation and obsessive traditionalism as the academic artists.

From an experience that was so dehumanizing and overwhelming—an experience that turns an entire human being with a complicated life history and destiny first into a cipher and then into a casualty—Saint-Exupéry wanted to rescue the person, not the statistic. The statistics could be any of those the men on the planets are obsessed with, the ‘counting’ fetish that might take in stars if one is an astronomer or profits for businessmen. The richest way to see “Le Petit Prince” is as an extended parable of the kinds and follies of abstraction—and the special intensity and poignance of the story is that Saint-Exupéry dramatizes the struggle against abstraction not as a philosophical subject but as a life-and-death story. The book moves from asteroid to desert, from fable and comedy to enigmatic tragedy, in order to make one recurrent point: You can’t love roses. You can only love a rose.

For all of the Prince’s journey is a journey of exile, like Saint-Exupéry’s, away from generic experience towards the eroticism of the particular flower. To be responsible for his rose, the Prince learns, is to see it as it really is, in all its fragility and vanity—indeed, in all its utter commonness!—without loving it less for being so fragile. The persistent triumph of specific experience can be found in something as idiosyncratic and bizarre as the opening image of a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant, which, the narrator tells us, the grownups can only see as a generic object. (This is where Saint-Ex and the Surrealists who admired him—a tracing of his hand appears in one of the issues of the Surrealist journal Minotaur—touch. Rene Magritte’s paintings, with their very similar obsession with middle-class hats, suggest that every time you see a bourgeois derby there may be a boa constrictor inside. The X-ray of every hat reveals a boa constrictor in every head. That could be the motto of every Surrealist exhibition.)

The men the Prince meets on his journey to Earth are all men who have, in Bloch’s sense, been reduced to functions. The Businessman, the Astronomer, even the poor Lamplighter, have become their occupations, and gone blind to the stars. It is, again, the essential movement we find in Camus, only in “The Little Prince” it is shown to us as comic fable rather than realistic novel. The world conspires to make us blind to its own workings; our real work is to see the world again.

A version of this essay first appeared, in French, in the magazine France-Amerique; it was also the subject of a lecture at the Morgan Library & Museum.


Deadlier Than The Rest by Shirleen Davies
Historical Western Romance
Date Published: March 3, 2014

“A passionate, heartwarming story of the iconic MacLarens of Fire Mountain. This captivating historical western romance grabs your attention from the start with an engrossing story encompassing two romances set against the rugged backdrop of the burgeoning western frontier.”

Connor MacLaren’s search has already stolen eight years of his life. Now he close to finding what he seeks—Meggie, his missing sister. His quest leads him to the growing city of Salt Lake and an encounter with the most captivating woman he has ever met.

Grace is the third wife of a Mormon farmer, forced into a life far different from what she’d have chosen. Her independent spirit longs for choices governed only by her own heart and mind. To achieve her dreams, she must hide behind secrets and half-truths, even as her heart pulls her towards the ruggedly handsome Connor.

Known as cool and uncompromising, Connor MacLaren lives by a few, firm rules that have served him well and kept him alive. However, danger stalks Connor, even to the front range of the beautiful Wasatch Mountains, threatening those he cares about and impacting his ability to find his sister.

Can Connor protect himself from those who seek his death? Will his eight year search lead him to his sister while unlocking the secrets he knows are held tight within Grace, the woman who has captured his heart?

Read this heartening story of duty, honor, passion, and love in book five of the MacLarens of Fire Mountain series.

Connor followed her up the narrow steps to her place, carrying her small bag, and set it down on the floor inside.

“You going to be okay here tonight?”

She slipped off her coat and hung it on a nearby hook. Grace wanted to be alone but didn’t want him to leave. Her heart told her to walk up to him, lace her arms around his neck, and ask him to stay. She shouldn’t. She was still married and it would be wrong, even if her marriage was a mockery. She planned to obtain a divorce, which was simple to do in Utah. The laws were lenient and divorce common with people coming from other states to take advantage of the quick dissolution procedures. She simply hadn’t had time to do it with work and planning how she was going to free Meggie.

Grace walked to a window and stared at the dark sky, deciding what to do. She needed to tell him about Moser but the words wouldn’t form. Say something tonight, or let him leave—she was conflicted. She continued to look out when she sensed him walk up behind her, felt his strong arms wrap around her waist, and draw her flush against his chest.

He pulled loose strands of hair away from her neck, bending to place kisses up to the tender spot behind her ear. “Ask me to stay,” he whispered before tugging a sensitive earlobe with his lips. She sagged against him, letting her head fall back against his chest and giving him access to the soft column of her neck.

Purchase Link:

Amazon: Click here.

I have been writing most of my life, but only recently began the transition into fiction. Historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and short stories are what keep me reading, so that is the focus of my writing.

I was born in California, grew up between a growing beach town and a small town at the base of the San Bernardino mountains. My mother originally planned to name me Katherine, but she read an article in the paper about a woman named Shirleen shortly before my birth, so instead of having a cool nickname, like Kate, I am simply Shirleen. My mainstays growing up were all the Nancy Drew mystery books; I loved them. Eventually I moved on to mysteries, suspense stories, crime novels, and romance. Pride and Prejudice will always be one of my favorites.

Besides California, life changes have allowed me to live in Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona. Everywhere I have lived has been inspirational in one way or another, giving me the opportunity to meet remarkable people with their own stories to tell. I've sailed, skied, owned horses plus lots of other animals, and ridden various off-road vehicles. I enjoy dancing, fishing, hunting, being the back-seater on my husband's Harley, traveling and, of course, reading and writing.

Prior to transitioning to writing fiction, I worked for Fortune 500 and many smaller, start-up companies. Fortunately, I regained my sanity long enough to start my own consulting firm, which I still maintain today.

My husband and I spend most of our time at our main home in the mountains of Arizona and our second home in Southern California. Between us we have five boys with growing careers and families of their own. So, from my perspective, my life is a success and always an adventure. I wouldn't change a thing; well, except finding more time to write.


Website: Click here.

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Goodreads Author Page: Click here.

