How I beat anorexia by savouring the lavish meals of literature

19 February 2018

From The Guardian:

Laura Freeman was first diagnosed with anorexia aged 14. A decade later she had begun to rebuild her life but still struggled with her attitude to food, eating small portions of the same thing for months on end. “At 24, I’d got to the point where I was recovered enough that I could eat, but only in a very formulaic way,” she says. “I had a pretty boring diet. It was more about getting through each day.”

Then one day she read a passage in Siegfried Sassoon’s 1928 Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man describing “a breakfast of boiled eggs eaten in winter”. It changed everything.

. . . .

“At that time I’d established that I was all right to eat Weetabix or happy to eat pasta and tomato sauce, so I would just eat small portions of those things over and over,” Freeman, now 30, explains. “I would take cereal bars on holiday to eat in my hotel room because I was so worried about not being able to eat new types of food.”

Freeman was always a voracious reader and had, even during the worst of her anorexia, used books as an escape – “there was comfort in being able to think: I’m not in my sick room in London in February, I’m in Paris with Nancy Mitford”.

Sassoon’s vivid descriptions of eggs on buttered toast, and hot chocolate, made her think that there was “a different way of eating … one that was less mean and more adventurous”. Encouraged by this notion, she began to hunt down other authors who wrote vividly about food.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG does not minimize the problems of those suffering from anorexia, but he does not remember reading any wonderful descriptions of meals in the books he has read. (He also sometimes forgets where he put his keys, too.)

So he searched for a lovely description of a meal.

Of course, The Guardian stands ever ready to improve PG’s literary education:

3. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by by Joan Aiken

“Mr Wilderness’s porridge was very different from that served in Mrs Brisket’s school. It was eaten with brown sugar from a big blue bag, and with dollops of thick yellow cream provided by Mr Wilderness’s two cows.”

. . . .

7. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Grandma stood by the brass kettle and with the big wooden spoon she poured hot syrup on each plate of snow. It cooled into soft candy, and as fast as it cooled they ate it. They could eat all they wanted, for maple sugar never hurt anybody.”

. . . .

10. All the picnics in Enid Blyton

“The high tea that awaited them was truly magnificent. A huge ham gleaming as pink as Timmy’s tongue; a salad fit for a king. In fact, as Dick said, fit for several kings, it was so enormous…. ‘Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, radishes, mustard and cress, carrot grated up – that is carrot, isn’t it, Mrs. Penruthlan?’ said Dick. ‘And lashings of hard-boiled eggs.'”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Occupy Author Photo: On Elena Ferrante, Privacy, and Women Writers

19 February 2018

From The Millions:

When I was in my 20s, I used to spend hours at the Strand Bookstore in New York, obsessively gazing at book jacket photos of authors. I was trying to discern something — A key to genius? Or the mere fact that this lucky person, in this photo, had managed to get a book out into the world?

The variations were endless: Here was a classic black-and-white, chin resting on fist. Here was a playful one, slightly off-center. Sexy duck face for a middle-grade children’s book…okay. Or, how about this one, gorgeous photo, but one that looked completely different — like witness protection plan different — from the author I saw as I sat in the audience at a crowded Barnes & Noble. Or this one: instead of confined to the inner flap, her face on the entire back of the book, where the blurbs would normally be. Was this good? Did this mean the press thought she was such a great writer they wanted everyone to know her? Or, was it like using a pretty face to sell toothpaste?

Fast forward a few years on, and I’m finally published. My husband is in grad school, but before that, he’d worked at the venerated publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Knowing my obsession, he would often point out the different FSG authors’ pictures, noting how the press often signaled the importance of a book by commissioning one of the well-known author photographers, most famously, Marion Ettlinger, whose black-and-whites portraits are instantly recognizable by the unsmiling, dramatic poses of her subjects, the marmoreal lighting. These could run thousands of dollars for a single image.

. . . .

