Liz’s News of the Books

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This Article Will Not Be Retracted

These literary controversies keep creeping closer and closer to me. While maintaining a professional smokescreen about the situation, let me just say I was recently involved in a decision to retract an article, and it got me thinking about the reasons pieces get retracted. First, read about what a retraction is. For my purposes, we’ll say retraction is removing a previously published piece from the public view for reasons unrelated to space.

So I typed in “why do pieces get retracted” into Google and came back with an interesting blog on the subject. Retraction Watch apparently keeps track of retractions of scientific studies. Which is fascinating, because often we hear about studies being based on shoddy evidence and disproved. It’s a common practice in science—too common, it seems like, based on the amount of posts on the site, and apparently, according to one article I saw, getting even more endemic. But I was thinking more in the journalism and literary world. Why do things get pulled there?

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Discuss: Amazon & Goodreads

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For those of you who don’t know, Goodreads is a social networking site for the bibliophiles amongst us. The site allows users to chronicle their book collections and what they’re reading at the moment, and share that information with their friends. If they are so inclined, users can update their profile to let friends know which page they’re on in their current read. And when they’ve finished that book, they have the option of writing up a review of the book, however long or short they’d like.

I am a fan of Goodreads. I found the site about three years ago and have been an active member ever since. I keep track of the books I’m reading and where I am in those books, page-wise. I do leave reviews or brief comments when I’ve finished a book, and sometimes I even link to my book blog if I’ve reviewed the book there. Whenever I buy a new book, one of the first things I do with it is add it to my “shelves” on Goodreads. I like to think of it as my own little cataloguing system. It’s a way for me to keep track of all my physical books. Suffice it to say, Goodreads has been a part of my life for the past couple of years.

So, I was a bit surprised to hear the news when Amazon acquired Goodreads a couple of weeks ago. The reason for this acquisition is purely business-based. The industry model has changed so that word of mouth recommendations of books matters much more than those silly “if you liked x, then you will like y” recommendations that show up on Amazon when you buy a book. I’ve heard from many people that they are more likely to read a book recommended or reviewed by a friend (even a friend who is only online) than one reviewed by more traditional critics. It seems that Amazon is hoping to get an “in” with this new bookish online world that they haven’t yet been able to penetrate, in the hopes that they can up their sales as a result.

That makes sense to me. From an objective, business point of view, it makes sense. The question I still have is this: what will Amazon do to Goodreads? Will the site now be riddled with ads sponsored by Amazon? Will Amazon try to steer conversations already taking place in their favor? What impact will this business decision have on my Goodreads experience?

What do you think? Share your opinions in the comments.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Liz’s News of the Books

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Closing the Gates of Persepolis

When I started writing this column about literary controversies, I never dreamed that 9 months later, I’d find my hometown in the center of one. Not that I’m happy about this (other than not having to look in obscure places or manufacture a controversy out of thin air), but we haven’t had a good ‘ol fashioned book banning in a while. Lane Tech High School in Chicago broke that local streak when for whatever reason staff were directed to pull Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, out of school libraries. Or something that seemed very, very close to book banning. Something that took Persepolis out of a place where students who previously had access to it will no longer be able to do so.

Actually, I can’t figure out the order of events here, and neither can anyone else. Stories abound. Is it inaccurate to say the book was banned? Some people say it was just taken out of the 7th grade curriculum, others say high school libraries no longer have it either. Some say the ban is over, but I have it on good authority from the ALA (located in Chicago, what are the odds?) that the challenge is ongoing. I’ve heard the objection came from a pro-Iranian family in Englewood, but if you know anything about Chicago, that story smells worse than Bubbly Creek did on a hot day, especially since reports came out of Lane Tech…on the other side of town. I don’t want to add to the flurry of information about this event, especially since I suspect much of it is wrong. You do the investigative journalism of Googling yourself, and let’s just talk about what it all means.

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