There is a blitz-wide giveaway of one $25.00 gift card, one $10.00 gift card, and eBook Copies of Books from Shirleen Davies. Simply click the following link and do what the form says to enter:


Riot Round-Up: The Best Books We Read in April - Part One

by Sean Bell)

Black Lake by Johanna Lane

A modern family living in the husband’s familial crumbling and ancient Irish estate run out of money and open the house to the public as a tourist attraction. They move out of the big, damp house and into a tiny cottage, where the close proximity causes friction and eventually, tragedy. If you’re into RUINOUS, HOUSE OF USHER style mansions, big family SEEECREETTS, and slim books with heavy, ominous tones, this’ll be right up your alley. It’s creepy without anything creepy actually happening. It’s very Emily Bronte-ish, but without the animal abuse or dozens of characters named after each other or insufferable melodrama (I have feelings about Emily Bronte). It’s just unsettling, impressively crafted, and bananas-insightful about marriage, family, and why we hide things from people we love. - Amanda Nelson

The Bookseller by Mark Pryor

After absolutely falling in love with Laura Florand’s novels in March, I basically spent all of April reading books about French pastry chefs and chocolatiers. The Bookseller was the only non-Florand novel that managed to hold my attention. It has everything you could want: a gun-toting Texan, embassy officials, a smart-mouthed secretary, rare books, Nazi hunters, Paris, a hard-drinking CIA operative with his own agenda, fancy-pants aristocrats, a mysterious woman with secrets, Agatha Christie references, and a totally creeptastic villain. I saw many of the early twists coming from a mile off, and there are a hella lot of coincidences, but the plot redeems itself in the end with a very clever series of red herrings. I would recommend The Bookseller to anyone who enjoys a good mystery or books about books. - Tasha Brandstatter

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

I love to read personal essays, but it’s been awhile since I found a collection that knocked me back on my heels like The Empathy Exams. Leslie Jamison’s writing is elegant and honest, and reflects a person who is profoundly curious about the world around her, especially the world of pain and suffering. The book asks a lot of hard questions about how to understand and react to the pain of others and how we can better try to understand each other. If you are skeptical about an essay collection, you can read versions of the first and last essays of the book (my favorites) online to get an idea of what you’re missing —“The Empathy Exams” from Believer Mag and“Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” from The Virginia Quarterly Review. - Kim Ukura

Finch by Jeff Vandermeer

Detective John Finch is assigned a murder to investigate. Only, the city he lives in, Ambergris, has been invaded by creatures that are fungal in nature and many of the buildings have been turned into weird half-living mushrooms. It is now ruled by monstrous gray caps, creatures far more powerful than humans, and their designs on Ambergris are unclear. Finch has to solve the murder or likely be killed himself, but he is just as much of a mystery as the case. We learn early on that John Finch is not his name and that he claims not to be a detective at all.

The style of writing takes a bit of getting used to and will probably turn a few readers off. However, the book is delightfully weird, reminding me of China Mieville’s books at times. If you like your fiction dark, your cities dystopic and your antagonists otherworldly, this is your thing. If any of that sounded the least bit unpalatable, this is perhaps not the book for you. I thoroughly enjoyed it. - Johann Thorsson

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone (July 15, Tor Books)

This is the third book in Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, and he just keeps getting better and better. An epic fantasy with a distinctly 21st century feel, Gladstone’s newest novel follows Kai, a young transgender investor/priestess, on her home, the isolated archipelago of Kavekana. Kavekana has managed to stay alive after the God Wars by bowing to neither Divinity or Deathless Kings but by relying on Kai and her order to build artificial, harmless deities for all your worshipping needs. However, when Kai tries to save one of the order’s creations from dying, she begins to realize the true effect of building a god, and how do you stop one from waking up? I did a spotlight on Gladstone, but I’ll say it again here: he is one of the best up and coming fantasy writers out there, able to weave compassion and tension into sentences packed with stunning prose about worlds filled with diversity and magic. Bringing together threads from the first two books, and delivering something wholly unique, Full Fathom Five blew me away. Bring on book four, I say! - Martin Cahill

The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker

Once again I was nailed by my local librarian and not in that way, in this way, the way she has in steering me backwards, brilliantly, toward my eleven year old self and the stories that I, gawky, pudgy, overbite, braces, loved at that age, which is the Sci-Fi/Fantasy portion of everyone’s life. She pushed The Golem and The Jinni on me. And I sat up long after I put the kids to bed to steep in this wonderfully cast tall tale set in 19th century New York where waves of immigrants came in through Ellis Island and where a golem, a homunculus of Jewish mythology, meets a jinni, sprite of the desert Middle East, and they fight crime together like Peace Talk superheros. - Elizabeth Bastos

Guy In Real Life by Steve Brezenoff (May 27, Balzer + Bray/Harper)

Lesh and Svetlana run into one another — literally — on a street corner in St. Paul, Minnesota on Labor Day weekend. What ensues after is a story about a boy who learns there are no such things as manic pixie dream girls and a girl who challenges everyone’s expectations and preconceptions of what “being a girl” is all about. This book is amazingly nerdy, as Lesh is a video gamer (by accident) and Svetlana is dungeonmaster for her own role playing game. Both characters in the story have a voice, and in between their sections are parts played by Svvetlana, the female elf character Lesh plays in his video game. Brezenoff offers humor and heart in the story, challenging and exploring what gender roles are, what sexism is, and what an unconventional romance can be. Though I hesitate to compare it to Fangirl, readers who dug the style of metafiction there will absolutely eat this book up. Even those who aren’t gamers of any color (like myself!) will find that the way it’s been written easy to fall into. This one gets bonus points for its setting; it’s rare we get a book set in St. Paul in YA, let alone one that makes it sound like an awesome place to be. - Kelly Jensen

The Hare by Cesar Aira, translation by Nick Caistor

I recently spoke with the brilliant author Peter Heller, and during our talk he said he had just finished reading The Hare, so I knew I had to pick it up. I find that if I like an author, I usually like what they are reading as well. The language of this book is gorgeous. I can only imagine how challenging it must have been to translate, so props to Nick Caistor. The prose has this intuitive, natural lyricism that blends flawlessly with airs of astute, academic articulation. (Sorry for the overbearing alliteration) Cesar Aira does a tremendous job describing the pampas, making a seemingly dull landscape come alive. I was also quite surprised by the unconventional and unpredictable ending. Consult your Ouija boards, look to your tarot cards, read with a microscope, but I think you’ll be baffled and delighted by how this work wraps up. - Aram Mrjoian

How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer (July 1, St. Martin’s Press)

