Highly Unlikely

29 November 2015

From The New York Times:

When something extraordinary happens, we often say it’s stranger than fiction. But reality routinely, every minute of every day, outdoes all realist fiction in its strangeness. Recently two women working on the same floor of a Florida hospital discovered they were sisters (they had been adopted by different families in the 1970s). We read this item in the newspaper and accept it as astonishing, but real. The same occurrence in a realist novel, though, would be called unlikely or unbelievable. We’ve arrived at a point where not only is reality stranger than fiction, but we don’t allow our fiction to be even close to how strange real life is every day.

This double standard has consequen­ces: Authors self-edit, making their fiction less bizarre than their own lives — than life itself — for fear that their plots will be deemed unbelievable. The fact that we as readers and writers don’t seem to allow our fiction to be as strange as our reality is, well, strange.

One December afternoon, when I was 21 and living in Manhattan, I took a walk in Riverside Park. “Ma’am?” I heard a man say. I turned around thinking maybe I had dropped something, but I hadn’t. The man had red hair and glasses with delicate frames. His right hand was tucked into his unzipped leather jacket. He kept silent but stepped closer. I turned and continued walking in the same direction but quickened my pace.

“Ma’am,” he said again. “I have a gun. Just do as I say.” He showed me the gun and instructed me to walk to a nearby bench. I looked around to see whom I could appeal to for help, but the only people nearby were young mothers pushing babies in strollers.

We sat on the bench, and the man informed me — twice — that he wanted to die. Then he elaborated: He didn’t want to die alone.

My hands started sweating inside my gloves. I could read the tiny letters on the sides of his glasses: “Giorgio Armani.” I am going to be killed by a man wearing Giorgio Armani glasses was the refrain that pulsed through my head. I needed to get the man to a busy street, I thought. I pictured a bookstore on Broadway, and the phone behind the counter. The man put his gun to my temple. Adrenaline coursed through my body and brain.

“There’s so much to live for,” I said to him. “There’s poetry!” I sounded like a deranged schoolteacher. But I saw something in his eyes, some willingness to hear more. I recited some of Mark Strand’s poems — the first stanza of one poem, the final stanza of another. The man seemed intrigued, or confused. He agreed to accompany me to the bookstore to see what I was talking about. But as we neared the perimeter of the park, he suddenly apologized and ran away.

This event became the opening scene of “And Now You Can Go,” my first novel. Everything that followed was fiction — a medical mission to the Philippines (I have never been to the Philippines or on a medical mission), a ­re-encounter with the would-be assassin (I never saw him again, and the police never caught him).

But while readers assumed I’d traveled to the Philippines, and some even identified with the details of my nonexistent trip, few believed that a character would resort to poetry in such an extreme situation. In a couple of circumstances, the scene was called “improbable.” I wanted to say, “But it happened to me.” Instead I remained silent about the book’s autobiographical origins.

Link to the rest at The New York Times 

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29 November 2015

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.

Carl Sandburg

Of Netflix, self-publishing, music services, and traditional gatekeepers

29 November 2015

From Chris Meadows via TeleRead:

I just finished watching Jessica Jones via Netflix. It’s the second Netflix/Marvel original series, after Daredevil, and likeDaredevil is available in its 13-episode entirety for binge-watching. And it’s really amazing. It features a compelling storyline and standout performances from its cast (especially David Tennant as the villain, proving that he isn’t letting his Doctor Who fame typecast him). Given that this isn’t a TV blog, I won’t go into it in detail, but suffice it to say that I agree with pretty much every word of this review of it on Forbes, which goes so far as to call it “the best show on TV” in its headline.

. . . .

For all that “broadcast” versus “cable” television is becoming an increasingly pointless distinction these days now that almost everybody gets their television either from cable or from Internet rebroadcast services such as Hulu, “broadcast” channels are still regulated differently from “cable or satellite” channels (and, by the same token, Internet subscription services like Netflix) when it comes to the FCC’s decency restrictions.

. . . .

