In the battle over books, who gets to decide what’s age-appropriate at libraries?

From National Public Radio:

For months, Carolyn Harrison and a small band of activists have been setting up folding tables with an array of what they call “bad books” outside the public library in Idaho Falls, Idaho. As Harrison, co-founder of the group Parents Against Bad Books sees it, the best way to convince people that the library is stocking inappropriate books is to show them.

“These two books are in the library, if you don’t believe it!” Harrison says to one passerby.

“It’s very graphic, very detailed,” offers Halli Stone, another member of the group.

They point out depictions of what they call obscene sexual encounters, catching many library patrons by surprise.

“Oooh, the graphic pictures!” exclaims one woman. “They’re taking away children’s innocence. They just don’t care.”

. . . .

It’s one of many efforts around the U.S. to change how decisions are made about which books libraries should have on shelves and in which section of the library they belong.

The process of classifying books can be somewhat inconsistent. Books usually get an initial designation from authors and publishers. Then, professional book reviewers usually weigh in with their own age-bracket recommendation, and distributors and booksellers can do the same. But ultimately, local library staff make the final call about the books they buy and where they should go.

Harrison wants to change that process by giving parents a voice in that final decision, along with the library staff. But she says libraries are resistant to the idea.

“They’ve told us here that ‘Oh no, you can’t have parents involved. You must have experts choosing books for the children,'” Harrison says. “That makes no sense. Parents are the primary stakeholders for children.”

. . . .

PABB also keeps a list of what they call “52 Bad Books.” It includes George M. Johnson’s memoir, All Boys Aren’t Blue, which contains some explicit descriptions of sexual scenes. But as is the case with most books in question, one person’s trash is another’s treasure.

“I found it very enlightening,” says Idaho Falls Public Library Director Robert Wright. As he sees it, All Boys Aren’t Blue is critical to young people’s development, especially those struggling with issues around sexual identity. “To me, it was a story of a young boy who felt maybe different, but the story that came through to me was how much his family supported him and loved him regardless,” Wright says.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

Making dialogue sound natural

From Now Novel:

Whether you’re writing a novel or a short story, you are going to want to make your dialogue natural and true to real life, as it’s spoken in the real world. How do you go about achieving this, when ‘natural dialogue’ can be boring to read if you write it verbatim?

As to why you should make your dialogue sound natural, Daniel Boyko and Zoha Arif of Polyphonic Lit have this to say:

Unnatural, inorganic dialogue can make any character sound like an evil robotic Martian stranded on the great abomination of earth (with no hope of reconnecting with its extraterrestrial kind), trying to camouflage into human society and failing completely and utterly to do so.

. . . .

In his book  How to Write Dazzling Dialogue, James Scott Bell explains the difference between real speech and fictional dialogue. He writes that:

Dialogue is not real-life speech. It is stylized speech for which the author, through the characters, has a purpose. 

That’s a crucial distinction. We don’t want to merely capture reality in our fiction. We aren’t filming a documentary.

What we do is render something that feels real but is intended to create a desired effect. 

Real-life speech is meandering and often boring. 

Fictional speech doesn’t meander (unless, of course, a character has a strong reason to run on and on).

Firstly, you have to listen to natural dialogue. The best way of doing this is not to have a conversation, because then you are so busy being part of the give and take that you don’t really hear the natural rhythms of dialogue. One recommendation is to go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop. Listen to how people speak in the real world, note the rhythms and cadences: when people get excited, or sad, note how the tone changes. Note, too, how people don’t use complete sentences, how people pause, and sometimes the listener will rush in to fill that gap while the speaker is pausing. Notice when people lose their place, forget things, and just simply don’t complete their thoughts. And yet despite that, the meaning of what they are saying is implied by the rest of the sentence.

Link to the rest at Now Novel

Britain’s scariest libel firm can pursue anyone, anywhere

From The Economist:

One morning in April 2017, Jen McAdam was scrolling through emails in her council house in central Scotland when she saw one from an unfamiliar address. It had an attachment, which she opened. When she read it she thought she was going to faint.

McAdam had been through a rough few years. In 2010 she had developed chronic fatigue syndrome, rendering her effectively bedbound. The small it consultancy she had started folded. She burned through her savings. Then at the start of 2015 she had lost her beloved father, Bill.