I loved Lydia Netzer’s debut novel, Shine, Shine, Shine and she didn’t disappoint me one bit with her second book. The thing about Netzer is that her writing is funny AND smart, so you actually feel the neurons in your brain rapid firing with every word. She’s completely outside the box, and it’s fresh, fun, and exciting. How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky is a genuinely moving love story at its core, with the added bonus of humor that is sweet and almost soul touching. George and Irene’s mothers are astrologists who give birth to “twin souls,” and plan to raise them separately so they can meet later and fall in love. The mothers have a little bit of a falling out and it is almost by divine intervention that George and Irene meet again. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and for that… I am grateful. When I grow up, I want to be Lydia Netzer. - Emily Gatlin

The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy

I haven’t read a Tolstoy in quite some time, and my return to his race-car-fast-paced fiction is making my head spin. In a good way! I forgot about how personable Tolstoy is, especially when it comes to the crazy characters you’d hope to never be friends with (or randomly meet on a dark train) in real life. Like Posdnicheff, the guy our innocent narrator meets on the train, who happens to be that husband from the paper who killed his wife in a fit of jealous rage, after finding her sleeping with the violinist. After lurking around and eavesdropping on the other passenger’s conversation for a while, Posdnicheff inserts his own argument, effectivly shuts down the good-natured fun by making everyone else really uncomfortable, then spends the rest of the ride passionately telling his own life story, leading up to marriage, murder and mayhem. It’s a delightful novella to get into as I prepare for my own wedding day, with wisdoms like “Yes, I affirm that love, real love, does not consecrate marriage, as we are in the habit of believing, but that, on the contrary, it ruins it.” Honestly though – I’m always surprised by how present-day Tolstoy’s conversations are, whether it be love and marriage, family and children, or the mess society is making of itself. Just another reminder that they’re called classics for a reason. - Alison Peters

Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique (July 10, Riverhead)

This debut novel is so gorgeously written and such a joy to read that I doled it out to myself in 20-page sips to make the pleasure last as long as possible. What more can I say?! It is challenging in the way that the best books are–Yanique asks readers to explore difficult dynamics and sit with uncomfortable moments–and it makes for an immensely rewarding reading experience. I’m hesitant to say anything that will give away the plot. Come to this book with fresh eyes and an open mind, and be prepared to be dazzled. - Rebecca Joines Schinsky

Love & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

The Hungarian Gold Train- have you heard of it? I certainly hadn’t, and I was exposed to A TON of Holocaust history as a kid. So what was in this train, discovered by the Allies in Salzburg at the end of WWII? The tangible evidence of a vanished community- the Jews of Budapest, most of whom were killed by the Nazis. In this beautiful and wide-ranging novel, Waldman moves forward and backward through time, charting the movement of a single locket taken from this train, one whose history illuminates the lives of such diverse people as a Jewish American soldier, his granddaughter, and the original owner of the locket. Ultimately, this story is about restitution, even after decades have passed, documents have disappeared, and people have died, for Natalie is asked by her grandfather to go back to Europe and locate the heirs of the locket’s original owner (and return it to them). What I especially appreciated about Love & Treasure was Waldman’s exploration of the Israeli Jew – Eastern European Jew divide and her foregrounding of history and memory as elements that connect everyone, living and dead. Overall, a lovely book. - Rachel Cordasco

Motherfucking Sharks by Brian Allen Carr

I raved about this book last week in the Well-Readheads column, but I have plenty of enthusiasm to rave some more! I loved this book to bloody, chummy pieces! In Motherfucking Sharks, a man and his mule ride into a small dusty town and tell the townspeople to hit the road because the motherfucking sharks are coming to gobble everybody up. (Well, the man tells them, not the mule. If the mule talked, it would be a Pixar film.) Being that they are in the middle of land, the townspeople think the man is insane and lock him up. So, of course, you know what happens next. (Spoiler: OM NOM NOM NOM.) This slim book is deliciously disturbing fun and more twisted than a Twizzler, but what really makes it work is Carr’s amazing writing. I immediately bought everything else he has written, because it is as much of his brain as I’ll be able to see without a bone saw. - Liberty Hardy

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

I’m about 50 pages from finishing this unfinished novel, and I’m not sure how I’m going to feel when I have to close the book. That said, for fans of Wallace, this is a must. It contains a wide variety of stylistic approaches and voices, and even though unfinished feels more even somehow than Infinite Jest. I’d recommend approaching the book as a collection as opposed to a novel, with the parts loosely united by a focus on the IRS and the theme of human struggle and growth. Yes, the book does center on an examination of boredom (and Wallace puts you through some real tedium in the reading), but most of the best parts are the long chapters, when the narrative lingers with characters as they take a hard look at themselves. This is Wallace at his best, revealing what these characters may not want to see about who they are while maintaining the potential for the hard-won emergence of their better selves. - Loyal Miles

Rat Queens, Volume 1 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch

I haven’t exactly been in love with comics lately, despite the abundance of really excellent titles currently being published. One of the comics that is starting to get me out of my funk is Rat Queens from Image Comics. This high-fantasy, adventure series follows a group of “battle maidens-for-hire” as they uncover a murderous plot in their home town. It’s just like Dungeons & Dragons if your questing group was a raucous Roller Derby team. That may sound a bit gimmicky, but the charming and well-developed characters give this comic sturdy legs. Rat Queens is a ridiculous amount of fun, and I can’t help but smile and cheer my way through this comic. - Ali Colluccio

Giveaway: How Do You Sneak in Reading Time?

by Rebecca Joines Schinsky)

This giveaway is sponsored by Oyster.

Oyster offers readers the opportunity to browse thousands of titles whenever and wherever the urge strikes them. They offer immediate and unlimited access to more than 100,000 titles, ranging from familiar favorites to books from across the genre spectrum. Readers will find award-winners and bestsellers and the titles that have been staring at them from bookstore displays, begging to be read. Their time has finally come.

Oyster is designed specifically for reading on-the-go, with apps available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.


I was slow to come around to the idea of reading on my phone, but when I finally gave it a shot, I was immediately hooked. Arrive at the gym a few minutes before class starts? Read a couple pages. Sitting in the car while my husband pumps gas? Read a few pages. Doctor’s offices, post office lines, getting stuck behind the last person who on earth who still writes a check at the grocery store? You guessed it, read a few pages.

New ereading technology makes it easier than ever before for book nerds to sneak in extra reading time. So in this giveaway, we want to know how you do it.

