Category Archives: amazon purchases

Popular Amazon Purchases, January – April 2011

As I do every so often on this site, time to run down popular purchases made on Amazon by readers of Conversational Reading. (For previous reader faves, see here.)

Here we go, in order to sales rank:

Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

No surprises that, by far, the most popular item purchased in the past few months has been the subject of the current Big Read. Thanks to everyone who is participating!

A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Self-published phenom A Naked Singularity continues to be a popular book with readers of this site. And with The Quarterly Conversation previewing an excerpt from his new book, Personae, perhaps we’ll have another favorite.

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Wallace fans are die-hards. Despite my reservations about this book, readers of this site are still snapping up Wallace’s final offering.


Zone by Mathias Enard

My endorsement of this massive, challenging French novel (and my interview with its translator) seems to have spurred some readers of this site. Good for them!


The Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin

This is one of the books I’ve featured on my Interesting New Books in 2011 page. Plus Sorokin is a pretty big deal, and this is probably his biggest and best book.


The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

Chalk up another one to a combination of a big author and a listing on the Interesting Books page. But how ugly is this cover?


“A” by Louis Zukofsky

This one pretty clearly goes back to this post I did about “the Ulysses of poetry.”


The Preparation of the Novel by Roland Barthes

I would attribute this to my interview with the book’s translator, and this blog’s great following among Barthesians everywhere.


Otherwise Known as the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer

Some recent discussion of this book plus a listing on the Interesting New Books page probably did the trick.

For previous reader faves, see here.

Popular Amazon Purchases, July 2010 – Jan 2011

It’s been a while since I rounded up popular Amazon purchases bought through the links on this site, so let’s do one now. The last one I did was July 1, 2010, so I’ll go from that point up to yesterday.

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

The most popular title purchased was The Last Samurai, and obviously these purchases were made because that was the book I did as an online group read for the fall of 2010. And if you look at what we said about that book, I think we can conclude that this was money well spent.

Interestingly, Your Face Tomorrow was a popular sale through this site during the first half of 2010, when I did an online group read of that book. So it looks like these things result in a slight sales bump for the books involved.


A Naked Singularity

Next up in terms of sales is the self-published novel A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava. These sales obviously go back to a very enthusiastic review/endorsement that we ran in The Quarterly Conversation. Here’s part of Scott Bryan Wilson’s ecstatic praise:

It’s one of those fantastic, big, messy books like Darconville’s Cat or Infinite Jest or Women and Men, though it’s not really like any of those books or those writers. Evan Dara’s The Lost Scrapbook and The Easy Chain are perhaps the most apt comparisons, though the heavy use of dialogue will of course bring William Gaddis to mind as well. (I mean messy as a compliment: books that just fill themselves with facts and stories and subplots and digressions and in doing so create a much richer reading experience than novels which only include the details necessary to move the plot forward.) But see here: I refuse to divulge too much of the plot, because watching it unfold is one of the great joys of the novel.


Zone by Mathias Enard

Next is the notorious one-sentence monster French novel, Zone. As I tend to champion a high modernist/postmodernist aesthetic here, this is a book that clearly strikes a chord with many readers of this site. That contributed to the sale, as well as my interview with the book’s translator, Charlotte Mandell.


The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Avaro Mutis

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll is a classic title that I love. Being a great book is obviously part of the story here, but the larger part is Damion Searls’ list of his ten favorite NYRB Classics, which I published on the site last fall and of which Maqroll is one.


The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich

I’m not quite sure what the vector was here. I did mention The Orange Eats Creeps when it was published, but I didn’t do something out of the ordinary, as for the above titles. I think this is simply a matter of the book sounding hugely interesting to readers of this site, as well as the intro penned by lauded experimentalist Scott Erickson.

