by Dennis Loy Johnson

15 December 2004 — For book lovers out there who are still stubbornly insisting that the rise of Christian fundamentalism homophobic right wing government is not necessarily a good thing, I bring glad tidings: You can do something about it and simultaneously take care of all your holiday book shopping needs, thanks to a new website that reveals the political donations of major retailers.
     For example, wondering whether to buy books online at Amazon.com or at BarnesandNoble.com? Does it make the decision easier for you to know that 98% of B&N's corporate political donations went to the Democrats, while 61% of Amazon's went to the Republicans?
     Or maybe you'll be encouraged to get offline entirely and shop at an old–fashioned brick and mortar store upon hearing the news that Borders gave 100% or its donations to Democrats?
     Those are some of the revelations to be found at Buyblue.org, a new website founded by a group of people who met through the political blog The Daily Kos.
     "It is about corporate transparency, but it is also about bringing political power back to individuals," one of the founders, Raven Brooks, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Brooks, a computer systems analyst in San Francisco, says, "Where you spend your money every day matters. Nine times out of 10, corporations act contrary to consumer interests, but we still patronize them and don't hold them accountable."
     Innumerable retailers are listed at the site, from Wal–Mart (red) to Foot Locker (blue) to Costco (blue) to Sears (red) and The Limited (red).
     The Amazon numbers may be the most surprising on the site, however. As one entry on Buyblue's blog notes—an entry entitled, "Say it ain't so, Jeff"—"It seems counterintuitive for a company patronized by so many progressives to turn around and donate their money to causes antithetical to their constituents' values."
     The entry also details what those constituents can do about it, however, and as it turns out, there's quite a bit more that can be done beyond merely shopping at a competitor whose views are more simpatico.
     For one thing, Buyblue provides visitors with a list of alternative retailers. And what if an Amazon customer, say, "also wants to lodge a protest at this company he has been supporting for years thinking they espoused progressive values?" There's information about how to do that, including the e–mail address of Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.
     And what if Bezos "chooses to respond with Amazon's customary 'don't let the door hit you on the way out' form letter as a reply"? Information is available about the companies that invest in Amazon, and how to contact them, too. There's also information about groups gathering to "protest Amazon's finance of a right wing agenda," and info about the boycott those groups are planning "in a couple of weeks."
     As the site explains, the theory behind Buyblue is that "when politicians and corporations collude to form policy very rarely are the long term effects on individuals taken into account. We need to change that and this is our seat at the table."
     Reasonably enough, the theory continues, "Corporations are profit–making machines that have no allegiance to law or country. The only way to make them act ethically is to make it profitable to do so. By withholding and subsequently returning our revenue we will provide the financial incentive necessary for to move corporations toward sustainability. By aggregating our effort through Buyblue.org we will be able to show them the exact amount of revenue they stand to win by acting ethically. This is no different than any other free market business negotiation."
     Of course, Amazon has avoided the seemingly logical dictates of sound economic principles before—they've survived for ten years without making a legitimate profit, after all. Still, it will be interesting to see what happens if their clientele is reduced to the folks they've been donating money to—you know, the ones who only read that one book.

Link to this column.

Previous column; IT IS WHAT IT IS: KID LIT ... Guest columnist Jackie Corley talks about her experience of the strange pressure put on young writers today to write like old–timers.

Previous column; THE FICTION OF THE DEMISE OF THE WOMEN'S REVIEW OF BOOKS ... What's the significance of the demise of The Women's Review of Books? Former editor Lynn Walterick talks about it in a MobyLives guest column.

Previous column; MOODY IN SOLITUDE ... What happens when you ask Rick Moody to judge a fiction award contest? Our intrepid reporter goes down river to find out.

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Thursday 23 December 2004

MobyRests . . .
MobyLives will be on holiday until 3 January 2005. We'll be back in the new year with a series of new columns, including some surprising guest columns. Meanwhile, thanks to all our readers for sticking with Moby this year despite the long hiatus. Happy holidays to all.

Wednesday 22 December 2004

In Letters. . .
One MobyLives letter writer says something kind of right wing, so another MobyLives letter writers says something kind of, er, left wing . . . in the MobyLives letters section.

What the survey didnąt explain was why big publishing turned its back on this . . .
It was no mystery, but now it's official: "Oprah's recommendations had a bigger impact on the sales of books than anything we have previously seen in literature, or seen since," according to a survey by a Brigham Young University economics professor, Richard Butler. As an Associated Press wire story reports, "Butler and his team of students" found that "Winfrey's recommendation was enough to lift books from obscurity and to keep them on the best–seller lists longer than other titles." Few of the books she chose were bestsellers when chosen, Butler noted, but the first 11 she chose went to at least number 4 within he first week. "Among those most affected were Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which was on the best–seller list for 137 weeks, and Billie Letts' Where the Heart Is, which lasted 98 weeks."