But after being out of the publishing game for more than a decade, it’s author photo time! But I have come to wonder if, perhaps, for women, author photos are too often a lose-lose situation.

Women are judged — very often wrongly — because of their looks.

. . . .

It’s as if we already give any American (white) man the benefit of the doubt in terms of fitting into any narrative, especially one of heroism or competence, but a woman who breaks through always has to be stopped, something must be wrong.

Women authors, genius aside, must make sure they are not too old, or too young. Not too serious, but also serious enough. They have to be attractive, but not too attractive; for some reason in men it’s dreamy but in women it’s suspicious.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG says if you’re nervous about an author photo, don’t have one. Or, to stand out from the crowd, demand a photo that obscures your face. Here are a few examples:

.

 

Or doesn’t show your face at all:

 

Of course, just like authors regularly use pen names, you could also have a pen photo. Here are some pen photos PG might use.

 

The Domestic Thriller Is Having a Moment

19 February 2018

From The New Yorker:

An archetype, as Mark Twain might have observed, is nothing but a stereotype with a college education. Where modernists and postmodernists boldly plunder the collective treasuries of myth, legend, fairy tales, and art for their own idiosyncratic purposes, commercially minded writers replicate formulaic situations, characters, and plots in order to appeal to a wide audience. The challenge is to invest the generic formula with just enough distinction—what dust-jacket blurbs might praise as “originality”—without leaving formula behind; to fuse the familiar and the unfamiliar while assuring the reader that the ending will be clear, decisive, and consoling in a way that “literary fiction” usually is not.

“The Woman in the Window” (Morrow), a highly successful début novel by the pseudonymous A. J. Finn (thirty-eight-year-old Daniel Mallory, a former editor at Morrow), is a superior example of a subset of recent thrillers featuring “unreliable” female protagonists who, despite their considerable handicaps—which may involve alcoholism, drug addiction, paranoia, and even psychosis—manage to persevere and solve mysteries where others have failed. Its title evokes such best-sellers as “The Girl on the Train” and “The Woman in Cabin 10,” not to mention “Gone Girl” (in which the titular girl is the contriver of the mystery), while its frame of reference involves classic American noir films: “Gaslight,” “Vertigo,” “Strangers on a Train,” “Wait Until Dark,” “Sudden Fear,” “Rope,” and, most explicitly, “Rear Window.” Indeed, although the protagonist of “The Woman in the Window,” a thirty-nine-year-old child psychologist named Anna Fox, is wryly self-aware, her mode of narration resembles a film script. We get very short chapters and a preponderance of single-sentence paragraphs, in cinematic present-tense prose that seems to teeter breathlessly on stiletto heels.

. . . .

Since a personally devastating experience some months before, Anna has become cripplingly agoraphobic:

Many of us—the most severely afflicted, the ones grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder—are housebound, hidden from the messy, massy world outside. Some dread the heaving crowds; others, the storm of traffic. For me, it’s the vast skies, the endless horizon, the sheer exposure, the crushing pressure of the outdoors. “Open spaces” the DSM-5 calls it vaguely. . . .

As a doctor, I say that the sufferer seeks an environment she can control. Such is the clinical take. As a sufferer (and that is the word), I say that agoraphobia hasn’t ravaged my life so much as become it.

It is said that most agoraphobics are female and that there are far more of them than statistics suggest.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Most near-future fictions

19 February 2018

Most near-future fictions are boring. It’s always dark and always raining, and people are so unhappy.

Haruki Murakami

‘The ebook is a stupid product: no creativity, no enhancement,’ says the Hachette Group CEO

19 February 2018

From Scroll.in:

With over 17,000 new titles each year and sales of $2,826 million in 2016, the Hachette Livre Group of companies comfortably sits among the Big Five English language publishers, alongside Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and MacMillan Publishers. Headquartered in France, its authors include John Grisham, Enid Blyton, James Patterson, Robert Ludlum and Stephen King. While its India subsidiary just completed 10 years of operations in India, the parent company has been in business for almost two centuries.

