I wanted to pass on this email from a reader…both because I enjoyed it and because it demonstrates just how books get sold. (Not primarily through ads in the New York Times, in short.)

Dear Susan,

I live in Australia – which is probably the antipodes to Charles City, VA. Three hours ago I hade never heard of Susan Wise Bauer, nor had I any intention to buy a book on medieval history, and yet here I am, three hours later, having ordered “The History of the Medieval World”, and very likely to order some of your other works as well.

I thought you might be amused to discover the chain of chance circumstance that led to the sale of one of your history books in a very crowded marketplace – especially a sale to a buyer on the other side of the Earth. This event might even qualify as a manifestation of the famous theory of the “Six Degrees of Separation”, or at least something like that…

Anyway, you can thank an author by the name of James Wood for your sale. This is the same James Wood who is described as “…the author of 14 best-selling books of fiction and non-fiction…former CEO of United Press International and managing editor of the Sunday Times (London)…etc”. It is also the same James Wood who you tore into in a critical review of one of his books last year on Amazon.com, which has probably meant that you won’t be invited to a BBQ at James Wood’s place any time soon…

A couple of weeks ago I purchased a CD of an MP3 audio version of Wood’s book “How Fiction Works” from Blackstone Audio (USA). My decision was made solely on the basis of Wood’s credentials, and, because essentially I just wanted to find out from an informed source…well….“how fiction works”!! After all, why wouldn’t I buy this book when Publishers Weekly declared that :

“Arguably the pre-eminent critic of contemporary English letters, [Wood] accomplishes his mission of asking a critic’s questions and offer[s] a writer’s answers with panache. This book is destined to be marked up, dog-eared and cherished.”

The audiobook had to be shipped all the way across the Pacific at extra expense to me, because Amazon-Audible won’t sell MP3 downloads into the Australian market for recently published books (yours included). This is due to quaint 19th century geographic distribution restrictions in the publishing industry – but they are quite happy to sell a physical version of the same thing!!

Wood’s book turned out to be a complete waste of my time and money – so much for Publishers Weekly’s beat-up. I was so infuriated that I decided to have a belated look at what the reviewers on Amazon had to say – and that is where I found you. I can see that you are a no-bull lady who calls a spade a spade, and I wish I had read your review first. I have said as much in my own just-added customer comment to your review, which you will find on Amazon.

Clearly this reader has excellent literary judgment. But I digress.

The forthrightness of your review left me a little intrigued, so I followed the trail to your website and when I read your quote from Barbara Tuchman, I realised that, in you, I had stumbled across what seems to be a rare species – an historian with integrity and a great writing style. As Clint (Eastwood) would say, this has just made my day! For many years Australia has been beset by “history wars”, where some of the local academic & political class have been only too happy to bend historical fact to support their pet ideologies, and that has got right up the noses of a lot of people !

Having discovered that you write history books, I then had a look at what you had up on Amazon. After reading the first page of “The History of the Medieval World” (about the Constantinian shift), I knew that this was one author whose books I just gotta have…

Sooo, if you have ever copped any flak from the James Woods of this world about your no-nonsense book reviews, then just remember that you are probably triggering a widening circle of book sales out of them…

Best regards…

That made my day. Thanks, Australian Reader!

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