Oyster is offering 5 lucky Riot readers a one-year subscription to the service. All you have to do is complete the form below by 11:59 pm on Tuesday, May6th to enter. Entries are limited to the United States, and winners will be randomly selected.

Sneak In Reading Tips

Click here to fill out the form and enter the giveaway.

Jump into the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign, Help Change the World

by Jill Guccini)

The Internet, at its best, can be a grand megaphone for pinpointing social injustice. We patiently explain it; angrily vent about it; analyze and dissect it through blogs, Tumblr posts, and in 140 characters. Shouting into the online void may sound like a small thing, but when done right, it can be surprisingly constructive, or cathartic, or motivating. And at its very, very best, after all the talking, the Internet can actually become a venue of legit change.

Any regular reader of this site knows that we’ve all had our hackles up over the recent BookCon debacle, for many reasons which have been so eloquently explained by so many people that I don’t need to repeat them. The severity of its exclusion was ripe for an outcry, but BookCon is really just another event in a long history of literary exclusion, an exclusion that mirrors the overall erasure of people of color, of LGBT people, of disabled people, of fat people, of non-binary and non-conforming people in our media and our governments and our world. And enough just gets to be e-freaking-nough. Enough passing on blog posts about the lack of diversity in the book world to friends that already feel similarly exasperated and disheartened. Time to actually do some shit.

Enter the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, organized by the fantastic Ellen Oh and others, is fully explained on their Tumblr, but essentially, the plan is this: a three-day campaign spread over various social media to promote both personal reasons from the masses about why diverse books are so important, and then, of course, the diverse books themselves.

Day One, May 1st, will start the visual/hashtag campaign. A la the I, Too, Am Harvard campaign (among many, many others), the #WeNeedDiverseBooks organizers are asking folks to make signs explaining why they need diverse books, and to then submit photos of them. You can be in the picture with the sign if you feel comfortable doing so, or you can photograph a big group of people, or just the sign alone–whatevs you want! Just submit one! Email your photos to

Starting on May 1st, they’ll start posting the photos on their Tumblr, and it’s our job to reblog, Tweet, Facebook, Instagram, whatever them, overwhelming the Internets with the hashtag of awesomeness, #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

Day Two, May 2nd, will include a Twitter conversation starting at 2PM EST around issues of diversity in books and why they matter.

Day Three, May 3rd, will begin the ongoing Diversify Your Shelves call to action. There’ll be another online chat, once again using the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, to share out recommendations, raves, and reviews of our favorite diverse books. And then? Why, of course, we should go out there and get them, documenting and sharing out our newly diversified shelves in photographs.

The campaign is quick to acknowledge that not everyone can afford to diversify our shelves right now, so they recommend seeing if diverse authors and titles are available at your local library, and if not, suggesting them to your local librarians. I would love to see local book sharing initiatives jumping off from the hashtag/campaign, as well. It’s important to show publishers that we’re serious about this thing with our cold hard cash, but really, the most important thing is to get the books in the hands of the people. I’m also planning on voting this weekend on some diverse books for my local school district’s Battle of the Books book list for next year in line with this campaign, as the book list this year was, unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly white. Do whatever you can to contribute to diversified bookshelves!

Oh, and there’s giveaways, too. Who doesn’t like giveaways?

While it’s starting with a concentrated focus and zest on these three days, the hope is that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, and the photos and conversations surrounding it, continues into the foreseeable future. I’ll be playing along on my personal Twitter and Tumblr during the May 1-3 campaign, and will publish a follow-up post here on Book Riot next week with some of my favorite moments.

Systematic change starts bit by bit. Sure, it’s just an Internet campaign, but if you watch the news these days, Internet campaigns can carry quite a bit of clout. Hell, Internet campaigns ARE the news these days. And reading better and wider? Turning the conversation to books and authors you should be reading now, and working on getting those books into people’s hands? It’s a heck of a good start.

It Happens (I think)

I read all genres. There have only been three book in my life that I could not finish because they were so bad. And some have been close calls.

Yesterday I opened up a tour book to read and omg. The first sentence did not do anything for me. I did not make it past page one. I had no clue what was going on and felt like I was on the edge of the universe and had no idea how to get back home. It was bad.

I felt bad because I had to write the tour company and back out and told them why. I looked and the book had almost 4 stars so people liked it. I would love to meet these people.

But I feel like I am missing out on something. I know it sound weird but what if it got better? Probably not but I need to be captured right away when I start a book. However it is done. It does not have to be trumpets blaring and drums banging but be interesting.

I have another tour book to read plus tons of my own to read. Now I know why people stick with the same author because you know what you are getting. But I like to expand my horizons. Find new authors. I think I may be able to survive the rest of my reading days on the authors I like already lol! But still, I will always wonder about this one book....

10 Dark and Twisty Books for ‘Gone Girl’ Fans

by Elisabeth Donnelly)

Fun fact: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was released in paperback last week nearly two years after its initial release. In publishing terms that means it’s a monster, gigantic hit, but that shouldn’t be a surprise to the numbers of people who’ve read it and the number of times the “Cool Girl” monologue has been cited as sheer truth and quite reminiscent of Jennifer Lawrence’s whole persona. (And it’s a “truth” laced with irony to anyone who’s read the book.) Gone Girl will only get bigger once the David Fincher film adaptation is released in October.

But once you’ve read Flynn’s Gone Girl, and her other books, Dark Places and Sharp Objects, to which can you turn for delicious, dark and twisty thrillers featuring complicated females and irresistible mystery? Here’s a list of ten books that will serve you well.

Save Yourself, Kelly Braffet

There’s a pervasive moodiness to Braffet’s third novel, the story of aimless kids — teen goth girls and not-much-older boys in dead-end convenience store jobs — looking for freedom in the shadow of some tough breaks. Braffet pulls off tricky twisting narration, and the book becomes something of great power and dark beauty by the ending.

What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal], Zoe Heller

An admitted influence on Gone Girl, Heller’s novel is the salacious story of a schoolteacher who’s caught in a relationship with a 15 year-old boy. But what makes it chilling and brilliant is the narration, “written” by Sheba’s closest friend, fellow schoolteacher and lonely spinster Barbara Covett (played brilliantly by Dame Judi Dench in the film adaptation).