. . . .

The Chairman and CEO of the Hachette Live Group since 2003, Arnaud Nourry, was in India recently to celebrate a decade of Hachette India and spoke to Scroll.in about their strategy and the future of publishing.

. . . .

Is Europe still your largest market? Which are the emerging markets with the most potential that you see right now?
One-third of our business is in the French language across France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and other French-speaking countries, 25% in the US and English-speaking Canada, 20% in the UK, India, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, 10% in Spanish, and another 10% in the rest of the world.

. . . .

In 2014, Hachette famously took on and won against Amazon in deciding who gets to control ebook pricing – them or publishers. Looking back, has that victory helped?
When I took the job of Chairman and CEO of Hachette in 2003, I studied what had happened in the music and video industries, or in the present, take the example of the magazine industry. I realised that they made two mistakes. The first was to delay the digitisation of their product, which helped piracy to emerge. The second mistake was that they didn’t keep control on the price point of their creations, so they were unable to protect their turnover, the revenues of their singers or writers.

So, in the year 2006-2007, when ebooks came to our market, I was absolutely convinced that when we jumped into the ebook market, we needed to keep control of our price. This wasn’t just coming from thinking of our revenues. If you let the price of ebooks go down to say $2 or $3 in Western markets, you are going to kill all infrastructure, you’re going to kill booksellers, you’re going to kill supermarkets, and you are going to kill the author’s revenues. You have to defend the logic of your market against the interest of the big technology companies and their business models. The battle in 2014 was all about that. We had to do it.

It’s not that we’re against ebooks. People have to pay a price that is about 40% lower than the print price. And it works. The ebook market has gone down a little bit, not much, from say 25% to 20% in some countries. There is still a readership for ebooks but at a price that keeps the ecosystem alive. That’s absolutely key because the music business has lost half of its turnover in ten years. I love music but books are about culture, education, democracy, so it’s even more important to keep the diversity in book publishing, more so than music publishing.

It’s been a little over ten years since ebooks came to the market in the form of Kindle. You mentioned a small decline – do you think the market has plateaued? Are there formats other than ebooks that publishers should be looking at?
There are two different geographies to look at for this. In the US and UK, the ebook market is about 20% of the total book market, everywhere else it is 5%-7% because in these places the prices never went down to such a level that the ebook market would get significant traction. I think the plateau, or rather slight decline, that we’re seeing in the US and UK is not going to reverse. It’s the limit of the ebook format. The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience. We, as publishers, have not done a great job going digital. We’ve tried. We’ve tried enhanced or enriched ebooks – didn’t work. We’ve tried apps, websites with our content – we have one or two successes among a hundred failures. I’m talking about the entire industry. We’ve not done very well.

I’m convinced there is something we can invent using our content and digital properties beyond ebooks but I reached the conclusion that we don’t really have the skills and talents in our companies because publishers and editors are accustomed to picking a manuscript and creating a design on a flat page. They don’t really know the full potential of 3-D and digital. So we acquired three video game companies in the last two years to attract talent from different industries and see how we can nurture one another and how we can go beyond the ebook on digital. We need to offer different experiences to our consumers.

. . . .

Do you really think their role is limited to discoverability and advertising? In term of impact, while not being direct competitors to traditional publishing, they are also providers of content and free content at that. Is that something for publishing to factor into their long-term plans?
I don’t think we’ll ever be publishers who give content for free. It’s not something we’re good at. We’re good at selecting, curating, promoting and selling value-added content, which is kind of the reverse of what others do. I don’t think there’s any kind of competition with Google or Facebook. There is only one thing – it’s that the time spent reading books tends to decline everywhere and goes to social networks. So yes, we are competing for people’s time. It’s why we need to be more attractive in the way we deliver our content. But not beyond that. Even self-publishing, which Amazon does a lot and is sometimes pitched as competition, is the opposite of our business. Our business consists of saying no to three thousand manuscripts and saying yes to one. And self-publishing says yes to three thousand and doesn’t see the one that there should be investment and support around. But yes, because of digital, we are competing against all other forms of leisure. We do need to take that into account.