Happy Birthday, Don Miguel . . .
It was one of the very first novels, and certainly 'the worldąs first best–seller," and now cities on five continents are planning celebrations for the 400th birthday of The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha. As an Agence France Presse report notes, Miquel de Cervantes' masterpiece will be celebrated not just in Spain, but "also in cities such as Dallas, Mexico City, Paris, Brussels, Oran and Saint Petersburg, set to host a string of plays, debates, exhibitions, concerts and films."

Who knows what a cleft stick is, but there's a forked tongue in there someplace . . .
After winning this year's Bad Sex in Literature award from what he called a "very small, rather old–fashioned magazine," Tom Wolfe says, "There's an old saying — 'You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her sing'. In this case, you can lead an English literary wannabe to irony but you can't make him get it." What's more, according to a Guardian repo rt by Dan Glaister, "Rejecting criticisms that he was the first recipient of the Bad Sex award to fail to attend the prizegiving ceremony, Wolfe responded that he had not been invited. 'I love coming to London if they would only be so kind as to invite me,' he said. 'I have not heard a word from them. Ask them how they wrote me. What form? Cleft stick?'"

Harry Potter and the big pot of money . . .
Shares of Scholastic and Bloomsbury—the American and British publishers of the Harry Potter books—"surged" after Monday's announcement that author J.K. Rowling had finished the manuscript of the sixth book in the series, and the announcement yesterday morning that Harry Potter and the Half–Blood Prince will be released simultaneously on !6 July "in the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa." According to a Bloomberg wi re story, "Bloomsbury shares rose 8.2 percent to a record 296 pence in London. Scholastic shares rose as much as 4.5 percent, their highest price since January 2003. The stock rose $1.55 o $37.48 at 1:02 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading."

From Afghanistan to Iraq . . .
The subject of Asne Seierstad's first book is not happy. The real–life Bookseller of KabuL, she says, told the her, "'Asne, I don't like this book so I'll come to Norway and we'll sit down for two weeks and we'll rewrite it,'" says Seierstad. "He wanted me to tell the world I was sorry for the first book. I said this was not possible." But now that's behind her, she explains in this interview with Julie Wheelwright for The Indpenedent, and her new book, A Hundred and One Days: a Baghdad Journal, tells about "her experience of covering the second Gulf War." Says Wheelwright, "A Hundred and One Days lacks the emotional intensity and rich detail of The Bookseller of Kabul, but it does capture the gut-wrenching tragedy of thousands who were — quite literally — caught in the crossfire."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Tuesday 21 December 2004

J–Ray and Bernie the K, Day 7: Regan calls kettle black . . .
"That is so sleazy," says one resident of the apartment building overlooking Ground Zero where Bernard Kerik and Judith Regan used an apartment set aside for rescue workers as a trysting place. Another says, "What a bastard is all I can say to that." In a New York Sun story, Julie Satow collects reactions from residents of the Liberty View apartment building in Battery Park City, where, she also observes, many were "left homeless for months for months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001." However, she notes that while some expressed "outrage," others "seemed unmoved by the irony of the police commissioner's taking up with a lover in an apartment overlooking the site of the World Trade Center at a time when many of the building's permanent residents were still struggling without belongings or a home." Elsewhere, however, the irony was duly noted: On the political blog Eschaton, blogger Atrios has collected quotes on morality from Judith Regan, taken from various television transcripts, and posted them here (scroll down) in an entry entitled "Memories of Judith." For example, she calls Monica Lewinsky "amoral" and says, "I mean, here's a woman who clearly knows a lot about sex, but knows nothing about right and wrong." Elsewhere, she criticizes the "sexual revolution" and says, "the social fabric of this country has become completely unraveled." She also sneers at people who cheat on their spouses: "Let me tell you something, my father has never cheated on my mother, my brothers have never treated cheated on their wives."

Peter Olson, bomb thrower . . .
Random House CEO Peter Olson's brief but pointed comment in his year–end letter to employees that the company has "tentative plans to sell books directly to consumers through its own Web site" has elicited a sharp reply from Barnes & Noble CEO Stephen Riggio. In a New York Times report by Edward Wyatt, Riggio says he is "deeply concerned" about the Random House plans. Wyatt says the two "industry giants" are "taking their frustrations out on each other" because they are "frustrated by two years of little to no growth." But he also notes that many other major publishers—such as Penguin, Norton, Scholastic and Harlequin—already sell books from their own sites. To retailers, the threat of publishers selling their own wares is severe: without having to pay middlemen, publishers could offer drastic discounts.