TV shows that air on broadcast TV are still subject to puritanical regulations that leave them pretty limited in terms of just how dark they can be. Even Arrow, probably the darkest, angstiest superhero show currently airing on broadcast TV, looks like a sulky teenager acting out by comparison to Jessica Jones.

Cable channels can go significantly darker and grittier—but they are handicapped by cable-industry bundling. To subscribe to any given pay channel, consumers generally have to subscribe to an extensive tier containing a number of channels, including ones they might have no interest in ever watching.

. . . .

And that brings me to why Netflix is such a special case. It isn’t subject to expensive bundle deals. Consumers can subscribe to the wide variety of movies and television shows it airs for a single low monthly fee. And that includes original shows, which Netflix is able to make as dark and gritty as it wants. Effectively, Netflix isn’t subject to the puritanical gatekeeper of FCC decency restrictions, but it also isn’t subject to the budgetary gatekeeper of cable-industry bundles.  So it’s one of the first major sources of dark, gritty programming that is inexpensively available to the average viewer.

. . . .


A similar revolution has been happening in terms of self-publishing versus publisher gatekeepers. After all, the self-publishing industry experienced explosive growth partly on the strength of providing a way for writers to publish works in categories that often draw resistance from traditional gatekeepers—romance, erotica, erotic horror, political fiction, and others. While Amazon has been known to purge certain categories of self-published erotica from time to time, there are still quite a number of stories that could never have been published by a traditional publisher, but which have plenty of fans willing to buy them via Amazon, Smashwords, or other outlets.

For that matter, digital music services have also provided a way for artists to skirt the gatekeepers of recording-industry contracts and radio stations’ limited playlists to put their works out directly for consumers.

. . . .

And this leads me to the realization that there are quite a few areas of consumer media interest that have historically been poorly-served by traditional outlets. People are not onlywilling to consume but clearly actively want to consume works that traditional gatekeepers have shut out—be they for raunchiness, violence, esoteric subject matter, more than one of the above, or some other reason altogether. Thus, the reductions in publishing cost and regulation of digital media, including e-books, provide openings not only for self-publishing writers and artists, but for new media outlets like Netflix that don’t fall into the same old categories.

And yet I wonder if we’re truly only seeing the beginning of the sort of expansion of choice that digital media publishing opportunities make possible.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Lingua Disinformation

29 November 2015

From kaivonfintel.org:

Linguists today received a misleading email from Elsevier sent to everyone who has ever submitted to or reviewed for Lingua, the journal whose editorial board has decided to not work with Elsevier anymore and restart the journal as the open-access journal Glossa. Here is Elsevier’s email:

Dear Lingua Authors and Reviewers

As I am sure you are aware, as of the end of December 2015 the current Lingua Senior Editorial team will be standing down from their roles on the journal. Together this team and the Publisher would like to reassure you that while still in post they will continue their work for Lingua as they have always done during their tenure.

Further information regarding the handling of papers from January 2016 onwards will be sent in due course, but should you have any queries or concerns in the meantime please do not hesitate to contact us via the ‘Contact’ button on the journal homepage or via the following email address: lingua@elsevier.com .

My colleagues and I would also like to take this opportunity to reaffirm that we remain totally committed to the publication of Lingua as a quality journal serving the field of linguistics and look forward to supporting the journal and the linguistics community for many years to come.

Best Regards

Ann Corney, Publishing Director, Applied Social Sciences, Elsevier Ltd

There has been a lot of puzzlement over this message. Some comments below, but first a message from the interim editors of the successor journal Glossa, which I have been asked to help disseminate:

Dear colleagues,

Those among you who have been authors and/or reviewers for Lingua were sent a message today by Elsevier, and you might wonder about the journal, Glossa, to be set up by the very same editorial team which has contributed to the high reputation of Lingua in the past.

As of the end of December 2015, the current executive and associated editors of Lingua will stand down. The next day, they will be in charge of Glossa. Until that date, the undersigned will be in charge as interim editors of Glossa, (backed up by the entire former editorial board of Lingua which already resigned in October).