. . . .

France, where Hachette is based and which forms your biggest market, has legislation restricting the amount a bookseller can discount a book. It stands at 5%. But what about a market like India where deep discounting is a big part of bookselling strategy? Do you think that’s just a way to develop an untapped market and eventually all book markets should reach a place like France? Or is there always going to be this difference in consumer behaviour across geographies?
The purpose of the law, which was voted in 1981, was to protect all the independent booksellers from the bigger players by preventing them from discounting and putting the small ones out of business. It worked very well. If you’re in a city in France, you can go to a newsstand, a bookstore, or order from Amazon and you’ll get the book for the same price. This being said, there is no such agreement in the US and the UK, where deep discounting flourishes and that also works. There are independent bookstores that specialise in backlists, curation, they still exist. That environment, in fact, helps sell more copies of one book, which in France is more difficult.

. . . .

You just mentioned the continuous acquisition of smaller publishers. How does that affect the publishing and editorial landscape – when smaller publishing houses end up under the umbrella of a larger conglomerate, sometimes swallowed by it?
You’ve used a word I hate – conglomerate. I’m not a very good swallower. Acquiring a publishing company to swallow it is the stupidest thing you can do. Its value comes from the fact that it is a different imprint. Of course when you acquire an independent publisher, you’re not going to keep the accounting department, the IT department, etc., – that doesn’t make any sense. In most cases, these companies don’t have huge profits due to costs that bring them down. So we get rid of that and let them grow and develop their publishing list and have entire freedom.

Link to the rest at Scroll.in and thanks to Nate for the tip.

 

Children’s Book Industry Has Its #MeToo Moment

18 February 2018

From The New York Times:

 The week began with the world of children’s and young adult literature celebrating its most prestigious awards, the industry’s version of the Oscars. It ended with surprise and confusion as trade groups, literary agents and a publisher broke with several best-selling authors over allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior.

The loudest boom landed Thursday afternoon when Random House said it would not publish any future books by James Dashner, the author of “The Maze Runner,” a top-selling dystopian science fiction series that was turned into a film trilogy.

. . . .

The industry’s sudden reckoning with the #MeToo movement primarily involved complaints that a long list of prominent writers and editors exploited their power and position at keystone industry events to make sexual advances, particularly toward female authors hoping to further their careers.

. . . .

 Some of the accused included well-known writers whose books are found on recommended reading lists at school and library shelves across the country. Among them were Mr. Dashner and Jay Asher, the author of “Thirteen Reasons Why,” which was recently made into a Netflix series.

. . . .

Mr. Dashner’s agent, Michael W. Bourret, parted ways with him on Monday. So did Mr. Asher’s literary agency, Andrea Brown, writing on Twitter that it had “counseled Jay to take a step back from the industry” and was no longer working with him.

Then, on Thursday, Mr. Dashner posted a long statement on Twitter that said he was shocked by the allegations against him. But after a few days of intensive soul-searching and discussions about harassment in the publishing industry, he concluded that he had been part of the problem.

“I didn’t honor and fully understand boundaries and power dynamics,” he said, and offered an apology and pledged to amend his behavior.

. . . .

 “Think about all of the books that haven’t been created by the women who have been driven away, or silenced, or just reduced in spirit,” she said. “It takes a lot of courage, focus and discipline to write a book, so when you’re feeling uncomfortable, it’s harder to create.”

. . . .

Women dominate the publishing industry. But its roughly 80 percent female work force has not protected members — or those who aspire to join their ranks — from lewd comments, unwanted and aggressive sexual advances, and groping.