J.K. Rowling to the rescue . . .
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is writing a little faster these days: unlike the "seemingly interminable three–year wait" between her last two Potter book, she announced yesterday that she has finished Potter VI, Harry Potter and the Half–Blood Prince. As Hillel Italie reports in an Associated Press wire story, Rowling's American publisher Scholastic will announce the official release date today, but it should be 2005, which is "great news for booksellers, who have endured another year of slow sales." As Italie notes, her last book "sold an astonishing 5 million copies within 24 hours of publication," and sales for the series "have remained phenomenal even as Rowling's books have grown longer and darker, reflecting the boy wizard's maturation into adolescence." Rowling has let it be known that one of the characters will perish in this book, but she hasn't said which one.

AAP offers money to translate significant works from next contry we're going to invade . . .
The Association of American Publishers has announced an offer of $10,000 dollars in assistance to any U.S. publisher that would translate and publish any one of three Iranian novels, "to help open up a tight market for books in translation," according to an Associated Press wire story by Hillel Italie. The three books are: The Drowned, by Moniru Ravanipur, The Empty Palace of Soluch, by Mahmoud Dawlatabadi, and Christine and Kid by Houshang Golshiri. A consultant on the AAP's International Freedom to Publish Committee said, "We consider these books highly worthy of more attention. But, of course, it's not just Iranian literature that's hard to find in this country. It's a tough market for any books in translation." Italie reports, "The project was made possible by a grant from the Open Society Institute, the grant–making foundation of billionaire philanthropist George Soros."

We report, you decide . . .
"From erecting a statue of his favorite horse to renaming the months of the year after himself and his mother, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has long been a gift to dictator–watchers," notes Anna Malpas. And now, she reports in a Moscow Times story, Niyazov is a poet. His first collection, May My People Prosper, came out two years ago and is now being translated into Russian. "There's no doubt that he's a real poet," says translator Mikhail Sinelnikov. "He's a real master of poetry. [He has written] some very heartfelt poems about his mother, whom he lost early, about the fate of the country, about history. First of all, they are very emotional poems, and secondly, they are masterfully written." But a Russian opposition leader, Khudaiberdy Orazov, called the proposal to translate the poems "shameful." Says Niyazov is a "very limited person" who "of course cannot write poetry." Malpas offers a sample to decide the case —the title poem of Niyazov's collection: "May my Turkmen people prosper, / May they live happily from century to century! / May the flag fly like a green bird into the mists of time, / May every step of the people be sunny."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Monday 20 December 2004

J–Ray and Bernie the K, Day 6: J–Ray keeps leaking like a sieve, while Bernie keeps sinking like a stone . . .
Failed Bush–appointee Bernard Kerik's "affair with Judith Regan, the editor who published his autobiography, Lost Son, continues to generate headlines," observes a Newsweek story hitting newsstands today, before going on to make its own headlines. The magazine's Charles Gasparino reports that just after Kerik's nomination for Homeland Security head was announced, Regan was contacted by an "associate" of Kerik, who "indicated to Regan how Kerik might characterize their relationship when asked about it during a background check." Regan was told Kerik was planning to call it a "brother–sister" relationship, which she took "as code for her to mischaracterize what she has told people was a sexual affair." Although the story seems clearly to have originated from the Regan camp, Regan wouldn't comment. Not so surprisingly, neither would Kerik. Meanwhile, the Newsweek story also says Jess Walter, "the writer who worked with Kerik" on Lost Son, "had complained to officials at Regan Books that there were inconsistencies in some of the material provided by Kerik." The report cites as one example Kerik's claim that a letter written to him from police officers working at Ground Zero told him, "You lead and we will follow."

Well, at least somebody benefitted from the DNC . . .
He's not quite even a senator yet, but Illinois Senator–elect Barack Obama "has landed a three–book deal worth $1.9 million," reports Nicole Ziegler Dizon in an Associated Press wire story. The Crown Publishing Group and Random House Children's Books announced that "Obama will write two books for adults and one for children," says Dizon, although a spokesman of Obama's does point out that "The contract is contingent on the approval of the Senate Ethics Committee." Obama's previous book, his Dreams From My Father from 1995, "jumped onto best seller lists after his keynote address to the Democratic National Convention."

