Buyers guide

The short ABSTRACTO guide to buying books:

Finding books about Latin music is not that hard, finding good books is a little harder.

When you search the internet you might be mistaken in thinking that all roads lead to Amazon – well, the fact is most roads do actually lead there, but there are some great publications that require a detour off the beaten track to find.

At Amazon you will find, I guess, 95% of what you are looking for in this area, so I’ll start there. Searching can be a bit of a ‘mare; if you type in a term like “salsa” you know that there will be 000’s of unwanted results returned, so try and be more specific. Searching within books (once opened up a search result return) can yield good results. Annoyingly, Amazon will generate “personal” lists for you based on what you look at, sounds great initially but if you look at a lot items you will have all manner of oddities suggested to you. The “customers who looked at/bought this item also looked at/bought these items” can be useful – but you can end up on a long and winding journey that takes you miles from your intended destination. Knowing what you are looking for (hence this site) will save you a lot of time and effort. Trust me, I’ve put in the hours on Amazon – it’s a jungle out there 🙂

The “look inside this book” feature (not always available) is very helpful and I use it whenever it is there. In fact, as I’m sure you will have noticed, the reviews here at ABSTRACTO use this type of presentation – it is designed to offer a test drive with the belief that you are more likely to buy when you are more sure of what you are getting. The Amazon customer reviews, it’s fair to say, vary considerably in their usefulness – but they can add to other things you have heard/read about the book in question.

You’ll also find that they offer you some great bargains if you are prepared to order from their partner shops; I’ve had a good many books for less than £3/$6, that’s delivered to the UK from the States too. At those prices I can afford to take a gamble on something I can’t really find out much more information on. These books are not just the dross either, I got the classic Salsiology this way for way under the full retail price. So, I suppose my first piece of advice is to use the Amazon partners facility and buy as cheaply as possible.

Other than Amazon? Well, you could try one of the large chain bookstores, they are not always more expensive than Amazon and may offer that personal touch, you know, like shops used to.

E-Bay can throw up some real bargains, especially the normally expensive books aimed at the academic end of the market. Generally I cross check with Amazon to see if what’s on offer is cheaper – it’s usually the postage and packaging that makes E-Bay lose out in the case of generally available books though. Out of print and hard to find items are one area where E-Bay generally scores well. Searching isn’t usually that cumbersome, just make sure that you initially select “all categories” and check the “worldwide” and “title & description” boxes. Most items will be listed under “books, comics & magazines” but can also be in “collectibles” / “music memorabilia” etc.

There are a number of self-publishers that don’t deal with the big shops. Irv Greenbaum self-published his autobiography, not available at Amazon but you can order it from Descarga. Actually, I believe that you can also get a copy if you are a member of the NY musicians union too. Frank Figueroa also self publishes (see his site by clicking here) , and he’s a well respected writer in this area (as well as being a former Latin music singer of some note/radio DJ) so don’t assume that these are necessarily second rate publications.

If you are a student/staff member of an academic establishment how about using your library privileges to their full advantage? Quite a few of the best written, most in depth and more interesting publications are, for the ordinary book consumer, hideously expensive. Typically these books can cost £40-100/£80-$200. Yes, that’s for a book, but it will be hardback and have lots of references. Probably no pictures though, oh, and a plain cover.

Another fantastic opportunity for you academic types is that you can access, via your Athens password or other electronic library-store card, many articles about this music written in low circulation publications that have most likely been peer reviewed – The International Journal of Afro-Latin Ethnomusicology. I made that one up, but you get the idea. In these learned annals you will often see different versions of something that has become a book chapter, or even a book in itself at some time in the future. Many of these articles never find their way out of academia though, which is a shame as many are well worth reading – one day I might get round to featuring some of them here at ABSTRACTO.

Well, that took a long time to say not very much: Summary – use Amazon, go to local bookshop, try E-Bay, use university library. Oh, and of course, use ABSTRACTO to assist you in your ability to make the right choices for you.



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