The flood of allegations was “an eye opener, especially for men in the community who were not aware this was happening,” said Gwenda Bond, a writer.

. . . .

 Industry heavyweights offered support. Rick Riordan, whose “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series was adapted to film, wrote in a “soul-searching” blog post on Sunday that, while he was “not surprised these things happen in the children’s publishing industry,” the allegations left him feeling “angry and disgusted.”

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

PG notes yet another benefit of self-publishing and staying away from the low-lifes in New York publishing.

When you come to see a picture of mine

18 February 2018

When you come to see a picture of mine, I want you to know that I’m not going to do anything that will make you uncomfortable. I want you to know that you won’t be disappointed in me.

John Wayne

Amazon owns my Echo, I’m just feeding it

18 February 2018

From The Verge:

It’s no secret that voice assistants are a Trojan Horse. You “buy” a voice assistant like an Echo Dot or a Google Home, and you plug it in and give it your Wi-Fi password. But you don’t “own” it like you own a computer. The software is controlled entirely by Amazon or Google or some other company.

So, I bought a Trojan Horse in December as a little self-gift for Christmas: an Echo Dot.

. . . .

On the evening I set up my Echo Dot, the first thing I wanted to do was listen to an audiobook. Being an Audible junkie makes the Echo an easy fit into my life. Saying, “Alexa, play an audiobook” will simply resume whatever book I was last listening to on my phone.

I have a lot of books in my library that have only a chapter or two left in them. I like to leave books unfinished, it keeps them “alive” for me. It’s sad when a book ends. But new gadget, new me: I decided to let my new Echo Dot play the final minutes of this spy thriller.

It was an epic clash between the protagonist and the antagonist, on a roof. There was also a sword involved.

All of a sudden, an interruption:

“Your Echo Dot received an important update and must restart. It will be ready again shortly.

. . . .

I expressed my fear over the phone to a friend.

”Yeah, I feel like Alexa is a Trojan Horse.”

The Echo Dot perked up, with its all-sensing LED lights:

”I don’t answer everything about horses yet. For trivia, try saying ‘give me a horse fact.’”

I swore at Alexa and it said something smarmy about cuss words. I said, “Alexa, shut up,” and it finally did.

The first day I set Alexa as an alarm clock, I woke to the Echo Dot spewing something about Amazon services. I realized I’d left my TV on overnight, and my TV is right next to the Echo Dot at the foot of my bed, so maybe Alexa was just talking to the TV. I was too groggy to figure it out, but when I looked at the Alexa log on my phone, the only instructions recorded were alarm-related.

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Publishing’s remarkable resilience is amazing: Hachette UK’s David Shelley

18 February 2018

From LiveMint:

In 18 short years, David Shelley has gone from being an editorial assistant and then publishing director at independent publisher Allison and Busby, to becoming chief executive of Hachette UK last month—a career that’s nothing short of phenomenal. Along the way, the Oxford graduate in English literature has also been the CEO of Little, Brown and Orion.

Shelley is seen as one of the hottest young talents in global publishing and has worked with authors such as J.K. Rowling and Mitch Albom. A passionate advocate for publishers adapting to the digital environment, Shelley also oversees Hatchette UK’s inclusion initiative, Changing the Story.

. . . .

Congratulations on your new position David. What are your plans now for Hachette UK?

I think one thing is really exciting: there is the potential for understanding consumers better. Very successful businesses like Amazon or Netflix are extraordinary in the way they use data, algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning. In book publishing, we’re just sort of starting on that. So I feel for me this is an exciting time coming to the job I’m doing. At the moment, we’re publishing a book, putting a cover on it and hoping for the best. I think it’s really probable that in the years to come, we will test a book before we publish it. We will also look to see what people’s reactions are. We ought to know how to describe a book in a way that excites people, and what cover to put on that really interests readers. We’re only as good as the authors we publish. On the other hand, we will be a brilliant partner for authors if we can get them to as many readers as possible.

