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Good books about motherhood (both fiction and nonfiction)


Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson

     "In a hilariously charming domestic memoir, America’s celebrated master of terror turns to a different kind of fright: raising children."
The Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill.

      "If I tell you that it’s funny, and moving, and true; that it’s as compact and mysterious as a neutron; that it tells a profound story of love and parenthood while invoking (among others) Keats, Kafka, Einstein, Russian cosmonauts, and advice for the housewife of 1897, will you please simply believe me, and read it?” ~Michael Cunningham
The Millstone by Margaret Drabble.

     The story of an upper-middle-class unwed mother in 1960s London, from a novelist who is “often as meticulous as Jane Austen and as deadly as Evelyn Waugh”
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

      "Doris Lessing's real achievement in this book, I think, was simply in her matter-of-fact her handling of controversial matters (controversial in the period between World War II and the sixties, at any rate). She writes about the life of a divorced woman with a child, her relationships with that child, with her best (woman) friend, with her lovers, her comrades in the English CP, her body, the political world, etc., in ways that are remarkable for their straightforward candor."
The Women's Room by Marilyn French

      “An important fictional account of a whole generation of women . . . Arresting, very real and poignant.” ~ The Cleveland Plain Dealer
The Nursery by Szilvia Molnar

      "Molnar's debut, about the first few sleep-decimated weeks in the life of a new mother...brings this particularly mind-eviscerating state of affairs into startlingly sharp relief in this uncompromising novel. And yet this is also an oddly affirmative novel, alive with a dangerous self-aware humor." ~ Daily Mail

      NY Public Library: Struggling with postpartum depression, a new mother, ill at ease with this state of perpetual giving, carrying, and feeding, strikes up a tentative friendship with her ailing upstairs neighbor, but they are both running out of time, and something is soon to crack."
Soldier Sailor by Claire Kilroy (to be published in 2024)

     "Anyone who has endured “the blurred days and the blurred nights” of early motherhood – or indeed anyone contemplating the possibility of embarking on them – be warned. You’re looking at a book-length panic attack....There were times when quite frankly I couldn't read on because it was the descriptions were so raw and jarringly close to home. A brilliant book but not an easy read."~Sarah Crown, The Guardian
Reproduction by Louisa Hall (to be published June 2024)

     A lucid, genre-defying novel that explores the surreality of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood in a country in crisis
The Green Road by Ann Enright

     Spanning thirty years, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigans, a family on the cusp of either coming together or falling irreparably apart.
The Wren by Ann Enright

     "This is a powerful, thoughtful book by one of the great living writers on the subject of family. Speaking about love in terms both domestic and transcendent, Enright coos through newly connected wires." ~ New York Times

      "The power of Enright's novel derives not so much from the age-old tale of men behaving badly, but from the beauty and depth of her own style. She's so deft at rendering arresting insights into personality types or situations."~ Maureen Corrigan, NPR
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

      "Taffy Brodesser-Akner updates the miserable-matrimony novel, dropping it squarely in our times. . . . Brodesser-Akner has written a potent, upsetting and satisfying novel, illustrating how the marital pledge—build our life together—overlooks a key fact: There are two lives.”—The New York Times Book Review
Beloved by Toni Morrison.

       “A triumph.” ~Margaret Atwood, The New York Times Book Review
Night Waking by Sarah Moss

       This one might be tough to read.
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

      In this blazingly smart and voracious debut novel, an artist turned stay-at-home mom becomes convinced she's turning into a dog. • "A must-read for anyone who can’t get enough of the ever-blurring line between the psychological and supernatural that Yellowjackets exemplifies." —Vulture
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman

      "Dense to look at, challengingly epic, the novel is built around one Ohio housewife’s monologue, flowing with dazzling lightness and speed. The detritus and maddening complexity of domesticity unfold in one breath, over a thousand pages. Shards of film plot and song collide with climate change anxiety; the terrors of parenting, healthcare and shopping lists wrestle with fake news and gun culture."~Booker Prize judge, Joanna MacGregor
After Birth by Elisa Albert.

