January 6th, 2013


_The Jersey Sting_, Ted Sherman, Josh Margolin (kindle)

Subtitled: A True Story of Crooked Pols, Money-Laundering Rabbis, Black Market Kidneys, and the Informant Who Brought It All Down

A friend of mine was looking around for the revised version of this to give as a holiday present; there was some e-mailed debate about where best to do this and then some subsidiary discussion of its contents. While I was not initially all that interested, in an effort to understand some of the snarky commentary, I looked at the Amazon detail page and at that point, I figured between the friend liking it a lot (he has generally very good taste in non-fiction) and the juiciness of the description, it was worth a shot.

Written by two journalists at the Star-Ledger (a paper which has a positive association in my husband's family because it employed one of my mother-in-law's cousins for a long while), _The Jersey Sting_ is about how the feds, under Christie (while he was New Jersey's AG), used a man who had run a massive ponzi scheme based on real estate, to entangle candidates and office-holders, and rabbis for very conservative Jewish groups. The only connection between all this was Solomon Dwek, and the only reason it worked is because Dwek was apparently the kind of guy who could talk the kind of people he was dealing with into just about anything -- well, on the political side, a lot of this is apparently a whole lot of cash sloshing around with minimal enforcement.

It is indeed a well-written, juicy tale, which sheds a limited amount of light on the rise of Chris Christie and the fall of Jon Corzine, and a lot more light on an obscure community of Syrian Jews. There are also some lessons here about one party states, corruption, the interaction of these states with national politics and -- if that sounded yawn inducing, it really isn't. It's worth it just to understand why some people in NY/NJ are so opposed to favorable tax treatment of charitable donations.

To Finish or Not To Finish

I've been working my way back through kindle purchases more or less by date of purchase (that I haven't already read). Because I've been a little tired lately, I've been poking more at the fiction than the non-fiction, but what remains is increasingly stuff that I don't really like. Current case in point: _A Discovery of Witches_ by Deborah Harkness.

I often speculate, while reading books, about what's going on with the author and/or characters. A good author can write a very convincing character with a severe anxiety disorder, say, without once using the word anxiety -- I wouldn't be too surprised to find out that in the course of writing the book, the author interviewed people who had or worked with people with an anxiety disorder, read forums devoted to these disorders, read the diagnostic criteria, etc. Recently, while reading Michael Lewis' _The Big Short_, I became convinced that at least one and probably more than one of the people being described could be diagnosed with ASD and indeed, halfway through the book, Lewis reveals that one of them got an Aspie diagnosis after their kid was diagnosed. It was handled in a positive way (by the family, the people they were working with and by Lewis as the author), but I was additionally happy because I rarely get that kind of "answer key".

Reading Harkness, it seems clear that the "creatures" (supernaturals or supes, in my terminology) are written to capture some ideas about mental illness -- the daemons, in particular, are said in this modern age of declining powers as having less genius and more mental illness, and their behavior includes a raft of possible symptoms suggesting anything from ADHD to bipolar to schizophrenia or other. And to be utterly clear, they're the _nicer_ people in the book.

However, the protagonists, Diana Bishop and Michael Clairmont or de Clermont or whatever, have a relationship that keeps making me want to send them both off for counseling. Separately. And that makes me wonder whether I really want to keep reading at all.


Also, kissing someone "in the French manner"? Who thinks like that? Writes like that, whatever.

People Who Buy eBooks Still Buy pBooks

ETA: I _thought_ I had spotted a big gap in what I had ordered; in the event, it appears to have been exactly one missed children's book. Further edits throughout the post to correct numbers

The subject line is a true statement, however, I wonder what, if any, solace it could provide for a publisher of new books?

In 2012, I bought 36 pbooks. Of that number, 7 were gifts (all bought new), and two were books for my children (this is an embarrassingly low number). One book was bought used for book group and immediately donated to a library thereafter, which intended to include it in the book group bag. I bought 1 audio book, which I am counting as a p for physical, rather than p for paper book. It was a gift. 20 were bought used; 16 were new.

Here is the list of 9 books I bought new for myself and my family over the course of the year (about 5 of them are exclusively for me, 2 are children's books and the history of atlases and the book about gays in Canada were bought as part of an ongoing effort to puzzle out some genealogy questions that my husband and I have):

An annotated bibliography of the sociology of Canadian Mennonites and related groups
Drummer Hoff (children's book)
Urville (book of drawings by an autistic person)
If you give a Mouse a Cookie (collected kids books)
a history of atlases (genealogy and just plain cool)
_Long Term Care for the Elderly_, which was fantastic and
_The Cultural Context of Aging_, which I haven't read yet
Bartlett's quotations
_Persecuting Homosexuals_ (haven't read -- dual interest LGBT and genealogy for the area)

I knew I had cut back on buying books for the kids; I'm a little stunned that I cut back to two. I may need to work on that.

