Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Why I Like -- And Hate -- Shopping At iUniverse

iUniverse POD books are particularly well-represented on my bookshelf. It’s not that iUniverse authors are uniquely talented. Every POD publisher has a few great books, and a whole lot of dross. It's certainly not that iUniverse produces an especially beautiful physical product. iUniverse's cover art is as unforntunate as any POD publisher's.

Rather, I like iUniverse because it allows me to read several pages of the books I'm interested in before I purchase them. Other POD websites offer less extensive preview functionality. For example, Lulu (which I also really like, and which will be the subject of a future post) recently began providing pages from most (but not all) of its newer offerings. AuthorHouse sometimes provides a few random paragraphs. But iUniverse lets you check out the first several pages of all of its books.

This obviously does not advantage every iUniverse author. I've often passed on a book that initially looked intriguing after I've read the first few pages (or sentences). However, the fact that iUniverse gives me the opportunity to make this assessment is what makes me willing to buy its books at all. If I bought every POD book that caught my eye without further investigation, I'd be broke (and my house would be filled with awful fiction).

However, as much as I appreciate iUniverse's preview policy, its absurd e-book policy drives me crazy. Because POD paperbacks are expensive, I only buy a novel if I am very confident that I will enjoy it. However, I would be happy to take chances on more novels, ones that I am not quite as certain about, if I could purchase them in the cheaper e-book format.

In this regard, ordinary pdf e-books are convenient: they can be printed, read by a variety of software on a variety of systems, and freely transferred between all of my computers and handheld devices. Indeed, several POD publishers (like Lulu) distribute their e-books in basic pdf format.

Unfortunately, all of iUniverse's e-books are sold in Adobe Ebook format. Adobe Ebooks cannot be printed, which is a huge inconvenience for me. Moreover, Adobe EBooks can only be read using Adobe's own proprietary Reader software. The Adobe Reader must be installed and registered on every computer or device on which you want to read your Ebooks. If Adobe doesn't make a reader for your device, you're out of luck. If you buy an Adobe Ebook but then change your system someday so that the Adobe Reader no longer works or is not available, your investment is gone. You can never read your EBook again.

This is unacceptable. Why shouldn't I be able to print my e-books to read in the bathtub? Why shouldn't I be able to read my e-books on any program I want, and on any computer I want, without registering my every move with Adobe? Why should I have to worry about someday losing access to my EBooks altogether? Is iUniverse really that afraid of POD e-book piracy? I'm as big a POD novel booster as there is, and I truly believe that some POD novels are as good as any contemporary popular fiction. But let's be honest: the demand for these books in the black-market underground just isn't that great. All that iUniverse has succeeded in doing is alienating me and reducing its own sales.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

REVIEW: Roll! They Cried by Soren Narnia


Years ago, pro baseball player Ben “The Blemish” Glinton disgraced himself through a particularly boneheaded performance during game seven of the World Series. Broke and humiliated, Ben now seeks to recapture fame and fortune by staging -- and winning -- a national tabletop "baseball" simulation championship. Accompanied by his biographer (who is seeking an explanation for Ben's foul-ups all those years ago) and the members of his tabletop baseball club (including a three-time Pulitzer-prize winning novelist and a twelve year old genius), Ben sets off on his cross-country quest, with glory, redemption, and $19,450 of his own money on the line.


This is a very funny book. A slapstick buddy film in novel form, Roll! They Cried is consistently good-natured and high-spirited (and would, in fact, make an outstanding film). The humor may be broad, but Soren Narnia carries it off with wit and style. Not only are the jokes easy and unforced, but, impressively for this type of narrative, Narnia also tells a real story, with real characters (broad characters, but characters nonetheless) and a satisfying third act. Roll! They Cried may not be profound – indeed, it actively mocks profundity at several points – but it embodies “wacky hijinks” done right, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

A final word for non-sports-fans: don’t be put off by the baseball framework. No one could care less about baseball than me, but it truly is only a framing device, and enjoyment of the novel does not depend upon an appreciation of (or extensive knowledge about) baseball.


Narnia's writing is thoroughly professional. Stylistically, Narnia writes with confidence and maintains a consistent, light-hearted tone throughout the book. Editorially, Roll! They Cried is equally accomplished. The iUniverse print version of the novel is a tight and satisfying 173 pages. There are no loose ends or extraneous characters or plotlines, and typos are extremely minimal. Narnia’s proficiency is perhaps unsurprising: he is a prolific, experienced author, with at least twelve other POD titles (in a variety of genres) to his credit. That experience shows here.


Roll! They Cried, like most of Narnia's works, is available as of this writing for free at his website. If you like what you're reading after the first few chapters, I encourage you to support Narnia’s efforts (as I did) by buying a copy of the book through iUniverse or Amazon.


I am not a baseball fan but enjoyed Roll! They Cried tremendously. Similarly, I am not a jazz fan, but am a huge fan of Elvis Sinatra's off-kilter -- but thoroughly professional -- pop-jazz-vocal compositions, all of which are available as of this writing for free download from his website. Whether singing about the plight of us exceptionally attractive men (“Handsome Guys”) or about a man in love with a fish (“Pisces”), Elvis Sinatra has the musical and vocal chops of a serious Sinatra (Frank, that is) style musician combined with the wit of Dorothy Parker and the playful darkness of Lemony Snicket.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Personal Outlay Developed ("POD") Reviews: An Introduction

This blog is dedicated to POD media. The "POD" acronym traditionally refers to "publish on demand" books, and books will, in fact, be a primary focus of this blog. However, I use "POD" to refer to a much broader category of outsider pop culture: all books, movies, music, comics and other media where the creator, propelled by personal vision (and perhaps by the fact that no one else is willing to advance funds), personally assumes the monetary risks and rewards of creation, publication and/or distribution of art. In other words, POD media is, for me, Personal Outlay Developed media.

Several POD book review blogs already exist, including the ones linked to the right. Yet I believe there is room for (at least) one more. With tens of thousands of POD books published every year (including at least a couple dozen good ones), only a very small fraction of even the best POD novels receive any attention whatsoever. My own bookshelf is stands in silent, faux-wooden testament to this fact: most of the POD titles that I personally have most enjoyed remain unreviewed anywhere. If I can help spread the words about even some of these books, then my time here is well-spent.

Moreover, I have a gimmick. Because my interest in POD media extends beyond books, this is going to be a full-service blog. Although the focus of each entry is going to be a novel, I, like a sommelier of the "do-it-yourself" world, am going to push a POD movie or album to complement each literary main course. Ideally, this will create an overall experience that is thematically coherent and brings out the full flavor of the novel being reviewed. In reality, I’m sure that the link will generally be as strained as this dinner analogy.

So there you have it. If the movie "They Live" were POD, I would close this introduction by paraphrasing "Rowdy" Ruddy Piper's famous quote: I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and write some reviews . . . and I’m all out of bubblegum. However, this sounds much less impressive than in the original version (where Mr. Piper said "kick some ass" rather than "write some reviews"). In any event, "They Live" was a major studio motion picture (even if it had a decidedly POD sensibility), so it is not really appropriate here. But as always, even if I break my own rules, my heart is in the right place.