And When She Was Good, Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman is a talent, and I’ll read anything she writes: she ably moves between her Tess Monaghan mysteries and stand alones, all fired up by her voice, an able and wry tone that belies her past as a journalist. And When She Was Good is a corker about a suburban madam named Heloise (first met in the wonderful collection Hardly Knew Her) trying to keep her work separate from her pristine (very Orphan Black) home.

Dare Me, Meghan Abbott

Teenage cheerleaders are the most terrifying beings in the world, and in Abbot’s noirish look at the seething political jousting underneath your average high school sports team we get a glimpse into the kill-or-be-killed parrying in the lives of teenage girls who cling to power like queens.

Visitation Street, Ivy Pochoda

Pochoda’s book nails the mood of Red Hook, the way that many different people of different races and classes in New York City center on this particular slab of land, and how whole community feels the ripples when a teen girl goes missing.

Dangerous Girls, Abigail Haas

Anna is on trial in the Caribbean for the blood-soaked murder of her best friend, Elise. In switching, fractured prose, Haas shows that nearly anyone can look guilty in the eyes of the media, especially if they’re living their life online. Full disclosure: Abigail Haas is the nom de plume of Abby McDonald, a close friend, but I can say that this is her finest work. If you need more convincing, the breathless reviews on Goodreads with their OMGs (and, fair warning, spoilers) should also help.

In the Woods, Tana French

French writes spooky novels about the “Dublin Murder Squad,” following Detective Cassie Maddox and her colleagues as she solves crimes. In this one, the murder of a child is linked back to the old, famous abduction of Maddox’s partner on the squad. Once you start reading French, you’re going to keep going.

Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman

We may not have Gillian Flynn’s work without the women who wrote these stories — including former Flavorwire Author Club pick Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith, along with wonderful forgotten, new-to-this-reader names. Featuring suspense stories rooted in the everyday life of women, from an era where women were in very conscribed positions, Sarah Weinman’s anthology has a fine eye for brilliant writers, leading to an collection that’s nothing but hits.

Under Your Skin, Sabine Durrant

When Gaby Mortimer, a Londoner with a Kelly Ripa-morning-host sort of job, finds a woman’s dead body during a morning run. She’s then thrust into a twisty world of murder and intrigue, with the complication that she’s a known media figure. Murder and media? Sounds like a recipe that propelled Gone Girl along.

Blindsighted, Karin Slaughter

The first in a series featuring Dr. Sara Linton, Blindsighted is about a serial killer picking off women in Georgia, with a connection to the good Dr., the local medical examiner. But Linton’s going to have to deal with her ex-husband, the chief of police, first. This is the first Slaughter book in an addictive series, and she’s able and adept with twists and gruesome storytelling.

7 Times When A Comma Has Made A MAJOR Difference

by Maddie Crum)

I am, unapologetically, an over-user of commas. Case in point: I could have written the previous sentence as, "I am an unapologetic over-user of commas," but opted not to. I wished to emphasize just how unapologetic I am about my comma usage. I also wanted you to read the first sentence of this essay not as a cold fact, but as a casually broached conversation starter. That's the comma's unique, multi-faceted power: It can highlight, it can clarify, it can create a rhythm. Most importantly: It can force us to pause. Which is why Slate's fascinating piece, "Will We Use Commas in the Future?" (A: Maybe.) is disconcerting.

The piece is a break-down of linguist John McWhorter's assertion that commas could be removed entirely from our writing (including classic literature! blasphemy!), and clarity would remain mostly intact. His reasoning? Because Internet. Twitter's 140-character limit makes its users punctuation-averse, and in other, less-restricted online mediums, the meaning of punctuation marks is shifting; periods denote anger, ellipses imply skepticism. According to McWhorter, these changes have not made it more difficult for us to understand each other; therefore they must be valid. Writing is shifting to become more colloquial, and commas, he argues, are prohibitive to this shift.

In theory, this is a fine, descriptivist concept; people shape language, not the other way around. People are hurriedly removing commas, and it's only a matter of time before pedantic authors and English teachers get with the program. But there are a few gaping holes in McWhorter's argument. First, he glosses over the few occasions on which commas are necessary for clarity. Second, he mistakenly associates commas with stodginess, when in reality, they can make a statement more conversational. And third, he seems not to acknowledge the rift between efficient writing and complex writing.

Commas for clarity

The elimination of commas can lead to confusion, as in the unfortunately comma-less sentence, "Let's eat Grandma." A few other examples:

A magazine headline reading, "Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog."
A sentence which, without commas, becomes more restrictive: "The monks who were running jumped aside" as opposed to "The monks, who were running, jumped aside."
A sentence that, in the absence of an Oxford comma, makes the speaker seem like he/she is talking to inanimate objects: "I had eggs, toast and orange juice" as opposed to "I had eggs, toast, and orange juice."
Sometimes, there's no getting around the fact that the correct point can't be conveyed without a comma.

Commas for complexity

The above are obvious examples. The missing commas alter their meanings entirely. There are subtler situations that don't necessitate commas, but which benefit from them. Here are a few:

The example used in The Elements of Style to illustrate a parenthetic statement set off by commas: "The best way to see a country, unless you are pressed for time, is to travel on foot."
The first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities, an elaborate run-on conveying the tendency for "the nosiest authorities" to ramble and use superlatives: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..."
There's a case to be made against the first example, which when written without commas still makes sense: "Unless you are pressed for time the best way to see a country is to travel on foot." The same point is conveyed, if ungrammatically. But the version with commas is more pleasant to read. It's broken up phonetically, and puts the most important aspect of the statement at the beginning.

The second example is a creative use of the comma. The gist could, of course, be understood if the commas were replaced with periods. But the tone would be altered.

It should go without saying (but puzzlingly doesn't) that language can be made better by including more than what's necessary. There's been a recent push for simplifying language -- the maddening Hemingway app suggests the removal of adverbs, and Spritz, an irritating new speed reading app, flashes words and short phrases on a screen for quick ingestion. But when we use lowest common denominator language, we disallow more complicated thoughts.

Commas for conversation

Okay, so that covers the importance of commas in more serious writing. But what about the colloquial stuff? If written language is trending towards more casual chats than elaborate essays, do commas still have a place? Well, duh.

Yes, the Internet has created a new, more relaxed tone for written conversation. You needn't look any further than BuzzFeed's Style Guide, which includes such important distinctions as "haha (interjection); ha-ha (n.)" to see that writing on or for the Internet isn't much different from talking face-to-face. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's plenty of room for complexity in conversational language, and commas play a part in contributing to that complexity.