In that capacity, we would like to reassure you that Glossa will pick up where Lingua left off. We would also like to draw your attention to the fact that any author has the right to withdraw their submission from any journal as long as the copyright forms have not been signed.

We are currently working on the website (including an online submission system etc.) for Glossa, and will come back to you as soon as it is operational. In the meantime, you can send your questions to both of us.

All best wishes, Waltraud Paul and Guido Vanden Wyngaerd, interim editors of Glossa wpaul@ehess.fr & guido.vandenwyngaerd@arts.kuleuven.be

Some comments:

  1. I would like to reiterate that despite the desperate rhetoric in the last sentence of Ms. Corney’s email, there is no way at all that whatever zombie journal Elsevier manages to keep running under the venerable name Lingua will have any moral right to be seen as the continuation ofLingua. Instead, Glossa is the rightful continuation.
  2. I also reiterate my call to the community not to work with Elsevier in propping up Zombie Lingua. Instead, get ready to support Glossa once it’s fully running in January.
  3. Lastly, authors with manuscripts currently under submission to Lingua should consider their options; please contact the interim editors of Glossa with any questions about that.

Link to the rest at kaivonfintel.org

PG says it’s too bad that so much of academia is ensconced in silos and cross-silo conversation is uncommon. With fewer and fewer researchers using printed source materials, online, open-access journals are easy to operate, using (as is illustrated above) exactly the same domain experts that provide their expertise to current for-profit journals. If the silos spoke with each other, this change could take place very quickly and university and other specialized libraries could save a fortune on journal subscriptions.

In a former life, PG had some visibility into Elsevier’s financial results and the company’s profits from the publication of journals were extraordinarily large.

Amazon Books should be the future of brick-and-mortar retail chains

29 November 2015

From GigaOm:

Earlier this month, Amazon opened a bookstore in a mall that used to house a Barnes & Noble. Much has been written about this foray into the physical realm: It’s been called a potential library of the future; Amazon itself has been called the Darth Vader of the books business; and some have wondered about the possibilities afforded by a location that bridges online and offline commerce.

Those are all interesting considerations, but as with Amazon’s other programs, the secretive company hasn’t said whether this is a small test or the beginning of a larger initiative that will lead to Amazon Books locations across the country. So I don’t want to consider the effect this physical store could have on Amazon — I’d rather question why other brick-and-mortar stores are resting on their laurels.

Seriously, why aren’t there more retails stores like Amazon’s book store experiment? A store with a variety of goods on physical shelves with prices that fluctuate to stay in sync with the online version of the store. Of course, there would need to be some changes to accommodate those who don’t like change, but there’s potential here to merge the online and offline shopping experience.

People use their smartphones while they shop. Often this is because they want to learn more about an item before purchasing it. One study from 2013 states that only six percent of people who use their smartphones in a physical store plan to purchase an item online. The rest were seeking more information about the item’s quality, the reputation of its manufacturer, and other data that might inform a purchase.

. . . .

Why buy something from a brick-and-mortar store when you can order it online for a lower price, even after figuring in the costs of having it shipped? Unless someone needs the item immediately — in which case someone probably isn’t comparison shopping — the lower price will win most of the time.

Retailers could change this by emulating Amazon Books’ model of automatically price-matching items sold in their stores to items sold on their websites. Right now there’s no guarantee that a Walmart store will match the price of an item sold on Walmart.com, for example, and other stores have similar policies. It’s almost like retailers actually want shoppers to treat their stores like showrooms.
The truth is that I don’t want to check the prices of items on my smartphone. I’m indecisive enough when it comes to shopping — I’ll often grab an item, think of buying it, then put it back right before I get to the checkout aisle. Multiple times. Having to worry about a price discrepancy between a retailer’s physical location and their online store just gives me even more reason to reconsider a purchase. Knowing that the price I see on a shelf is the price I’d have to pay online would make the whole process easier.

. . . .