The Rest

There were a bunch more titles with roughly similar sales, all interesting books that I’ve called out on this site in the past six months, though books that I did not go into in particular detail here (though I might have for a good number of them if things had happened differently). Here are some of them: Nox by Anne Carson; The Black Minutes by Martin Solares; All a Novelist Needs: Colm Tóibín on Henry James; “A” by Louis Zukofsky; The House of Ulysses by Julian Rios.

You can see popular purchases in previous roundups at this link.

Most Popular Amazon Purchases, Q1 & Q2 2010

Those who pay very close attention to this site might have noticed that I didn’t do my usual roundup of popular Amazon purchases at the end of the first quarter of 2010. Fact is, I was a little busy at that point and kept putting it off. But here we are, the end of June, so lets mash quarters one and two together and see what readers of this site bought.

As a reminder, if you find this site valuable and want to support it, click on the Amazon links and order something. So long as you make a purchase before you leave Amazon, I’ll get a kickback. And if you wish infamy on this site and want to see it shrivel up and die, then make sure to avoid the links.


1. Your Face Tomorrow

No surprise here that the book I’ve been conducting a multi-month reading group for and have been blogging about regularly is the most popular purchase. And it is in fact a great book. Go get a copy of Volume 1 and start reading.


2. Reality Hunger by David Shields

Owing to a review I wrote of this book, I didn’t really blog all that much about it. I suppose that there was so much hype over it that a lot of readers just ended up buying it when I (favorably) mentioned it here.


3. Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya

I’m not really sure where this one came from. Granted, I’m a huge fan of Castellanos Moya, and I tend to push this book pretty hard every chance I get, but I don’t recall blogging about it that much lately. I suppose readers of this site just tend to like truly perverse first-person fiction set in post-civil war Central American nations.


4. About a Mountain by John D’Agata

Though I ended up having very mixed feelings about this one there’s no doubt that this was one of the most entertaining, well-written, interesting books I’ve read this year, one that made me an instant D’Agata fan.


5. Head in Flames by Lance Olsen

The popularity of this book is owing to an interview I did with the author. As well as the fact that it’s an innovative, entertaining, thoughtful work of fiction.


6. The Microscripts by Robert Walser

I didn’t blog very much about this book at all (though we did publish a nice review of it in The Quarterly Conversation). I can only assume there’ a cadre of Walser fans reading this site. Good for you all.


7. Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Roadtrip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky

I panned it in the Times, but what can I say? We all want to know a little more about David Foster Wallace.

Other popular titles:

Most Popular Amazon Purchases Q4 2009

As I do every three months here, I'm now going to run down popular Amazon purchases made through links on this site. As a reminder to everyone, purchases made through Amazon links on this site kick back a donation to me and help fund both this blog and The Quarterly Conversation.

1. The Story About the Story: Great Writers Explore Great Literature by JC Hallman

The Story About the Story was the most popular seller for last quarter, as well. This is the book that we at The Quarterly Conversation got behind as one of the more exciting works of criticism to be published in 2009. To briefly review, it's an anthology that JC Hallman put together of lit crit that is done right. To see precisely what he means by that, have a look at this essay of his we published in the fall issue of The Quarterly Conversation.

2. Roberto Bolano: The Last Interview: And Other Conversations

This attests to the continuing popularity of Roberto Bolano for readers of this website. I only mentioned and linked to Roberto Bolano: The Last Interview: And Other Conversations at the end of November, but it proved to be a very popular title. Clearly people are interested in knowing more about the man behind the books, and as time passes I think we'll be learning more and more about him, probably at the expense of the Bolano myth.

3. The Land of Green Plums by Herta Mueller

This is obviously a direct consequence of Herta Mueller winning the Nobel Prize. I like to think that Marcel Inhoff's incisive take on Mueller's writing (especially for this novel) contributed to her popularity via this blog.

