"The Every" Makes a Stand for the Little Guy: 10/3/2021

Are you aware of what Dave Eggers is up to with his new novel?

Dave Eggers thinks Amazon holds far too much influence over the publishing ecosystem, and he’s trying to do something about it with his new novel, The Every.

For an exclusive window of six weeks, starting October 5th, exclusively the hardcover version of The Every will be available for purchase only directly through McSweeney’s (the publishing company founded by Eggers) and at independent bookstores. After those six weeks, a paperback and e-book version will become available through all channels, but the hardcover book will remain an indie exclusive in perpetuity.

Before going further I should disclose that I’ve been friends with Dave Eggers for more than twenty years and edited the McSweeney’s website for a bunch of years. Many of my own writing opportunities can be traced back to assistance he’s provided me in the past. Mrs. Biblioracle’s association goes back even further, as they’re friends from high school. A veterinarian character in The Every is even named after her.

So yeah, not objective, but so what? I come to my own concerns about Amazon’s hegemony honestly, and have sounded the alarm frequently over the years, most recently this past March.

As Eggers recounts in an interview at The Millions, right now Amazon accounts for 45 percent of print book and 75 percent of e-book sales. It’s not merely that Amazon has such a dominant market share, but also that they are a company that operates on algorithms, rather than human decision making. This kind of operations is, in my view, anathema to a healthy book culture. As Eggers says, “If we want to avoid algorithms deciding which books are published and which are not, it has to end now.”

The Every is a sequel to the best selling The Circle - which also spawned a film version starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks (in a very rare bad guy role) - and centers a former forest ranger named Delaney Wells who is taking on The Every, which exists as a kind of amalgam of Amazon, Facebook, and Google, and dominates the moment-to-moment lives of everyone by dictating what you buy and are exposed to online.

No one, Eggers very much included, thinks that this will make any kind of dent in Amazon’s bottom line. This is not Quixote titling at windmills so much as a Cassandra trying to alert the world to an impending disaster while having fun doing it, long a hallmark of Eggers’ vision for how publishing and books should engage with readers.

The hardcover version of The Every will have something like 32 different designs, randomly distributed, with more potentially appearing over time. Really stick it to the man and collect them all!

In world view, I tend toward pessimism. I joke with students that I firmly believe that humankind is a pestilence put on Earth driven to destroy the planet and each other (not necessarily in that order). I don’t hold out much hope for a different outcome than total annihilation and find solace in the fact that when it does happen, I will be returned to stardust.

At the same time, because of this philosophical orientation, I am a big believer in doing one’s best to do good works, to leave the place a little better than you found it, and much of Dave’s career has been oriented around these sorts of projects, be it the 826 tutoring centers which provide access to young people who want to write, to the Voice of Witness oral histories which explore the experiences and lives of marginalized populations.

As he said of publishing The Every in this way, “I don’t like bullies. Amazon has been kicking sand in the face of independent bookstores for decades now.”

Buying this book or any single book at an independent bookstore isn’t going to bring Amazon to it knees, but it is a definitively good thing. It is a moment of denial of the dark forces that threaten us, and that makes it worth doing.

For more information about what’s up with The Every check out:

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Highly recommend this extended podcast interview by Ezra Klein of Richard Powers. It gets at some of the specific motivations for his new novel Bewilderment, but goes much deeper into questions about how we live and what we live for.

We’re already experiencing an inundation of Jonathan Franzen discourse and his new novel, Crossroads, doesn’t even come out until Tuesday. I’ve sorted through the chaff and bring you the wheat of this conversation with Merve Emre, author of The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing.

I don’t know how interested regular folks are interested in the inside baseball of writing and publishing, but if you are, Lincoln Michel is as perceptive a guide as you’ll find in writing from the author’s perspective. Here he talks about sales and customer reviews and their impact on authors. He has a newly released book that’s worth checking out too, The Body Scout.

The Millions tells us what books are most anticipated this month, including Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads. Also, Amor Towles, who looks like he has another hit with The Lincoln Highway, also available this Tuesday.

The New York Times also tells us what we should be aware of this month, which includes Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William! set in the same universe as My Name is Lucy Barton and Olive Kitteridge.

This list was first published last year, but who cares? It’s the season for spooky reads.

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I’m actually still working on the article that prevented me from even remembering to do a newsletter last week, so I’m short on time and not able to do any recommendations this week, but I’m left plenty of tasty titles above that go to The Biblioracle Recommends bookshop at Bookshop.org. Affiliate income for purchases through the bookshop goes to Open Books in Chicago.

Modest increase week to week up to $168.25 for the year.

If you’d like to see every book I’ve recommended in this space this year, check out my list of 2021 Recommendations at the Bookshop.org bookshop.

I promise recommendation next week. Wait times should be minimal.

Want a recommendation? Click here!

Wish me luck on landing this puppy. Seems like no matter how much time and space I have, my brain wants to work the problem until I’m literally out of time. I’ll see you all again at full strength in this space next week.

JW
The Biblioracle