What happens when Amazon slowly but surely competes more and more with physical locations? The company’s already expanding its grocery business, for instance, and is reducing the amount of time it takes to ship items to customers with multiple services. Amazon Books — if it’s successful — could easily become an Amazon Market. There are other advantages, too. If an item on the shelf is sold out, retail stores could provide incentives for people to pull out their phones and have the item shipped to their home later on. Surely that’s better than just losing the customer.

Link to the rest at GigaOm and thanks to Chris for the tip.

HarperCollins Buys E-Book Deal Newsletter, The Midlist

28 November 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

In another effort to increase its direct-to-consumer reach, HarperCollins has acquired The Midlist,a daily e-mail newsletter that features e-book deals from a variety of publishers.

HC, which acquired the newsletter from Libboo, will merge the Midlist with its Bookperk newsletter. Bookperk spotlights discounted HC titles that can be purchased directly from the publisher, as well as from other e-book retailers.

The combined Midlist-Bookperk operation will, HC said, reach over 1 million readers. “Folding The Midlist into Bookperk is the next logical step as we grow Bookperk into an industry-leading direct-to-consumer platform,” said Angela Tribelli, HC’s chief marketing officer. She added that the combined newsletter will “connect our authors and our tremendous backlist to more than a million readers.”

At least for the moment, it appears that HC will limit the titles available on the new Bookperk to only those in the HC catalog.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Kay for the tip.

PG doesn’t expect to see a lot of free and 99-cent ebooks from Bookperk.

Any Story

28 November 2015

Any story about revenge is ultimately a story about forgiveness, redemption, or the futility of revenge.

Nick Wechsler

The Gift of Reading

28 November 2015

From The New York Times:

The list of what a child needs in order to flourish is short but nonnegotiable.

Food. Shelter. Play. Love.

Something else, too, and it’s meted out in even less equal measure.

Words. A child needs a forest of words to wander through, a sea of words to splash in. A child needs to be read to, and a child needs to read.

Reading fuels the fires of intelligence and imagination, and if they don’t blaze well before elementary school, a child’s education — a child’s life —may be an endless game of catch-up.

That’s a truth at the core of the indispensable organization Reading Is Fundamental, a nonprofit group that provides hundreds of thousands of free books annually to children age 8 or younger, in particular those from economically disadvantaged homes, where books are a greater luxury and in shorter supply.

. . . .

We’re on the cusp of the year-end holiday season, during which many people turn their attention to charity, making the most generous of their yearly donations. I urge everyone to think about literacy, books, early childhood education and organizations, like R.I.F., that support them.

And we’re a texting, tweeting, distracted country in which too many children don’t read at grade level, too many forces conspire against any improvement in that and too heavy a price is paid.

. . . .

But R.I.F. has signed on as a partner with ustyme — a digital platform that enables multiple users to read or play video games together — to make sure that underprivileged children in particular take advantage of ustyme’s Billion e-Book Gift, which will provide access to a digital library of 50 previously selected children’s titles, many in Spanish as well as English. Those titles can be downloaded by visiting RIF.org/50ebooks, starting Dec. 1.

The ebook reflects R.I.F.’s determination to get kids to read in whatever manner best accomplishes that. The goal is to develop a muscle, nurture a habit, maybe even spark a passion. You never know where a little reading might lead.

Ellen Halliday, the R.I.F. coordinator for the Brooklyn Public Library, recalled a mother who worried that her 8-year-old son was wasting his time with easy, breezy, frivolous books.

“Then one day,” Halliday told me, “when he was about 9 or 10, he said to me, ‘You know, I got this book, and this author — I can really see what he’s talking about when he talks about the shire or the hobbit. I think this Tolkien guy is an excellent author.’”

. . . .

“Reading follows an upward spiral,” said Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of “Raising Kids Who Read,” which was published earlier this year.

“Kids who read more get better at reading, and because they are better at reading, it’s easier and more pleasurable so they read still more,” he said. “And kids who read well don’t just do better in English class — it helps them in math, science and every other class, too.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Julia for the tip.