4. (tie) Kamby Bolongo Mean River by Robert Lopez

The sales of Kamby Bolongo Mean River are pretty much traceable to this review in The Quarterly Conversation. Indeed, I have no problem seeing why people were eager to read this one. The review makes it sound like one of the most interesting works of fiction to cross my eyes in the last three months:

In Kamby Bolongo Mean River our protagonist is confined in an observation cell containing only a bed and a telephone. Behind the two-way glass, white coated doctors observe the incarcerated narrator as he chooses to answer or not answer incoming calls. The sudden ringing of the phone occasionally terrorizes the man whose frequent masturbation spells may or may not be a subject of interest to whoever these observational authorities are.

4. (tie) The Tanners by Robert Walser

This would seem to be attributable to my own enthusiasm for The Tanners, a book that I've periodically remarked on over the last three months and which I reviewed extremely favorably in The Quarterly Conversation.

6. Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

Interest for Memories of the Future was clearly stoked by this review I linked to. In part, the review said:

The subject of the story "Quadraturin" is a Soviet city dweller, Sutulin, who lives in an apartment so tiny that when he hears a knock on his door one evening, he doesn't need to get out of bed to open it: he merely "threaded a toe through the door handle, and pulled." The stranger at the door persuades Sutulin to take a free sample of an experimental substance that is supposed to make rooms bigger. Sutulin begins to apply the Quadraturin to his walls as the instructions on the tube advise, but he accidentally spills the entire contents of the tube on his floor. He wakes up the next morning in a "faintly familiar, large, but ungainly room," where his furniture looks awkward and the angles of the walls are uneven. He enjoys the novel pleasure of strolling from one end of his room to the other, but he must enjoy it in secret, for like other citizens he is legally allotted only ninety-seven square feet of living space, and owning more than his share could mean losing his apartment. Sutulin is, like Akaky Akakievich, Raskolnikov and Joseph K, a bachelor whose quarters contain a secret — something at least obscurely embarrassing, perhaps criminal. As usual, there is a talkative landlady and neighbors to be avoided. Sutulin realizes he has to buy curtains to hide his apartment from the eyes of passers-by.

It only gets worse from there: every time Sutulin leaves the room, he returns to find that his apartment has grown still bigger . . .

7. (tie) Pornografia: A Novel by Witold Gombrowicz

I read Pornografia: A Novel over the summer and it made such a large, positive impact on me that I was moved to serialize a chapter from it in the fall issue of The Quarterly Conversation. Interest in the likely stemmed from there and my occasional favorable remarks about it since then.

7. (tie) American Tabloid: A Novel by James Ellroy

I'm guessing the popularity of American Tabloid: A Novel goes back to this post, where I enthused over Norman Rush's very engaging review in the NYRB. In part, Rush said:

But before looking more fully at the book, I want to say something about the genuinely remarkable manner in which this series is written. For a time, the tag Avant-Pop was attached to a certain kind of avant-garde writing, but that's not right for Ellroy. Nor is Avant-Pulp. Whatever it should be called, the literary experience it provides is unique.

James Ellroy's brand of extreme writing is fun to read. At its best, it could be addictive. The stories are told in a uniform, crazed, modern American vernacular, and with such breakneck speed, hairpin plot turns, compression, and telescoping of events that the reader needs to stop and rest from time to time.

Most Popular Amazon Purchases Q3 2009

As I do every three months here, I'm now going to run down popular Amazon purchases made through links on this site. As a reminder to everyone, purchases made through Amazon links on this site kick back a donation to me and help fund both this blog and The Quarterly Conversation.

#1: The Story About the Story, edited by JC Hallman

This is a unique experience in the time that I've been doing this: The Story About the Story is a book that I've really gotten behind, both personally and as editor of The Quarterly Conversation, so it's gratifying to see readers respond by making it the #1 selling book this quarter, despite the fact that I only started discussing it less than a month ago. I think it's going to be a great anthology of literary criticism, so I'm really glad to see it up here at #1.

