Monday, November 12, 2012

The Amazon List

Thanks to Pop Culture Nerd's Twitter notice I checked out the Amazon List of 100 Best Books of 2012 and found I'd only read one of them (Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.). Yikes. Literary-wise I am obviously languishing in the shadows of the mainstream...or at least, the Amazon mainstream. Well, it won't be the first time or even the last. Obviously I'm just not a 'mainstream' kind of gal.

How many have you read? Will you make me hang my head in abject shame?

Admittedly, a couple of the books on the list I wanted to read but just couldn't. For instance, after all the raves, I really REALLY wanted to like WOLF HALL by Hillary Mantel (the sequel published this year, BRING UP THE BODIES is on the current list) but once I read the first few pages online (on the Amazon site) and realized the book is written in the present tense, I declined to purchase.

Why should a history book set in Tudor times be written in the present tense? What are we to make of that? Is it just a popular gimmick now run amok? For me it is non-sensical.

Well, obviously others don't agree since both books are great big international best sellers, but for me, the technique is grating. In the present tense, I keep saying to myself where am I? Am I being carried around on the shoulders of the characters? Am I a fly on the wall? The story is not being told to me, it is being revealed as it happens. I don't like it one little bit especially in a history novel. For me, this technique points up the fact that I'm reading a book - it doesn't allow me to sink into the story and forget where I am. Technique overrides story-telling. You'd think it would be just the opposite but it isn't. Oh well, there are plenty of other books in the sea....uh, you know what I mean.

Groucho Marx

Reading through the Amazon list I found a few titles that interested me and I'm adding them to my TBR list for the future though who knows when I'll ever catch up. See, I am not a complete literary heathen. Ha!

1) MR. PENUMBRA'S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan - a novel.

2) IN SUNSHINE and IN SHADOW by Mark Helprin - a novel.

3) CITY OF FORTUNE How Venice Ruled the Seas by Roger Crowley - non-fiction.

4) SHORT NIGHT OF THE SHADOW CATCHER: The Epic Life and Immortal Photography of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan - non-fiction.

Of course if any of them are written in the present tense, all bets are off. I'm not saying I NEVER read books written as such, what I'm saying is: rarely. I have to be beguiled. If I'm beguiled I'll forgive anything.


  1. Yvette,

    Fear not, for there is at least one who is further from the mainstream than you are. I haven't read a single one of the 100 books and don't even recognize most of the titles.

    There is one I would be willing to add to my TBR bookcase: Jo Nesbo's _Phantom_.

    I seldom shop on Amazon, so it makes sense that its list wouldn't interest me.

  2. I haven't read any of those books either. The only one I want to read is The Black Count.

  3. Hello Yvette:
    Such lists are, we feel, designed to make one feel inadequate and are equally a marketing tool to promote certain authors over others. For this reason they are probably, in our view, best ignored.

    That said, we have never actually bought a book from Amazon in the hope of keeping individual booksellers alive!!

  4. I'm so relieved to read that Wolf Hall left you cold. I cannot understand why this book has been so popular and won so many prizes. I found myself wondering which of the characters I was reading about: two or more men are talking and the author refers to 'he'. Which 'he'? I just couldn't make heads or tails of the story. I admit to being a lazy reader and not appreciating authors who make the reader work too hard for small reward. I got about 100 pages in before I gave up.

  5. I've finished Matthew Henson's 1916 memoirs of his polar exploits. I'm in the midst of reading a gossipy autobiography of a hairdresser who promises to dish on everyone's dirty little secrets. That book is from 1854.

    I'll catch up with you in about 2067.


  6. Yvette, I don't read new books and so current bestseller lists don't make a dent in my TBR pile that rarely reflects novels published beyond 1990. I have a couple of David Baldacci and Suzanne Collins novels lying around but haven't read them yet.