Heinous scheme to develop even younger writers uncovered . . .
In England, "A book–writing kit for children has proved a massive hit — dispelling the myth that youngsters no longer want to read." A Sky News report says, "More than 40,000 My First Novel packs have been snapped up since it went on sale at supermarket chain Sainsbury's in the first week of December," becoming the chain's bestselling children's gift. Put together by bestselling children's author Jacqueline Wilson, the kit includes "a book of tips from Ms Wilson on writing a novel, from making-up a plot through to choosing the characters. Youngsters also get a book in which to write their ideas and a series of fun stickers."

Experts, or at least, anthropologists: Indpendents are rising again . . .
"Borders wants to sell jazz records to aging boomers . . . Tattered Cover wants to discount best sellers as it expands into the suburban market . . . Amazon.com wants harried buyers to pick up their books at the local chain store . . . . Has the retail world gone mad?" As Michael Booth asks in a Denver Post story, "Isn't Borders a bookstore? . . . Didn't Tattered Cover build its vaunted reputation selling full service at full price in the heart of the big city? Doesn't Amazon think brick–and–mortar stores are so last millennium? " He points out that, as many are learning this Christmas, "The notion that all books and discs will soon be bought online, or that independent stores must be crushed between e–tailers and chains, ignores how inseparable 'shopping' is from 'lifestyle.'" Booth says many now "dismiss the panic that set in among traditional stores – chains and indies alike – when Internet buying became commonplace a few years ago." One "anthropologist and marketing cosultant tells him, "If the independents in books and music can hold on and show they know their customer, they'll be OK."

US just can't get UK to adopt Patriot Act . . .
"Anyone who believes the war on terror has shut down terrorist propaganda centers in U.S.–friendly countries should visit the Maktabah al Ansar bookshop in Birmingham, England," says Mark Hosenball in this Newsweek report. "Amid shelves of Qur'anic tomes and religious artifacts are bookshelves and CD racks piled with extreme Islamist propaganda: recordings of the last testaments of 9/11 hijackers, messages from Osama bin Laden and jihad pamphlets . . . ." Reports Hosenball, "U.S. investigators say they've been pressuring the British for years to crack down on jihadi propaganda operations like these, but that the Brits are sometimes slow to recognize potential terror threats in their midst."

Is the book biz about to undergo the problems of the music biz? . . .
While the heads of some of New York's biggest publishers, such as Simon & Schuster and Random House, are "crowing" in year end reports about having had very successful years—as a Crain's report by Matthew Flamm notes—one Internet commentator says the publishing business is about to run into some of the same snares that the music industry has been run into. Umair Haque, in a commentary at Bubblegeneration.com, says, "Most of the publishing industry is complicit of the same kind of moral hazard that the music industry's been. They foist dumbed–down authors on an audience that deserves better, because their hit–driven business model is basically a vicious circle of rising marketing costs and winner–take–all markets . . . the publishing industry is living on borrowed time."

Even his marginalia goes for a high price . . .
Feeling his home had become "overrun" by books, John Updike, who "counts himself a supporter of independent booksellers," has decided to sell them to a local bookseller. "They were just collecting dust and mouse droppings," he explains in an Associated Press wire story. The bookseller, Mark Stolle of the Manchester by the Book bookstore, got more than he bargained for, however: In some of the books' margins are handwritten questions and analogies from the novelist and essayist," which increases the value of those books to "between $200 and $1,000." But Updike doesn't mind that Stolle will make extra money off the books. "If he's able to make a few dollars on a few of the review copies scattered in there, all the better," says the two–time Pulitzer winner. "He paid a fair price."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Visit the mothership:


The International Bestseller
by Bernard–Henri Lévy


This week's fiction:

"Crank Call"
by Thomas J. Hubschman
(from Me Three)

"Brain Spiders"
(from Prose aX)

This week's poetry:

"Not Pee Wee"
(from Grain)

(from Briar Cliff Review)

Special edition:

First posted in October, 2001, Alicia Ostriker's anthology of poetry that she turned to after the 9/11 attacks — including the work of Stephen Dunn, C.P. Cavafy, Marianne Moore, and others — is far and away the most popular link ever posted on MobyLives. Find out why.


The Stories of Anton Chekhov

Zembla: The Official Site of the Vladimir Nabokov Society

The Complete Review

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Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing

The Collins Library Almanac

Author interviews at IdentityTheory.com

Stump the Bookseller

Online Etymology Dictionary

Visual Thesaurus

Project Gutenberg

Columbia World of Quotations


Herman Melville's Arrowhead

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All material not otherwise attributed ©2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Dennis Loy Johnson.