#2: The She-Devil in the Mirror, by Horacio Castellanos Moya

This is another book–and an author–that I've very much gotten behind on this site. The She-Devil in the Mirror is the second book translated by New Directions by Central American novelist Horacio Castellanos Moya (it follows Senselessness), and I've had great things to say about both books. Another Moya translation, Dance with Snakes has just been published by Biblioasis.

#3: Best European Fiction 2010, edited by Aleksandar Hemon

By contrast to the first two, I think I've only mentioned Best European Fiction 2010 a couple of times on this site, and it's pretty much sold itself. It's a Dalkey book, and obviously people trust Dalkey's well-established name in translated literature, as well as that of the book's editor, Aleksandr Hemon. It's the first in a series of yearly anthologies of new literature from Europe, which seems like a great thing for translated literature in this country.

#4: The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolano

The Skating Rink is another one pretty much sold on reputation, although I did review the book very favorably at The Quarterly Conversation. Oddly enough, no one seems to be buying By Night in Chile through this site even though, I must say, it's probably my second-favorite Bolano novel.

#5: Ties

Now we start getting into the books that tied. There were a bunch in this slot, mostly owing to being discussed either on this site or on The Quarterly Conversation.

#6: More Ties

Ditto for the #6 slot.

You can see last quarter's best-selling titles here and the entire series here.

Most Popular Amazon Purchases Q2 2009

As I do every three months, it's now time to round up the most popular titles purchased from the Amazon links on this site.

#1

The most popular title this cycle ended up being The Loop, a novel that is something like a cross between Proust and Oulipo. It is book 2 in an immense 6-book cycle about memory and time, and it is written by one of the most famous living Oulipoians, Frenchman Jacques Roubaud. Undoubtedly, this book was propelled to number one by these facts alone, although an essay by Dalkey editor Jeremy Davies and an excerpt from the book itself (in addition to my excessive enthusiasm for this title) must have helped. Some have also ventured to buy the first book in the cycle, The Great Fire of London.

#2

In the #2 slot is a holdover from last quarter's list, Machine by Peter Adolphsen. I woudn't be surprised if this book became a perennial favorite, as it certainly remains one of the more interesting titles that I've heard of this year. To quote myself from last quarter's roundup:

The popularity of Machine on this site can be traced directly to Three Percent's review, which I blogged here. The review blew me away, and judging by purchases it blew away a number of you as well.

And here is what I quoted from the review:

Although Danish author Peter Adolphsen has made a name for himself as a formalist for whom economy is a virtue (to date his five novels and short story collections are less than 300 pages combined), “as a reader,” one reviewer writes, “you feel you have covered a huge distance with him.” Drawing comparisons to Borges and Kafka, Adolphsen has written parables and parodies, “ultrashort biographies,” children’s books, and a collection called En Million Historier (A Million Stories), which allows the reader to construct, well, a million stories, from ten pages of interchangeable two-line segments. Machine, Adolphsen’s second novel to be translated into English, fits very well within this paradigm, spanning millions of years, several continents, the lives of three people, and one drop of gasoline within its brief 85 pages.

The book opens with the untimely death of a prehistoric horse. This end, however, is really the beginning: “Death exists, but only in a practical microscopic sense,” the quirky omniscient narrator intones. “Biologically, one cannot distinguish between life and death; the transition is a continuum.” And so, ever so slowly (over fifty-five million years), the heart of this horse is transformed into a drop of crude oil. Once refined, “our drop” is pumped into the engine of a Ford Pinto. It then combusts, becomes exhaust, and a few hours later, transforms one last time into a carcinogen. And that’s Machine in a nutshell.

#3

For #3 we have a tie. First is News from the Empire by Fernando del Paso, a book that sold itself largely on a mention that I made of it as a forthcoming book. Unless everyone is wrong, this is a major Mexican work of recent years, and as I've mentioned before, I mean to read it soon.

The other book is The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales, which I discussed here as the work of schizophrenic Cuban Hemingway. Its a strong work that's largely been passed over by the American media, so I'm pleased to see people keying in on it from this blog.