  7. I've read none of these. Surprised? And I've heard of only a handful of these. Very heavy on non-fiction. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a book I wanted to read when it first came out, but I'm still waiting for a library copy to become available. I would be interested in reading The Yellow Birds. While there are numerous non-fiction books about Iraq debacle there are too few novels out there. I saw The Snow Child in Barnes & Noble last week, read the blurb, and thought it an original fantasy I might read one day. Otherwise, not much on that "best selling" popular list that interests me. Oh! Michael Chabon has a new novel. News to me. There's one more I'll probably read.

    I'm trying to do my best to avoid using amazon for anything. I used to buy from them all the time and now I can't stomach what they've become. Don't get me started on their tax evasion and the horrendous labor conditions in their warehouses. It's an evil empire as far as I'm concerned.

    Oh, and as for novels written in present tense -- it's a pretentious gimmick and always will be. I dislike the practice and usually never finish reading books written that way.

  8. I rarely shop Amazon myself, Fred. It's not really a surprise to me that I'd only read one of the books and hadn't heard of most of the others. Though I would have hoped I had a more well-rounded reading life. :)

  9. We're basically in the same boat, Tasha. But at least you found one title that interested you. :)

  10. I think we mostly agree, Jane and Lance. It's always better to try and use independents if possible. Though I admit that occasionally I buy an used book or two from Amazon simply because I can't find it elsewhere. (Although I do try elsewhere first.)

  11. Joan, we're in the minority for sure. But I'm glad I'm not alone. :)

    I don't mind working when I read, but the reward has to be worth it.

  12. Java Bean Rush: I love the 'oldies' too. :)

  13. Prashant it is very difficult to read both new and old. I've tried for years to find a way to make this feasible - still haven't gotten there. :)

  14. John we are of one mind when it comes to 'present tense' writing. :)

    I've never really thought of Amazon as an 'evil empire' but I'm willing to be swayed. :)

    I'm not a regular Amazon buyer though unfortunately they think I am and it always fills me with dismay to see how much info about my reading life they are privy to.

    It's a little frightening.

  15. I haven't read any of these either. The only one I have in my "Want to Read" list on Goodreads is The Black Count. But then I'm not really into modern fiction (really, oh mistress of the Vintage Mystery Challenge?--which by the way, the 2013 VMC post is coming to a blog near you soon).

    I'm with you and John. I hate the present tense--just recently abandoned The Dark Lantern because I couldn't take it.

  16. I hardly ever read "new" books. The only new book I've read this year is Richard Ford's Canada. As for Hillary Mantel's books, as much as I love the Tudor era if English history, I just couldn't get into Wolf Hall; I found it ponderous in tbr extreme. You've got to hand it to Mantel, she takes one of the most vibrant eras in history and makes it a total slog to read about it. I'd rather read historical fiction by some if the favorite writers of my youth, Margaret Campbell Barnes, Norah Lofts, and Jean Plaidy.

  17. I've only read three of these. The Black Count, which is a biography of General Alex Dumas, the father of Alexandre Dumas. The Last Policeman and The Absolutist, both of which I loved. The Abolutist broke my heart actually.

    There were andother 5-7 I wouldn't mind raading at some point in time, but will never be in a hurry to do so.

  18. We're in the same club, Bev. I'm so surprised that writers are using this gimmick more and more.

    I'm going to have to take another look at this BLACK COUNT book since everyone is mentioning it...

    I must admit I just skimmed the Amazon list.

  19. Deb, glad to have you on our side re: Mantel's books.

    When it comes to history, I admit I prefer non-fiction but I do enjoy historical mysteries and the occasional historical love story. I'm not the best judge of mainstream historical fiction but I'll read just about anything that for whatever reason captures my fancy.

  20. Ryan, I will definitely take a look at THE BLACK COUNT. Now I'm intrigued.

  21. I have not read any of these books either, may read Phantom, Defending Jacob and ZW, but look forward to your reviews.

  22. Hearing about Amazon's warehouses' labor conditions turns me off immediately. I didn't know this.
    I do know this about Wal-Mart warehouses, as workers have been going on strike and protests are growing against the working conditions in the warehouses.


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