In 2012, I bought 98 ebooks. I was careful not to count games, free books or kindle guides and so forth in this list. Of those, about 13 were bought for someone else who reads books on my kindle. About 5 of them were shorts (short stories or a novella or whatever). Obviously, none of them were bought used.

For reference purposes, over the course of the year, I bought 2 e-ink readers and 1 of the larger kindle fires (I kept one of the e-ink readers for myself; the other two were for other people).

If it gives you solace that I bought one new pbook for every 6ish ebooks I bought, or, 5ish new pbooks for every reading device I bought over the course of the year, then you are a person who is very good at seeing the silver lining.

ETA: In August, I went to a bookstore on Cape Cod. At this bookstore, I bought my children three books. I also bought my nieces a whole bunch of books -- probably a couple dozen, maybe more. None of those books are included in this count. If they had been included in this count, the analysis would have to be modified as follows: MORE new p-books than used p-books overall. 12 new books purchased for me/my family. While the total count of p-books vs. e-books would continue to favor e-books, it would be approximately a 2 pbooks for 3 e-books ratio. While it is possible there were additional book purchases during the course of the year which I have forgotten, it seems unlikely, as I don't even go into bookstores any more, except in unusual cases such as the August purchase of birthday gifts for my nieces while we vacationed together. We also went to a Toys R Us on that trip where I bought them a ton of Calico Critters stuff and assorted other plastic crap. I'm fairly certain I spent more at Toys R Us than at the bookstore and other charges associated with the trip completely swamped those shopping expeditions.

You may consider this a response to this:


Or not, as pleases you.

Appendix for the excessively curious: so what were those 20 used books?

In December, I paid over $250 for a copy of Hiebert's volume about CGCM (Holdeman), and $24 for the thin and largely useless Penner history of the CGCM.

In November, I bought a copy of _Houseworks_ used. While it was only $6, it was probably still a waste of money, as the website is better.

In October, I bought a book written by the wife of a former coworker of my husband (I think former -- a little unclear on that) about advice given to poor families in the Victorian and Edwardian years. The (distant) personal connection in conjunction with this being an area of interest for me (swear!) overcame my ongoing reluctance to buy things published by Palgrave Macmillan. While I feel guilty that the author did not receive money from this, I don't feel bad about stiffing Macmillan -- and I enjoy giving Midtown Scholar money. I also bought GTD used for $8, which was absolutely not a waste of money, even tho I don't actually do GTD and could have got it from the library.

In September, I was in the throes of my divorce project (collecting the decrees and whatever else I could find for my maternal grandmother and my father's maternal grandfather -- she had three and he had two divorces so it seemed interesting). I bought Riley's Divorce in America (which I had owned in the past but either loaned and lost or sold), _Living in Sin_ and _Putting Asunder_. I had attempted to avoid paying almost $70 for _Putting Asunder_, but had to return it to the library because of a request so I broke down and bought my own copy. I also bought some scholarly thing about moral panics (your guess is as good as mine) and _Escape from Hunger_, which took a major turn for the worse halfway through.

In August, I bought the Zippy memoir, read it for book group and donated it at the end of the discussion.

In July, I bought no physical books.

In June, I bought the 3rd edition, second printing of Kanner's Child Psychiatry, and a copy of Kenneth Davis' problematic but worth reading _Two Bit Culture_.

In May, I bought no physical books.

In April, all the books I bought were new and for other people.

In March, I bought a book about 7-11 in Japan, _Frisians to America_, _Drowned Landscape_, _Atlas Maior_ and a book about Frisian linguistics. You can sort of see a trend there, with the exception of the 7-11 books, which was really worthwhile altho a bit dated.

In February, I bought a genealogy of Delps in America for over $50 that proved not particularly relevant to the Delps I was researching.

In January, I bought a copy of _Apart and Together_, which is about Mennonites.

[An earlier version of this post miscounted how many I had described and left out GTD.]

People Who Buy eBooks Still Buy pBooks: the analysis

See the previous post if you want my numbers and some detail for the year.