       Acclaimed for its insight, outrageous humor, and power to spark fierce debate, After Birth is a daring and transformative novel about friendship, history, and the body.
Crazy by Jane Feaver.

       Funny, philosophical, sobering and wise, Crazy is crammed with insight and laced with great sentences~Claire Kilroy, Guardian
Hey Yeah Right Get a Life (short stories by Helen Simpson)

      This collection, Simpson's third and best yet, is a loosely linked set of stories about women - at work, at home and on holiday - that is poignant, perceptive, often sad and frequently funny.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

       "A classic for a reason. My mind was warped into a new shape by her prose and it will never be the same again." —Greta Gerwig
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

     If the first time you read it you loved the stories about the girls, read it again focusing on Mrs. March's role in the story.


Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution by Adrienne Rich,

      'In order for all women to have real choices all along the line, ' Ardrienne Rich writes, 'we need fully to understand the power and powerlessness embodied in motherhood in patriarchal culture.'
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (the 50th anniversary edition)

      "Brilliant…[Friedan] succeeded where no other feminist writer had. She touched the lives of ordinary readers." ~ Louis Menand, The New Yorker
Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood a book of essays by Ann Enright.

     "Making Babies is a collection of short essays, some of them stream of consciousness, that move chronologically through the landmarks of motherhood. She writes with brutal candor and irreverence about the things that the feel-good baby books don’t tell you."~ Moira Hodgson, Wall Street Journal
A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk.

     "A funny, moving, brutally honest account of her early experiences of motherhood. When it was published it 2001, it divided critics and readers. One famous columnist wrote a piece demanding that Cusk’s children be taken into care, saying she was unfit to look after them, and Oprah Winfrey invited her on the show to defend herself."
Toddlers: The Mumsnet Guide: A Million Mums' Trade Secrets by Mumsnet and the Mumsnet Mums Morningpaper.

      Sensible, funny, "a breath of fresh air" (print on demand)



When I read the following two pieces, I realized that although I had read some of these novels and nonfiction accounts of motherhood, I had missed a lot of them. So this re-assembled list is a reading list for me (to refer to at the library) as well as for you, or parents you might want to give a book to. I have added quotes from other sources. Let me know of any book about motherhood that you would add to the list.
---Top 10 novels about motherhood (Claire Kilroy, The Guardian, 5-10-23) From Elena Ferrante to Taffy Brodesser-Akner, writers have captured the pressures that being a mother can inflict on marriage and on the creative self.
---Eleanor Birne's top 10 books on motherhood (Eleanor Birne, The Guardian, 3-30-11) From Anna Karenina to Anne Enright, here are 10 striking portraits of motherhood from fiction and non-fiction books.

The Guardian publishes a roundup piece on this topic every now and again; do a search and you can find a bunch of them online.

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What the heck does it mean to be "woke"?

assembled by Pat McNees


I advise everybody to be a little careful when they go down there. Stay woke. Keep your eyes open.” ~ Lead Belly, "Scottsboro Boys," 1938


"DeSantis engineered and recently signed into law the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act, a title that precisely captures what the bill’s architects aimed to do: stop people in Florida from speaking out in ways that challenge racism and other kinds of discrimination." ~ Ishena Robinson, NAACP


"I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I'm gon' stay woke. And I'm gon' help him wake up other black folk." ~ Barry Beckham in his 1972 play Garvey Lives!


The Origin of Woke : William Melvin Kelley Is the ‘Woke’ Godfather We Never Acknowledged (Elijah C. Watson, Okay Player) In the first of his three-part Origin of Woke series, Elijah Watson highlights William Melvin Kelley, the Harlem author credited with coining the word.
---The Origin of Woke: How the Death of Woke Led to the Birth of Cancel Culture (Elijah Watson)

"Most people who are woke ain't calling themselves woke. Most people who are woke are agonizing inside. They're too busy being depressed to call themselves woke."

