Category Archives: Book reviews

Rereading: James Michener’s ‘Iberia’

I have come up with a recurring topic idea I’ll continue if people find it interesting:  re-reads.  I have a lot of books, enough that I could not re-read them all in five years, including many to which I later return.  I don’t like to post reviews on Amazon, unless I have a motive; I resent them shipping my content to affiliates.  (Yes, they have the legal right.  Not disputed.  Nor should they dispute my legal right to refrain from donating my content to them.)

When most of us think of Michener, we think of his great historical fiction novels that span great ranges of time.  They walk us through the development of a culture, and in so doing they help us see that culture’s modern residents in light of their forebears.  My personal favorites are The Covenant (South Africa), Centennial (Colorado), Alaska, Texas and The Source (Palestine).

Iberia differs.  It is a composite personal travelogue of the author’s experiences in Spain (Portugal is not really included).  This is that rare book for which hardcover is by far the best edition, because I own it in both hardback and paperback, and the hardback contains many more of Robert Vavra’s excellent photographs.  James Michener met Spain as a very young man, came to know it well, and its people showed him their country as thoroughly as a people can.  Spaniards can be sensitive about the world’s take on their world-shaping, gold-glittering, intensely religious past.  Said world has given them ample cause.  It follows that they considered Michener an honest broker worthy of hidden knowledge, frank debate and candid admission.

It reads differently from his fiction, as you would expect, because fiction and non-fiction narrative often differ slightly. In the editing world, we must take account of this. If this is his natural style, though, I like it. It is sophisticated yet word-economical.

What it means for you:  a trove of cultural enrichment.  Think of every social science and humanity discipline applied to a given nation, from history to fine arts.  That describes Iberia with respect to Spain and Spaniards.


Laura Miller on Spamazon

Here’s her article.

The emptor must caveat real well these days.  While I think that the advent of e-readers has a lot of benefits (though I don’t currently plan to obtain one), any new technology signals that it has become popular and mainstream when it is invaded by crooks, garbage and advertising.  (Okay, sorry, that was triply repetitive.)  Anyway, do keep an eye out when buying, so you don’t get sucked into the Great Internet E-Trash Vortex of these sorts of books.

Over time, having moved from writing into editing, I have also seen this evolve. For example, I used to get tons of book review requests, but one day they just ground to a halt. What replaced them? Seriously irritating spam trying to bribe 5-star reviews out of people. I’ve had to change my whole guidance to editing clients with regard to marketing, because I once knew how to generate book reviews, and it no longer works.

Amazon’s little game

Do you buy used books through Amazon? I do, though I’m seriously considering ending that practice.  If you’re anything like me, you have absorbed the following salient facts:

  • Any used book costs a minimum of $3.99 for shipping.
  • Often that’s the entire cost, with the book selling for $0.01.
  • If you make an order of any size at all, Amazon gives you free shipping.

Perceptive readers with business sense, and at least a little bit of avarice, have just done the mental math.  Okay.  So if I’m Amazon, here’s my game.  I’ll set up my system to adjust my price to $3.98 above whatever the best independent bookseller deal is.  And if they buy from the bookseller in spite of my undercut, since I take most of the profit anyway, I can’t lose.

The reason this offends me is that it is so scientifically designed to hose the little guy or gal, the independent bookseller in Waverly, KS who keeps a local retail store going by using the business as a net-order warehouse with retail capability.  It’s not malice, just scientific greed, and I see through it. Given that it affects books and authors, thus clients, as an editor I’m perhaps more sensitive about it. I like local bookstores and help keep them around when I can. So, I reckon, do most editors and writers.

What I have taken to doing, when I do buy used books from Amazon, is easy and inexpensive.  Buy it from the little guy or gal anyway, for the extra $0.02 or $0.50 or $2.00.  It would be great if others did so also.


Today I was inspired to look up my very favorite William Least Heat-Moon quote.  If you do not know who he is, he is an excellent travel author.  He’s from Missoura.  His commentary on that situation:

“A Missourian gets used to Southerners thinking him a Yankee, a Northerner considering him a cracker, a Westerner sneering at his effete Easternness, and the Easterner taking him for a cowhand.” –William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways.

Now, if I denied you links to Heat-Moon’s writings after that appetizer, I’d be a cad:

Blue Highways (circling the nation away from freeways)

PrairyErth (an intensive study of my family’s county in Kansas)

Roads to Quoz (a search for stuff out of the ordinary)

River-Horse (he boated across America, at least all but 70 miles of it)

Columbus in the Americas (historical study of the old slaver)

Heat-Moon can seriously write, and has a quirky style that comes at the situation from angles others would not see. I love editing travel narratives, have written my own, and I get how difficult they are. They are even harder to do very well.