As evidence for the comma's downfall, the Slate article references a quote from Brooklyn Magazine, in which an author creatively removes commas from her writing: “Although I really want to tell you about this white noise machine I just got!!!!!!!!!!! No but it seriously has changed my life!!! hahahah I don’t even know if I’m joking or not!!!" This stream-of-consciousness style is nothing more than a trend in online writing; it's a way to convey excitement over a subject while simultaneously demonstrating awareness that said excitement is rather silly because said subject is a little petty. It is not, as McWhorter argues, the beginning of the end of commas. A slew of sites with relaxed editorial voices deploy commas liberally:

Rather than conveying excitement, commas used to enhance a piece's conversational tone might set off an interjection, as in, "Oh, did you just shake your head so hard in disbelief?"
They might also lead off a paragraph outlining an offhand opinion, as in "But frankly, this just reminds me of the time I visited an e-commerce company...".
Are commas essential for clear communication? Not always. But sometimes they are, and they certainly allow us to covey a variety of tones, conversational or otherwise, in our writing. A comma-less future would, I believe, be a linguistic bore, if not a communicational disaster.

*Blogger's note: This makes me think of all the books I have read and whether a comma made a difference or not. I may be looking at that more closely now. I am sure, like exclamation points, authors overuse commas too.

Guess What? Erotica Is NOT A New Phenomenon

by Caroline Linden)

When did you realize Fifty Shades of Grey had become ubiquitous?

I had heard of it, of course; authors tend to notice tales of unexpected multi-million-sale successes by other authors. I hadn't read it myself but had certainly talked to people who'd read it. And yes, every other person at the beach seemed to have a copy. But I didn't quite realize how extensive its reach was until I discovered my teenage daughter had bought it.

When I mentioned that to a friend, she gasped aloud. "How could you let her read that?"

I had to admit I haven't figured out how to stop my girl from reading, which secretly pleases me a great deal.

"But it's kind of... dirty," she replied in a whisper.

"So dirty you read it twice?"

"Exactly! I didn't know there were books like that!"

She was probably right in that there weren't really books like that on top of the bestseller lists, stacked up twenty deep in front of the bookstore, and being made into feature films. But erotic romance, and its spicier cousin erotica, has been here for years, just waiting for the limelight. And now they've certainly found it. Sylvia Day, author of the wildly successful Crossfire series, was recently in the news for signing multiple million-dollar book deals, with a TV series in development. Authors like Emma Holly, Maya Banks, and Charlotte Stein are writing books that explore all manner of fantasies. No longer are the sizzling stories shelved in the back with plain covers; these books are atop the publishing landscape. Fifty Shades only brought out into the mainstream a genre that has been around for a long time.

Not that this should surprise anyone. Sex sells, and always has. Erotica and pornography have been around for hundreds of years, even thousands, as archaeologists discovered in unearthing Pompeii.

I write historical romance novels, set two hundred years ago in the Regency Era of Britain: a very lovely and graceful age of scientific inquiry, nascent industrialism, stately art and architecture, and exquisite fashion. But sexual prudery wasn't as much a part of it as Jane Austen adaptations might lead one to think. There were no e-readers then, so erotic books were printed privately and sold quietly. And make no mistake: Some of them were very explicit indeed.

Take the School of Venus (c. 1680). It's written as a dialogue between a young woman, Katy, age 16, and her older friend, Frances. In other words, it's a sex manual for women, and there are no bleeped out words. Frances wants her friend to be fully informed. And to further instruct readers at home, this version was illustrated.

Consider also Fanny Hill (1748), subtitled "Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure," where "woman of pleasure" was the 18th century, polite way of saying "prostitute." According to one legend, Fanny was written on a dare to produce a lewd work that didn't use any vulgar words (which it doesn't, despite an impressive number of sexual acts described in lengthy detail). Nevertheless it was still considered so obscene, the author and publisher were arrested and the book was banned... as recently as the 1960s. Of course that only fueled the underground demand for it, and it sold very well... even in the 1960s.

But these were all before the straight-laced Victorian age. The Georgians were known to be a bawdy lot, while the Victorians were as prim as their queen. Weren't they? A reading of The Pearl (1879-1880) or The Romance of Lust (1873) will emphatically demonstrate that Christian Grey was not the first man with a fondness for the whip. Nor was flogging the only thing Victorian men found erotic: incest, orgies, cross-dressing, homosexuality (in an era when it was illegal), and dominance and submission can all be found in period erotica. Being seduced by someone older and in authority was popular, particularly a governess, a school master, a priest.

There is one significant difference between the kinky stories of yesterday and today: the writers. Fanny Hill, The Pearl, The School of Venus were all written by men. And while they generally celebrated sex and portrayed enthusiastic women, the undercurrent is the man's pleasure. Modern erotic stories, on the other hand, are more often written by women, with a woman and her desires at the center of the story.

Unsurprisingly, people like sex. And if everyone else is reading a story, that only makes it more enticing. When I asked my daughter why she'd bought Fifty Shades of Grey, she responded, "Because everyone except me has read it, and I just had to know what they were talking about!" It's now easier than ever for people to get their hands on literature of any period or persuasion, with no need to resort to an underground market. It can be read on the beach in broad daylight, or even privately on the train to work, thanks to e-readers. No matter what your fancy, there's a story about it.

Caroline Linden is the author of the new book It Takes A Scandal.

Smashwords Self-Published Bestseller List, March 2014


Kristy Moseley's romance Enjoying the Chase grabs the top spot on our list of the best-selling titles published on the Smashwords platform -- which are distributed to Amazon, the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo -- with Moseley also coming in at #13 with The Boy Who Sneaks in My Bedroom Window and #25 with Nothing Left to Lose. Enjoying the Chase is the stand-alone companion to Nothing Left to Lose.

Also occupying three spots on this month's list is Melody Grace, whose romances Unconditional, Epic Love, and Unbroken came in at #2, #8, and #20 respectively. And while romance still dominates -- a whopping 19 titles in the top 25 are either romances or YA romances -- Shayne Parkinson turns in a strong performance with three works of historical fiction making our list. At #4 and #5 respectively are the second and third installments in her Promises to Keep trilogy, Mud and Gold and Settling the Account, while A Second Chance -- the sequel to the Promises to Keep series -- sits at #9.