The most striking thing about my e-purchases vs p-purchases is the number of items, and the number of p-purchases which were used items (and thus no money to the publisher/author, except indirectly if the original purchaser, by getting back some of their money through the sale of a book, goes out and buys a new book.

This pattern of p-purchases is the result of a conscious strategy I adopted almost immediately after getting my first e-reader: I decided to try to buy everything I wanted in e-form, and if that failed, to at least buy it used if at all possible. I delayed many purchases for months, when I believed that the item would eventually become available in e-form, as in the first year of the kindle, a lot of newly published books weren't available in e-form and not as a result of windowing.

When windowing was (briefly) attempted by publishers, I delayed purchase until the e-form was available. In many of those cases, I never bought the e-form, because by that point, the cluster of reviews available suggested it wasn't worth it. In a couple cases, I got the book from the library -- and wasn't very impressed. It turns out that it is hard for a book to overcome a pissed off reader's negativity -- at least this pissed off reader's negativity.

I was more than a little surprised to notice just how few children's books I bought in 2012 [I have since remembered 3 more bought while we were at the Cape]. I had, in the past, bought many, many, many children's books. I do buy the kids book-apps in the apple and kindle ecosystems, and they went to the library with me a few times in 2012. They went to the library a lot more often through their schools, and get a lot of book exposure that way. Plus, huge backlog of books around here for them, and books other people gave them as gifts.

While in the past, a lot of my used purchases have been general non-fiction from previous years not yet converted (or never expected to convert) to e-form. This time, there was a great deal more focus in these purchases (exceptions included the moral panics book, _Escape from Hunger_, 7-11 in Japan, and the two books about aging/long term care) -- almost all of the non-fiction was driven by genealogical research or questions about history which arose in that context.

While the e-book sales continue to grow, the percentage growth rate is less now than it has been in the past. Anyone who takes comfort in this reveals their innumeracy, as it the absolute increase in items sold may well be larger now than ever before (34% of a bigger number may be greater than 110% of a smaller number).

Finally, taking comfort in the idea that there are plenty of people out there who haven't read an e-book in the past year vs. virtually no one who reads e-books so exclusively that they don't also buy an read p-books may fail to capture the used vs. new distinction. While a retailer who sells new and used books may not care whether the volume they sell is used or new (they might prefer used, if it's something like Hiebert's book about CGCM!), a publisher presumably does.

A publisher's best bet for getting me to spend money on p-books at this point is to convince me to buy p-books as gifts for young children. Failing that, producing picture books of interest to me. A publisher who only saw my new-pbook purchases, btw, would still consider me a comparatively heavy book buyer, and might argue that I am evidence that print is not yet dead.

What will change by 2023: payments

R. mentioned that Social Security had switched, like many state benefits, away from paper checks. That was a while ago, or so we thought until I realized I knew someone on social security who was still getting checks. What?


New people signing up did not get a paper check option as of 1 May 2011. Everyone is switched over by 1 Mar 2013.

Here are some things to think about:

The e-bill/pay online process I went through in the fourth quarter of 2012 means that I will be writing about 25% fewer checks in 2013 as I did in 2012. Many of the remaining checks are to "occasional pay" or "one time only pay" situations that would be hard to pay online, but not impossible -- TD bank would let me do an e-check even for these situations, but it would require some effort on my side to get routing numbers and account numbers for the payee. I'll experiment with doing that over the next year. Other checks are to contractors; again, I could try to convince them to give me routine numbers/account numbers but I have no idea if they would. I could also pay them in cash (altho some of those bills are large enough that I'm not sure how I feel about paying cash for them).

However, looking at a list of online payment service providers:


It's kind of easy to imagine that within the next ten years, 90% or more of what I currently pay by physical check will be replaced by e-check or some other transaction method. I don't know _what_ the method will be, just that I expect that to happen, at least for me and probably R.

I already use a credit card for nearly all purchases, however, there are a few that are small (some meals, beverages, snacks when out and about) that I use cash for. What could replace that cash? Starbucks is already pushing hard to switch people over to their reloadable cards and Rewards program, and has an app for paying using your phone. It's hard to know just how far down that path we might go. While I laugh at science fiction novels with faster than light travel that still use anonymous cash like payments, I'm not sure 10 years is a time frame in which cash will go away.

ETA: An excellent, short article on the topic of evolving payment processing with charts from a very reputable source:


Wikipedia on the cheques, I picked a pointer into the current time frame, which includes how things work now and where they are headed:


ETAYA: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2079034

Really good, but I'd skip some of the middle and jump ahead to sections 5 and 6, where they speculate about future developments.