      "This is what Georgia Anne Muldrow — the woman who introduced woke to Erykah Badu who then introduced it to the world — told me almost two years ago. Throughout the 2010s, Muldrow's declaration became more declarative as woke became ubiquitous in the world. From "I'd stay woke" to "I stay woke"; "I stay woke" to "Stay woke"; and "Stay woke" to "Woke." As the phrase changed so did what it represented. With "stay woke," there was the implication that it was a continuous action — that one isn't only constantly challenging the injustices and transgressions of the world, but themselves, too. "Woke," on its own, is nothing more than a descriptor — a way to signal one's social awareness....Now used as a pejorative, woke has given way to online phenomenons like "call-out culture" and "cancel culture," both of which have also been met with derision. Despite its root function — to protect and give a voice to marginalized people and communities — woke is now seen as a detriment to societal progress.'

---The Origin of Woke: How Erykah Badu and Georgia Anne Muldrow Sparked The “Stay Woke” Era. Muldrow: "To be woke is to be black.  Woke is definitely a black experience — woke is if someone put a burlap sack on your head, knocked you out, and put you in a new location and then you come to and understand where you are ain't home and the people around you ain't your neighbors. They're not acting in a neighborly fashion, they're the ones who conked you on your head. You got kidnapped here and then you got punked out of your own language, everything. That's woke — understanding what your ancestors went through. Just being in touch with the struggle that our people have gone through here and understanding we've been fighting since the very day we touched down here. There was no year where the fight wasn't going down."

• If You're Woke You Dig It; No mickey mouse can be expected to follow today's Negro idiom without a hip assist. (William Melvin Kelley, NY Times, 5-20-62, viewable in the Times Machine, but "woke" appears only in the title.)

A history of “wokeness” (Aja Romano, Vox, 10-9-20) Stay woke: How a Black activist watchword got co-opted in the culture war. In the six years since the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, “woke” has evolved into a single-word summation of leftist political ideology, centered on social justice politics and critical race theory. This framing of “woke” is bipartisan: It’s used as a shorthand for political progressiveness by the left, and as a denigration of leftist culture by the right. On the left, to be “woke” means to identify as a staunch social justice advocate who’s abreast of contemporary political concerns — or to be perceived that way. On the right, “woke” — like its cousin “canceled” — bespeaks “political correctness” gone awry, and the term itself is usually used sarcastically.

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Woke Is Now A Racial Slur Thanks to White People (Allison Wiltz, Writers and Editors of Color Magazine, 11-10-21) "Keep in mind White people can never be "woke." Thinking they can is part of the problem. Becoming "woke" is a unique experience for Black people because we live in a nation that constantly gaslights us about the racism we see in our communities and experience first hand. Waking up means rejecting the false narratives and overcoming the psychological shackles of White supremacy."
Wikipedia on "Woke" 'Woke is an adjective derived from African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) meaning "alert to racial prejudice and discrimination". Beginning in the 2010s, it came to encompass a broader awareness of social inequalities such as racial injustice, sexism, and denial of LGBT rights.'
Earning the ‘Woke’ Badge (Amanda Hess, Amanda Hess, NY Times Magazine, 4-24-16) "These days, it has become almost fashionable for people to telegraph just how aware they have become. And this uneasy performance has increasingly been advertised with one word: “woke.” Think of “woke” as the inverse of “politically correct.” If “P.C.” is a taunt from the right, a way of calling out hypersensitivity in political discourse, then “woke” is a back-pat from the left, a way of affirming the sensitive. It means wanting to be considered correct, and wanting everyone to know just how correct you are.

The “Woke History” Wars Emma Green with Tyler Foggatt (New Yorker podcast, 3-8-23) discusses a major debate in academia about whether contemporary politics are shaping our understanding of the past too much.
The Roots Of Wokeness (Andrew Sullivan, The Weekly Dish, 7-31-20) It's time we looked more closely at the philosophy behind the movement. 'There’s no conspiracy: we all act unknowingly in perpetuating systems of thought that oppress other groups. To be “woke” is to be “awake” to these invisible, self-reinforcing discourses, and to seek to dismantle them—in ourselves and others.'