Rank Title Author Genre Price
1 Enjoying the Chase Kirsty Moseley Romance 2.99
2 Unconditional Melody Grace Romance 3.99
3 Broken Silence Natasha Preston Romance 1.99
4 Mud and Gold (Promises to Keep: Book 2) Shayne Parkinson Historical Fiction 2.99
5 Settling the Account (Promises to Keep: Book 3) Shayne Parkinson Historical Fiction 2.99
6 Fable: An Unfortunate Fairy Tale Book 3 Chanda Hahn YA Fantasy 3.99
7 Storm Shells GJ Walker-Smith YA Romance 3.99
8 Epic Love Melody Grace Romance 3.99
9 A Second Chance Shayne Parkinson Historical Fiction 2.99
10 Second Hearts GJ Walker-Smith YA Romance 3.99
11 An Endless Summer (The Summer Series) C.J Duggan YA Romance 3.99
12 Heller's Regret JD Nixon Mystery 2.99
13 The Boy Who Sneaks in My Bedroom Window Kirsty Moseley Romance 2.99
14 Back-Up A.M. Madden Romance 2.99
15 Six Brothers (Gypsy Brothers, #2) Lili Saint Germain Romance 2.99
16 Fallen Crest Public Tijan Romance 3.99
17 Smitten Lacey Weatherford YA Romance 2.99
18 That One Summer (The Summer Series) C.J Duggan Romance 3.99
19 Front & Center (Book 2 of The Back-up Series) A.M. Madden Romance 2.99
20 Unbroken Melody Grace Romance 3.99
21 Fallen Crest Family Tijan Romance 2.99
22 Toxic (Ruin Series Book 2) Rachel Van Dyken Romance 2.99
23 Fairest (Unfortunate Fairy Tale Book 2) Chanda Hahn YA Fiction 3.99
24 Ryan Hunter Anna Katmore Romance 2.99
25 Nothing Left to Lose Kirsty Moseley Romance 2.99

Book Bits

by Annalisa Quinn)

Tess Gerritsen, author of the astronaut novel Gravity, is suing Warner Bros., claiming the studio's failed to credit her as an inspiration for last year's film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Warner Bros. bought the film rights in 1999. Gerritsen says the studio owes her 2.5 percent of the film's profits and that it broke an agreement that the movie be released with a "based upon" credit. In the past, Gerritsen has been quoted saying that "Gravity is a great film, but it's not based on my book." But, according to The New York Times, her lawyer says that "Ms. Gerritsen in recent months was given information — he would not be specific — that caused her to believe that Alfonso Cuarón, who also directed "Gravity," winning an Oscar, based his screenplay on her book." Cuarón and his son Jonás are credited with writing the screenplay.

Adam Johnson won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for The Orphan Master's Son, a novel set in North Korea. For Granta, he describes the bizarre reality of spending time there: "For a week, my minders had been steering me daily into shopping opportunities at various gifts shops and department stores. And I was ready to pay. I was dying to buy something, anything that would help my wife and children understand the profound surrealism and warped reality I'd experienced on my research trip to North Korea. But there was nothing to buy."

In an essay called "Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing," Daniel José Older argues that in order for children's books to begin to show perspectives other than white ones, editors, publishers, agents, and the rest of the book industry need to become more diverse — not just authors. He writes, "The publishing industry looks a lot like one of these best-selling teenage dystopias: white and full of people destroying each other to survive."

The Marxists Internet Archive, an online library of Marxist texts, is fighting a U.K. publisher to be able to put a copyrighted translation of Marx online without paying for it, because, you know, they're Marxists. The publisher Lawrence & Wishart — a historically leftist publisher — said they were met with a "campaign of online abuse" after they asked to take the copyrighted text down. A petition by a supporter of the Marxists Internet Archive, which has attracted thousands of signatures, states: "It is immensely ironic that a private publishing company is claiming the copyright of the collected works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the philosophers who wrote against the monopoly of capitalism and its origin, private property, all their lives." Lawrence & Wishart responded: "Income from our copyright on this scholarly work contributes to our continuing publication programme. Infringement of this copyright has the effect of depriving a small radical publisher of the funds it needs to remain in existence."

Frankenstein in Baghdad, a novel by the Iraqi writer Ahmed Saadawi, has won the 2014
International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The prize, established in 2007 to combat the "limited international availability of high quality Arab fiction," comes with $50,000 and an English translation of the winning work. The prize website describes the novel like this: "Set in the spring of 2005, Frankenstein in Baghdad tells the story of Hadi al-Attag, a rag-and-bone man who lives in a populous district of Baghdad. He takes the body parts of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body. The body is entered by a displaced soul, bringing it to life. Hadi calls the being 'the-what's-its-name,' while the authorities name it 'Criminal X' and others refer to it as 'Frankenstein'. Frankenstein begins a campaign of revenge against those who killed him, or killed those whose parts make up his body."

Amazon Book List Reveals What's Hot In American Regional Cuisine

by April Fulton)

With zillions of cookbooks coming out every year, how do you decide which ones are worth your time?

From upstate New York's heirloom veggie craze to the Pacific Northwest's baking boom, regional fare is taking off.

But with zillions of cookbooks coming out every year, how do you figure out which culinary jewels will be worth your precious time and shelf space?

Amazon, that giant aggregator of all things, breaks down about 500 regional cookbooks into manageable bites by curating what it considers the best of its vast collection.

Mari Malcolm, Amazon Books food editor, says she learned a few things putting the map together its Great American Eats map. For example, while California is a healthful hub of juicing how-to's and guides to going gluten-free, it's also a place where cookbook authors obsess over fatty meat.

"There's lots of charcuterie coming out of California," Malcolm says, like In The Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf's Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods and the new Charcutería: The Soul of Spain, and Sausage Making: The Definitive Guide With Recipes, which is due out May 13.

And while we're on the subject of meat, it's pretty much tops in Texas. The Lone Star state's best cookbooks are "a lot of what you would expect, with barbecue and paleo [diet books]," she says. But Christine Ha's Recipes from My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food is a fan favorite. Ha won Season 3 of "MasterChef" on Fox and lives in Houston.

The most prolific region for new cookbooks in recent years is the South, with 152 books — think Bobby Deen's Everyday Eats and The New Southern Table. It's followed closely by the mid-Atlantic, which boasts 105 of the 500 cookbooks on the list, including the coffee-table worthy Beekman Boys' latest, The Beekman 1802 Heirlook Vegetable Cookbook, and new contributions from celebs Ina Garten, Mark Bittman and Lidia Bastianich.