#4

In fourth we have not a book but an author: Horacio Castellanos Moya. I'm a big proponent of his work, and his first novel, Senselessness, has been doing well. Moya has two more books in English this year (The She-Devil in the Mirror, Dances with Snakes), and although these have obviously gotten less play since they're not even for sale yet, people have been pre-ordering them.

More

Other fun stuff going on this quarter includes:

Last Quarter

And lastly, the top buys from Q1 2009.

1. Machine by Peter Adolphsen

2. The Howling Miller by Arto Paasilinn

3. The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball

4. The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson

Most Popular Amazon Purchases Q1 2009

As I do here every three months, I'm rounding up the most popular books purchased by the readers of Conversational Reading via this site's Amazon links.

To have a look at the most popular books purchased by readers in all of 2008, see here.

#1

  • Machine by Peter Adolphse–this is a great example of what a strong blog review can do for a lesser-known book these days. The popularity of Machine on this site can be traced directly to Three Percent's review, which I blogged here. The review blew me away, and judging by purchases it blew away a number of you as well. Here, once again, is the part of the review I excerpted:
Although Danish author Peter Adolphsen has made a name
for himself as a formalist for whom economy is a virtue (to date his
five novels and short story collections are less than 300 pages
combined), “as a reader,” one reviewer writes, “you feel you have
covered a huge distance with him.” Drawing comparisons to Borges and
Kafka, Adolphsen has written parables and parodies, “ultrashort
biographies,” children’s books, and a collection called En Million
Historier (A Million Stories), which allows the reader to construct,
well, a million stories, from ten pages of interchangeable two-line
segments. Machine, Adolphsen’s second novel to be translated into
English, fits very well within this paradigm, spanning millions of
years, several continents, the lives of three people, and one drop of
gasoline within its brief 85 pages.

The book opens with the untimely death of a prehistoric horse. This
end, however, is really the beginning: “Death exists, but only in a
practical microscopic sense,” the quirky omniscient narrator intones.
“Biologically, one cannot distinguish between life and death; the
transition is a continuum.” And so, ever so slowly (over fifty-five
million years), the heart of this horse is transformed into a drop of
crude oil. Once refined, “our drop” is pumped into the engine of a Ford
Pinto. It then combusts, becomes exhaust, and a few hours later,
transforms one last time into a carcinogen. And that’s Machine in a
nutshell.

It's not hard to see why this review moved units. For one, the book simply sounds like something I need to read. But beyond that, this review does exactly what I think a review should do. With very few words, we have context, an idea of what the author has done in the past, a feel for his concerns and technique, and then a very concrete example drawn directly from the text. Add in some critique and a smattering of interpretation, and you've got yourself a review.

#2

  • The Howling Miller by Arto Paasilinn–this book can also be traced to a review I excerpted on this blog. A big part of the success if, of course, the book, which intrigues ("The protagonist of The Howling Miller is, as the title suggests, a miller prone to howling."–how odd . . .)

    Another part of the success is that the reviewer in question was The Complete Review, which carries much authority with readers of this blog. When they say a book is worth reading, as they did in this case, readers trust that. In fact, in linking to the review, TCR notes "there's no one like him in the English-speaking world. Why hasn't he caught on here yet?" Now that's an endorsement.

#3

  • The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball–this one can also be traced to a review, although with a twist.

    The review in question was published at The Quarterly Conversation and linked to from here; however, unlike the previous two reviews, this review was strongly negative.

    What I think carried the sales on this book was that the reviewer was clearly engaged by the text and had respect for Ball as a writer. (The book also has a very noteworthy conceit.) Part of why the review was so harsh was because the reviewer felt that Ball was a writer capable of much more than what he gave us in The Way Through Doors; a simply mediocre writing probably wouldn't have gotten his critical energies up do much.