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Amazon vs Book Publishers (Do Writers Win or Lose?)

Published initially 11/14/2014; updated 1-5-24

Everything and Less’ Review: Fiction in Prime Time (Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal, 11-5-21) Amazon has transformed the way we read books—and, according to Mark McGurl, Stanford professor and literary critic and author of Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon, how they’re written. “Most literary studies focus their insights on the writers they consider the best, or the most significant artistically. But Amazon, being primarily a retail platform, doesn’t care about the content of books, only about how they sell and to whom. So under its hegemony the books suddenly elevated in stature belong to the traditionally “down-market sub-basement” commercial genres. In other words, like a private eye or tabloid journalist, Mr. McGurl spends his time digging through trash.”
      “In the Age of Amazon, all fiction is genre fiction. Dividing contemporary literature into a vast array of searchable genre categories, each with its own best-seller list, Amazon is the host of a genre system conceived as an engine of infinitely infoliating permutations of objects of narrative desire.” The most popular of those categories are post-apocalyptic fantasy sagas and romance novels, and Mr.McGurl devotes interpretive space to exemplars from each: Hugh Howey’s “Wool” series and E.L. James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy. These books are also notable for having been originally self-published, and it is through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform that the company has shown its true service-oriented ethos. Here writers can target increasingly niche customer wishes, and Mr.McGurl has a funny chapter on the explosion of fetish lit, like Adult Baby Diaper Lover erotica, “the quintessential Amazonian genre of literature.”          See also McGurl's The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing

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Authors and Booksellers Urge Justice Dept. to Investigate Amazon (Alexandra Alter, NY Times, 8-16-23) The online retailer’s size and sway affects the free exchange of ideas, the groups argue. The Biden administration has stepped up enforcement of antitrust policies. On Wednesday, the Open Markets Institute, an antitrust think tank, along with the Authors Guild and the American Booksellers Association, sent a letter to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, calling on the government to curb Amazon’s “monopoly in its role as a seller of books to the public.”
       "The groups are pressing the Justice Department to investigate not only Amazon’s size as a bookseller, but also its sway over the book market — especially its ability to promote certain titles on its site and bury others, said Barry Lynn, the executive director of the Open Markets Institute, a research and advocacy group focused on strengthening antimonopoly policies.
       "What we have is a situation in which the power of a single dominant corporation is warping, in the aggregate, the type of books that we’re reading,” Lynn said in an interview. “This kind of power concentrated in a democracy is not acceptable.”

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Is Amazon Changing the Novel? (Parul Seghal, New Yorker, 11-1-21) In the new literary landscape, readers are customers, writers are service providers, and books are expected to offer instant gratification. "Amazon—which, as its founder, Jeff Bezos, likes to point out, is named for the river that is not only the world’s largest but larger than the next five largest rivers combined—controlled almost three-quarters of new-adult-book sales online and almost half of all new-book sales in 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal. Unlike Mudie’s, it’s also a publisher, with sixteen book imprints...
      "The social-media site Goodreads, purchased by Amazon in 2013, hosts more than a hundred million registered users and, McGurl ventures, may be “the richest repository of the leavings of literary life ever assembled, exceeded only by the mass of granular data sent back to home base from virtually every Kindle device in the world.”

      But what McGurl considers the “most dramatic intervention into literary history” is yet another Amazon division, Kindle Direct Publishing (K.D.P.); it allows writers to bypass traditional gatekeepers and self-publish their work for free, with Amazon taking a significant chunk of any proceeds....

      "The K.D.P. platform pays the author by the number of pages read, which creates a strong incentive for cliffhangers early on, and for generating as many pages as possible as quickly as possible. The writer is exhorted to produce not just one book or a series but something closer to a feed—what McGurl calls a “series of series.” 