The vanishing words we need to save

28 November 2015

From The BBC:

Robert Macfarlane is a compiler of words: an explorer of hedgerows and roadsides, salt marshes and sea-caves. But he is also a magician, of sorts – one who weaves spells using lost phrases that recall a different connection with our landscape. In his latest book Landmarks, the British naturalist calls for “a glossary of enchantment for the whole earth, which would allow nature to talk back and would help us to listen”.

. . . .

[H]e doesn’t believe that the words he has collected in Landmarks are just for shepherds or hill-walkers. “I’m talking to you from my edge-of-the-suburb house in Cambridge – most people are in cities now,” he says. “The book is about all of us finding ways to celebrate and enrich the language that we have for landscape and nature.”

. . . .

In Landmarks, Macfarlane pulls together nine glossaries of terms taken from 30 languages, dialects and sub-dialects around Britain and Ireland. They all describe aspects of weather, nature and terrain – and many of them are dying out, slipping out of conversation and off the tongues of those who once spoke them. They have been lost. Macfarlane wants them to be found.

. . . .

He describes two of his favourites: “One is this lovely Cornish word ‘zawn’, which means a wave-smashed chasm in a sea cliff – it’s so evocative of that gaping mouth, and the power of those places,” he says. “Another is this soft, Gaelic phrase ‘rionnach maoim’, the shadows that clouds cast on moorland on a windy day. There’s something about the poetry of that, the precision and the need to compress that phenomenon down into that gorgeous soft phrase.”

In his book’s lists, he has included words coined by poets along with agricultural or geological terms. There is the ‘shepherd’s lamp’ imagined by the 19th-Century poet John Clare to describe the first star that rises after sunset, and a smattering of terms from the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins: ‘heavengravel’ for hailstones, ‘endragoned’ describing a raging sea, and the ominous ‘doomfire’ – meaning, as Macfarlane puts it, “sunset light which has the appearance of apocalypse to it”.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to J.A. for the tip.

Why Social Media Should Become Publishers’ New Testing Ground

28 November 2015

From BookBusiness:

Testing books isn’t a common practice in the publishing industry. It makes sense, considering that for the majority of the industry’s history acquiring a new title relied on an individual editor’s intuition and skill. In the past, the only way to find out if a book would be successful in a certain demographic was simply publishing it and seeing how the sales performed.

Although digital technology, social media, and a slew of new marketing tools enable more testing than ever before, publishers are by in large using the same guesswork system of the past. In part there is a hesitance to turn literature into a science — a machine that churns out the same type of bestseller over and over. But that fear is unfounded. Today tested literature is already a reality, and it’s resulting in some fantastic titles. But these titles are thriving in the self-publishing arena, leaving traditional publishers out of a significant revenue stream and an opportunity to develop a direct connection with their readers.

. . . .

Novels too are finding traction on social media. Photographer and author Rachel Hulin is currently publishing an entire novel in segments on Instagram, titled Hey Harry Hey Matilda. The project began in September and is slated to run for nine months. It shares the story of twins Harry and Matilda as they write letters to one another about their lives and hopes for the future. The Instagram account has over 7,500 followers to date, as well as a dedicated website with extra content and “secrets” about the two characters. Hulin’s website should be even more troubling for publishers. It raises a problematic question for the industry: if an author can create their own high-quality platform to reach readers, why work with a publisher at all and give up a share of their revenue?

That question is why publishers need to enter this field of social-media-tested stories now. Why let the initial publicity and audience of these tests go directly to the author and in turn lose the revenue from the first self-published title? And why run the risk of an author opting out of traditional publishing all together? Publishers could lose the primary value they provide authors — the scale they can bring to the marketing of a book.

. . . .

Test stories where the audience actually is, on social media. Not only will this grow the direct relationships many publishers are seeking with their readers, but it will become a critical part of the editing and acquisition stage.

Link to the rest at BookBusiness and thanks to Iola for the tip.

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