    So, despite a negative review, readers responded. This perfectly illustrates something I've been saying for a long time: readers aren't stupid. They can tell when a critic is engaged versus when one is simply fulfilling an assignment. Honest engagement–whether for good or for ill–will beat faint praise any day.

    As a quick aside, another example of this is our review/essay on Zone by Mathias Enard. This was quite clearly a mixed review, but many readers that I heard from only wanted to read the book more after reading our review. The reason is simple: our reviewer was clearly engaged by the text, even if he thought the book didn't merit all the praise it has thus far received.

#4

  • The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson–this is something of an interesting pick, because The Unfortunates is a book that I first mentioned way back in December of 2007. It was immediately popular among readers and has been ever since, and this is probably traceable to its highly particular construction: the book is a set of unbound signatures collected in a box. The book is also by one of the UK's most notable experimentalists of the 20th century (mentioned in the same breath as Joyce and Beckett), and although he was neglected during his time, he seems to be undergoing something of a restoration right now.

    An interesting footnote to this case is that Johnson couldn't get The Unfortunates published in his lifetime in this format. His publisher would only print is as a regular book, with instructions on how to hopscotch around the chapters to replicate the experience one was supposed to have with the unbound signatures. It didn't sell terribly well in that format.

#5

  • Cesar Aira–Although no one book by Aira particularly distinguished itself this quarter, the collective popularity of his books (currently 4 in English, and surely more to come) made him a popular author this quarter.

    This is probably due to the fact that I love Aira, and I've been using the fact that New Directions just published a translation of Ghosts (which we reviewed here) to mention him at every conceivable juncture. And it seems to be working.

    Well, more power to him. I think Aira is one of the Latin American authors most in need of discovery, and signs seem to be that he is finally beginning to break his way into mainstream literary discourse in this country.

#6

  • Lowboy by John Wray–Lowboy is this quarter's example of one of those books that I never actually mentioned on this blog (in fact that I had barely even heard of), but that merited purchases by its popularity in other media.

    For some reason, at least one of these will creep up on me every quarter. Strangely enough, in the past one of these titles was Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, and indeed O'Neill shows up in the Amazon review of Lowboy:

What's most seductive for me about John Wray's third novel–and
arguably the one that puts him squarely on the map alongside
contemporary luminaries like Joseph O'Neill, Jonathan Lethem, and Junot
Diaz–is how skillfully it explores the mind's mysterious terrain. This
isn't exactly uncharted land: John Wray's Will Heller–a.k.a.
Lowboy–is a paranoid schizophrenic off his meds and on the lam,
certain of both his own dysfunction and of the world's imminent
collapse by way of global warming, but Wray handles that subtext
delicately and is careful to make Will's mission to "cool down" and
save the world feel single-minded without being moralistic. Wray
invokes all the classic elements of a mystery in the telling, and
that's what makes this novel such a searing read.

Perhaps there's a hard-core cadre of realist readers somewhere in this site's audience.

#7

  • Enrique Vila-Matas and W.G. Sebald criticism–Last but certainly not least, I'm going to put these two in a dead heat for seventh place.

    Vila-Matas is an author that I've championed on this site ever since I first read his books in the summer of 2007. And since then there has been a steady stream of purchases of his two available translations. (I'm still hoping for a third from New Directions, or anywhere else.) I think this is a good example of what a blog should do: free from the need to constantly write about new books, blogs can keep older books in the conversation simply by mentioning them now and again, discussing them as they see fit, or linking to bits and pieces of news and criticism.

    That was what also happened with the two works of Sebald criticism that I've mentioned on this site. Almost a year after I published it, my post on J.J. Long's book continues to be very popular via Google, and I have mentioned both Long's book and the collection of criticism that he edited whenever it seemed appropriate.

Other Interesting Books

Here now are some interesting books that I've discovered through readers' Amazon purchases this quarter:

And finally, for comparison, the results from Q4 2008:

1. The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares

2. The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson

3. Senselessness, 2666, The Siege of Krishnapur, and A Rhetoric of Irony

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