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Amazon to shut its bookstores and other shops as its grocery chain expands (Jeffrey Dastin, Reuters, 3-2-22) Amazon.com Inc plans to "close all 68 of its brick-and-mortar bookstores, pop-ups and shops carrying toys and home goods in the United States and United Kingdom, ending some of its longest-running retail experiments. The news marks a turning point for a company that began as an online bookseller and helped drive established rivals such as Borders to bankruptcy.
     "But the company's innovations were not enough to counter the march toward online shopping that Amazon itself had set off. Its "physical stores" revenue - a mere 3% of Amazon's $137 billion in sales last quarter, largely reflective of consumer spending at its Whole Foods subsidiary - has often failed to keep pace with growth in the retailer's other businesses.
      "Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said internet-savvy Amazon was right to forgo the niche market of brick-and-mortar book shoppers, as bad a match as electric car maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) opening gas stations."


Amazon’s Toll Road: How the Tech Giant Funds Its Monopoly Empire by Exploiting Small Businesses (Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, December 2021) "One of the most striking measures of Amazon’s monopoly power is the extraordinary amount of money that it’s able to extract from the independent businesses that rely on its site to reach customers. In this report, we find that, over the last two years, Amazon’s revenue from the fees it levies on third-party sellers has more than doubled. In 2019, Amazon pocketed $60 billion in seller fees.This year, its take will soar to $121 billion, our new research finds....
     "Amazon’s dominance of online retail means that small businesses have little choice but to rely on its site to reach consumers. This report finds that Amazon is exploiting its position as a gatekeeper to impose steep and growing fees on third-party sellers. Even as these exorbitant fees bankrupt sellers, they are generating huge profits for Amazon, a fact that the tech giant conceals in its financial reports. These profits are not only the spoils of Amazon’s monopoly power. They are the essential fuel that feeds its market-domination strategies, enabling it to absorb massive, predatory losses designed to lock-in market control and fund breakneck expansion."

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What Happened to Amazon’s Bookstore? (David Streitfeld, NY Times, 12-3-21) A lawsuit filed in federal court in Maryland "offers a glimpse into Amazon’s dominance and perhaps its vulnerability. Amazon’s online store has surpassed Walmart, making it the largest retailer outside China. By delivering essentials and luxuries to those stuck at home during the pandemic, it helped many people navigate a bleak moment....It is one of the few companies valued at more than a trillion dollars. For all that success, however, Amazon is under pressure from many directions....
     "There are sellers like Mr. Boland, who say they are suffering from the Wild West atmosphere on the site; regulators, who are taking a closer look at Amazon’s power; unhappy warehouse employees, who would like a better deal; and lawmakers, who want Amazon to disclose more about its third-party sellers. There are also the devious sellers themselves, whom Amazon says it is having a hard time eradicating....
      "The bookstore is the oldest part of Amazon, still central to its identity but no longer to its bottom line. It feels like where every Amazon shopping experience could be heading — immense, full of ads and unvetted reviews, ruled by algorithms and third-party sellers whose identities can be elusive.... “Should we care as a society that a single firm controls half of our most precious cultural commodity and its automation isn’t working right?” asked Christopher Sagers, the author of “Antitrust: Examples & Explanations.”... Offering tens of millions of items to hundreds of millions of customers prevents any human touch — but opens up a lot of space for advertising, and for confusion and duplicity....Mr. Boland said: “Amazon has done a great job of expanding the marketplace for books. It’s too bad they’ve decided not to police their own platform, because it’s leading to all sorts of trouble.”Amazon acknowledges that some third-party sellers bring problems, including fraud, counterfeiting and abuse." ...Amazon gives writers and publishers broad latitude to sell anything, including the mediocre and the misleading. The store’s logic has always been that the good work will rise and the bad will fall. In the meantime, however, some readers get suckered."