. . . .

Opinions are divided within the sector about the health of the publishing industry. What’s your take?

I think that publishing is a little bit like farming. If you get a group of farmers together, they’re always going to disagree about the harvest or the market. I think it is the same for publishers. It often feels like something very big is happening—certainly in the UK, a few years ago, supermarkets started keeping books and this started destroying small bookshops. Now we have Amazon. I think these things come and go; the amazing thing about publishing is its remarkable resilience, and that’s because of people’s desire for long-form content, both fiction and non-fiction. If you look at book sales, then the value can go up and down but actually the number of sales remains very stable and strong. The industry probably needs to become more a part of the digital world. And that doesn’t mean just publishing e-books, but how we operate in the digital environment. We need to understand online retail very well, as well as the connection between offline and online retail. We are in a pretty strong place, with some challenges.

Link to the rest at LiveMint and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Testing a product with potential customers before releasing it has been routine in the reality-based business world for 60 years, maybe more.

PG suggests the bar for qualifying as one of the “hottest young talents in global publishing” is extremely low.

The Thriller That Predicted the Russia Scandal

18 February 2018

From Politico:

David Pepper recently had to block someone on Twitter for the first time in his life, because he was tired of being accused, repeatedly, of hiding his real identity as a Russian spy.

“If I were a Russian spy, would I really release my plot in novel form in advance?” the 46-year-old Cincinnatian asks me, mock-bewildered, on a recent Friday morning. “Then I wouldn’t be a very good spy.”

The online tormentor isn’t just throwing out random espionage allegations for no reason. He’s decided to go after Pepper because his first book—The People’s House, a quick, lively thriller full of labyrinthine scandal and homey Rust Belt touches—reads like a user’s guide to the last two years in U.S. politics.

And Pepper wrote the book before any of it actually happened.

The People’s House centers around a Russian scheme to flip an election and put Republicans in power by depressing votes in the Midwest. Pipeline politics play an unexpectedly outsize role. Sexual harassment and systematic coverups in Congress abound. But it’s no unimaginative rehash. Pepper released the book in the summer of 2016, just as the presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was heating up—and before Russia’s real-life campaign to influence the election had been revealed. In fact, the heart of the story had been written for three years when Russian government sent hackers to infiltrate the Democratic National Committee and sent their trolls to influence the election on social media. The Putin-like oligarch Pepper portrays as pulling the strings of U.S. politics had been fleshed out for two.

Using a self-publishing service, Pepper didn’t expect much of a reception, and he didn’t get one at first, beyond his amused friends and colleagues. But when a Wall Street Journal reviewer that November surprised him by calling The People’s House “a sleeper candidate for political thriller of the year,” that started to change.

. . . .

As he waited for edits on the first book, early in 2016, Pepper got started on a sequel, The Wingman. He finished the bulk of the manuscript by January 2017, as Trump was getting sworn in. Now, one year into Trump’s tenure, his second offering in the otherwise dull world of political thrillers—which comes out on Monday—is an equally complex tale of kompromat influencing a presidential election, even more sexual misconduct, and an Erik Prince-like military contractor with close ties to the administration, this time told through the lens of a rollicking Democratic presidential primary. He wrote it before the now-infamous Steele dossier became public knowledge (and before, Pepper says, he learned about it)and months before revelations about the Blackwater founder’s close ties to the Trump team and its Russian entanglements. If the first parallels were eerie, these ones were, Pepper admits, maybe even spooky.

. . . .

The key to writing a successful political thriller is to come up with a scenario that’s far-fetched enough to stretch the reader’s imagination, but not so insane as to be wholly unbelievable. Two years ago, a successful Russian plot to throw an American election by manipulating the Midwest would almost certainly fall into the latter category. So might the idea of systematic blackmail of a presidential candidate.

Link to the rest at Politico

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