Up north in New England, it's history and science-y tomes from America's Test Kitchen.

To develop the map, Malcolm started with books she personally liked, then James Beard and International Association of Culinary Professionals award winners, then historically significant ones like Fannie Farmer and the quintessential African American contribution from the 19th century: What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc. Then she threw in highly-rated reader favorites. "Editorial selection criteria didn't have anything to do with sales," she says.

Beyond the map, Amazon says, more American cookbooks these days are incorporating food with once obscure ingredients and a global edge, be it Asian, Middle Eastern or Latin. "There's a lot of international cooking ... across the country," Malcom says.

Top 10 Novels Inspired by Shakespeare

by Sally O'Reilly)

Words, words, words … Scott Shepherd (with Richard Burton on film) playing Hamlet in The Wooster Group's production at the Edinburgh International festival. Photograph: Paula Court

Shakespeare famously customised existing plots when writing his plays, and added to them an acute perception of human experience which gave them universal significance. Thwarted love, ambition, greed, jealousy, fear – if you want to write a story about a fundamental predicament, there is a Shakespeare play to fit the bill. So it's not surprising that he has inspired so many writers, from Herman Melville to Angela Carter.

He dealt in archetypes before anyone knew such things existed, and his ability to take an emotion or a situation and push it to the limit helped create a cadre of plays that have been endlessly staged – and copied. Apart from the examples below, Romeo and Juliet inspired Malorie Blackman's Noughts & Crosses, there are references to Hamlet in Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis and The Tempest was the cue for The Magus by John Fowles.

But Macbeth is my favourite – a preference I apparently share with Jo Nesbo, who recently announced that his new noir crime novel would be based on the Scottish play. Its sinister magic is also the inspiration behind my historical novel Dark Aemilia.

In Jacobean times, the occult was accepted as part of everyday life, and witchcraft was both feared and sought out as a useful resource. I tried to channel some of this, and recreate the psychology of a fearful, superstitious age.

1. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (Macbeth/King Lear)

Melville's Great American Novel draws on both Biblical and Shakespearean myths. Captain Ahab is "a grand, ungodly, god-like man … above the common" whose pursuit of the great white whale is a fable about obsession and over-reaching. Just as Macbeth and Lear subvert the natural order of things, Ahab takes on Nature in his determination to kill his prey – and his hubristic quest is doomed from the start.

2. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (Richard III)

Richard III gets a sympathetic makeover in Josephine Tey's 1951 whodunnit, which reads like a cross between Rear Window and Time Team. Detective Alan Grant, confined to bed after an accident, begins to take in interest in the much-maligned king after studying his portrait. Although clearly Richard III was a real person, the false picture we have of him was originally created by Shakespeare, Tey argues. He created a pantomime villain and child murderer in order to curry favour with his Tudor patron, Elizabeth I.

3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (The Tempest)

Huxley makes numerous references to the work of Shakespeare in this dystopian novel, and the title is taken from the Tempest: "O brave new world, / That has such people in 't!" Like Caliban, John "the Savage" is an outcast, despised for his appearance, and Huxley is exploring ideas about the power of art and the nature of humanity as Shakespeare does in his haunting and, possibly, final play.

4. Cakes and Ale by W Somerset Maugham (Twelfth Night)

I discovered Maugham when I was about 14. He was out of fashion then, and is completely below the radar now. But this is a fascinating novel about literary snobbery. The portrayal of "loose woman" Rosie Driffield is sexist in modern terms, but her unapologetic hedonism is inspired by Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night: "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"

5. The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (Macbeth)

Like Macbeth, Ripley wants what someone else has got. And just as Macbeth murders Duncan, Ripley bumps off golden boy Dickie Greenleaf, seeking to take his place. Then the body count rises as Ripley attempts to secure his position. This isn't a direct retelling, but the parallels are clear: Macbeth is accused of taking on "borrowed robes" and Ripley literally steals Dickie's clothes and identity. For me, the main difference between the Scottish king and the young American is that Ripley is a proper psychopath – he doesn't feel remorse.

6. The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch (Hamlet)

This is a brilliant depiction of obsessive love, though its plot is a typically convoluted Murdochian creation which is inspired by Freud and Plato as well as Hamlet. It tells the story of a twisted friendship between two writers, and features some cheekily cross-dressed sex scenes in which Julian (a young woman) dresses up as the gloomy Dane. Murdoch is strongest on the unpredictability of love, and the black comedy that can result.

7. The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth (Julius Caesar)

Shakespeare's exploration of violence and treachery has inspired numerous contemporary writers. Forsyth references Julius Ceasar in the title of his novel about mercenaries fighting in a fictional African republic: "Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war." The themes also reflect those in this brutal play: the story shows these ruthless men operate by their own code, consistent but merciless, and difficult for outsiders to understand.

8. Wise Children by Angela Carter (The Taming of the Shrew et al)

Twins, doubles and paradoxes abound in Carter's final novel, as they do in Shakespeare. The story of twins Dora and Nora Chance explores ideas about paternity and incest, and the novel is written in five chapters like the five acts in a Shakespeare play. One of the themes is "high art" versus "low art" and Carter jokily refers to Shakespeare via Kiss Me Kate, a populist adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. I loved the audacity and sheer verve in this novel, and the way it both challenges and celebrates the Shakespeare legacy.

9. Love in Idleness by Amanda Craig (A Midsummer Night's Dream)

This is a modern reworking of A Midsummer Night's Dream set in contemporary Tuscany, which gently ridicules the chattering classes. The familiar tropes of Shakespearean comedy are all there – confusion, heartache and eventual resolution. Like Murdoch, Craig has some fun with names – my particular favourites are Theo Noble and Ellen and Ivo Sponge – as well as exposing some of the frailties and inconsistencies in our approach to love and marriage.

10. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (King Lear)

Smiley retells the story of King Lear in modern-day Iowa in her Pulitzer-prizewinning novel. The novel is set on a thousand-acre farm which is owned by a father and his three daughters, and told from the point of view of the oldest, Ginny. Instead of dismissing the two older daughters as wicked and grasping, as Shakespeare does, in her novel Smiley explores the family secrets that underpin the drama, and shows the significance of the land itself