Philip Roth Is Retiring; Amazon Glitch Disables Buy Buttons

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Today in books and publishing: Philip Roth confirms his retirement; Amazon's mysteriously vanishing buy buttons; Kobo expands to Italy, Kindle considers China; cities in literature.

Philip Roth wraps it up. One of America's most celebrated living novelists has been hinting at retirement for a while now. But he didn't choose to make a big announcement in a prominent stateside literary organ like The New York Review of Books. He chose instead to let it out in interviews with the foreign press over recent weeks. Last month he told Nelly Kaprièlian of French magazine Les Inrockuptibles that he hasn't written new material in three years, and doesn't plan to write any new novels. "To tell you the truth, I’m done," he said frankly, "Nemesis will be my last book ... Enough is enough! I no longer feel this fanaticism to write that I have experienced in my life." He said the same thing in an interview with Italian magazine La Repubblica earlier this month. His publisher Houghton Mifflin confirmed that Roth is entering retirement. It looks the 74-year-old writer will have plenty of time to go over his life story and thoughts on literature with his new biographer, Blake Bailey. [Salon]

Where did Amazon's buy buttons go? Late last night, customers looking to replenish their Kindles with fresh e-books were probably quite frustrated. No matter how hard anyone clicked, there was no way to purchase e-books from Penguin, Random House, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and HarperCollins through Amazon. A company spokesperson later confirmed that it was just a technical slip-up, and buy buttons were quickly restored. But given Amazon's propensity to punish publishers that don't bend to its will with disabled buy buttons, this brief black-out set off a minor panic in publishing land. Why were only Big Six publishers affected? Did it have anything to do with the ongoing agency pricing legal battles or the Penguin Random House merger? Though it seems to have been nothing more serious than a technical goof, it's a stark reminder that Amazon has the ability—as well as the leverage—to shut down publishers' most important connection with consumers at the click of a mouse. [New York Observer]

Recommended Reading

E-reading takes a global turn. E-books may be taking firm holds in the U.S., but they have a long way to go before they became the global format of choice for readers. Italy may be going in an increasingly digital direction soon, with the country's largest bookseller Mondadori Group partnering with Kobo to stock Touch e-readers in its hundreds of stores. 34,000 e-books will be available for Italian readers. China is another largely untapped market, one that Amazon is eyeing enviously. ZDNet's Liau Yun Qing reports that Kindles may become available there as early as this month. "If Amazon brings its e-reader to China, it will face competition from Chinese e-commerce player Dangdang which launched its e-reader in July at a retail price of 599 yuan (US$79)," she writes. "In comparison, the cheapest Kindle Paperwhite e-reader, which includes "Special Offers", retails at US$119 in the United States." [ZDNet]

Cities in literature. Mark Binelli's new book Detroit City Is the Place to Be is all about the Motor City—its ascent during America's industrial golden age, and its struggle to redefine itself. Given his obsession with the urban, Publishers Weekly decided to tap Binelli for a list of his favorite books that take specific cities as a central theme. It's more interesting than most lists on this subject might have been. For instance, he shines a light on Joan Didion not for her classic takes on San Francisco or New York, but for her book Miami. And his favorite books to take on New York—Ben Katchor's The Jew of New York and Joseph Mitchell's Up in the Old Hotel—are refreshing inclusions. His favorite book about Detroit, Elmore Leonard's City Primeval, is also a bit surprising. [Publishers Weekly]

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