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People Now Spend More at Amazon Than at Walmart (Karen Weise and Michael Corkery, Technology, NY Times, 8-17-21) Proof that the online future has arrived: The biggest e-commerce company outside China has unseated the biggest brick-and-mortar seller. Propelled in part by surging demand during the pandemic, people spent more than $610 billion on Amazon over the 12 months ending in June... Indeed, the company’s delivery (many items land on doorsteps in a day or two) and wide selection first drew customers to online shopping, and it has kept them buying more there ever since.... “Walmart has been around for so long, and now Amazon comes around with a different model and replaces them as a No. 1.”


Amazon’s Importance to US Book Sales Keeps Increasing—for Better or Worse (Jane Friedman draws from material first published in The Hot Sheet, 9-23-2020) Since Hot Sheet started publishing in 2015, Amazon has changed, grown, and dominated more than any other company in the US book publishing industry. Among points discussed (quoting roughly from headings): Of all the writer-focused programs Amazon has launched in the last decade; only one is still active: Kindle Singles, an ebook subscription service which requires exclusivity, has become essential for some genre fiction authors. Amazon could be making it difficult for other publishers to break out new novelists. Amazon has doubled down on its own traditional publishing program, Amazon Publishing (APub). Amazon creates its own bestseller lists and also dominates its own Kindle bestseller list. Definitely worth reading (and The Hot Sheet is worth subscribing, if you're deeply interesting in publishing).


Amazon Publishes Books by Top Authors, and Rivals Fret (Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, Wall Street Journal, 1-14-2020) "Dean Koontz, Patricia Cornwell are among the blue-chip writers whose books the tech giant is not just selling but publishing. It was a surprising move because it means his new books likely won't appear in retail stores, which generally boycott Amazon-published titles. But Mr. Koontz is banking on Amazon’s vast retail machine to get his work to readers, whether in physical or digital formats."

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A lot has changed in book publishing in the last ten years (Mike Shatzkin, Shatzkin Files, 7-23-19) "At the beginning of this decade, Amazon Publishing had ideas about signing up big authors. But they were stymied then by the pretty stubborn refusal of the rest of the supply chain to stock books published by their biggest retail competitor.
"But that was when Amazon sales were about 20-25 percent of the market. Now they’re probably over half, and well above that for many books. Whether they will successfully sell Koontz beyond Amazon remains to be seen, but their no-middleperson structure enables them to pay far more of each retail dollar in royalties, so half the sales or more can generate more income to the author than a publisher without its own retailing capability can deliver selling a larger number of units. If this is a sign of things to come, and it is hard to see why it wouldn’t be, some profound changes might be just around the corner."


The Week’s Big Story: Amazon Publishing on Wooing Dean Koontz (Porter Anderson, Publishing Perspectives, 7-26-19)
Amazon To Open Hundreds Of Brick-And-Mortar Bookstores (Pavithra Mohan, Fast Company, 2-2-16) Amazon, the online retailer that killed off so many independent bookshops, is getting ready to launch its own brick-and-mortar book chain. According to the Wall Street Journal, the CEO of a major mall operator, General Growth Properties, revealed on Tuesday that Amazon intends to launch hundreds of bookstores.
Why Amazon's Rumored "Bookstores" Probably Won't Be What You Think (Rich Bellis, Fast Company, 2-3-16) If Amazon does expand its physical retail footprint, don’t expect it to focus exclusively or even primarily on books. It may see physical locations as (among other things) more akin to Apple Stores, where it can showcase the hardware it sells online.

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Meet the Guy Behind Amazon’s Secret Retail Store Plans (Jason Del Rey, re/code, 2-3-16) The man behind the Kindle is leading Amazon’s project to create the retail stores of the future. And bookstores are just the beginning. These are two of the new details Re/code has uncovered about Amazon’s plans for expansion into physical retail.
Amazon Plans Hundreds of Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores, Mall CEO Says (Greg Bensinger, WSJ, 2-2-16) mazon Plans Hundreds of Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores, Mall CEO Says

In the following pieces about a dispute among them, Amazon and book publishers take turns being the bad guy. Authors, read these often excellent arguments for and against book publishers, Amazon, and others engaged in this battle for market power and tell us what you think!

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