Bill, who was 92 when he died, worked for decades as a miner. He didn’t drink or smoke, McAdam recalls; he saved, which meant he was able to leave Jen and her sister £15,000 ($19,000) each. Stricken by grief though she was, the legacy was a lifeline for McAdam. By then she knew how quickly money can disappear if you’re not in work. She was determined to try to use it to get some financial security.

In early 2016 McAdam’s best friend suggested she think about cryptocurrency. Bitcoin, the best known digital coin, was beginning to make waves. McAdam wasn’t sure – she didn’t understand the technicalities – but crypto did seem as though it was making ordinary people like her well-off.

In March of that year McAdam bought packages of a digital currency called OneCoin. It seemed legitimate to her (an impression aided by the fact that its co-founder, Ruja Ignatova, had addressed a conference organised by The Economist). OneCoin’s backers offered bonuses to those who recruited new members, and incentives to early adopters. She brought her friends and family into the fold, who in turn brought their loved ones in. McAdam became popular with OneCoin leaders, who celebrated her as a success story at conferences. McAdam estimates that her extended network put about £250,000 into the scheme.

She can’t recall the precise moment when doubts crept in. She remembers OneCoin’s bank-account details changing with alarming regularity. On November 11th 2016 McAdam received a stream of messages from Tim Curry, a critic of the scheme based in California. Curry bombarded her with information which he claimed proved OneCoin was a fraud. She tried not to think about it, but by the start of 2017 she was worried. She heard a rumour that the police were investigating OneCoin, and on March 27th 2017 she contacted an officer working on the case. According to McAdam, he confirmed that OneCoin was suspected of being a Ponzi scheme. That conversation extinguished her last remaining hope that she would see her money again.

Full of shame for having encouraged people to invest, she began to post warnings in OneCoin groups online. She contacted other investors facing similar problems to talk through their loss. Then she set up a victims-support network, which quickly ballooned into multiple WhatsApp groups covering every country in which McAdam could find victims. The stories she heard chilled her.

“I was hearing from people all around the world absolutely feeling suicidal. I was hearing stories of their families breaking up, grown men and women crying, old pensioners crying, from all different countries – it was utter devastation,” she said.

McAdam decided to hold a webinar so she and other OneCoin critics could alert as many victims as possible. The event went off without a hitch and McAdam continued her campaign to organise and connect victims to each other. One attendee recorded the webinar, and uploaded it to YouTube to reach a wider audience. McAdam thought nothing of it.

It was exactly three weeks after the webinar that the email arrived. The attachment was a letter from lawyers representing OneCoin and Ignatova, its co-founder. “Our clients’ current instructions”, it stated, “are to initiate proceedings against you for defamation.” The only way to avoid a court case, the letter said, was to refrain from publishing similar allegations and to retract the webinar video (which had actually been uploaded by someone else). She had seven days to act.

“My heart was beating out of my chest. I just wanted to scream,” McAdam recalled.

. . . .

Britain’s libel lawyers are the most intimidating in the world. They are also among the most expensive. British libel cases routinely cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to defend, and London’s top libel lawyers command rates of more than £500 per hour. The costs of defending a suit in Britain are much greater than in comparable European countries (they can be higher in America, but so is the bar for making a successful claim). It’s not unusual for libel suits in France or Italy to conclude with total costs of less than £15,000; in London, they can surpass £1m.

. . . .

Few would argue that libel law shouldn’t exist. Freedom of expression needs to be balanced with other “duties and responsibilities”, as the European Convention on Human Rights puts it, including the protection of people’s reputations. Much of the work libel lawyers do helps maintain this balance. Often their adversaries are the British tabloids, whose unusually aggressive pursuit of salacious stories has, as a public inquiry noted in 2012, “wreaked havoc on the lives of innocent people”.

In practice, however, the British libel industry has made it harder for people to subject the wealthy and powerful to legitimate scrutiny. There have been several attempts over the years to correct this. The spectacle of Russian oligarchs pursuing journalists in British courts, never a very edifying one, became too much for politicians to bear after Russia invaded Ukraine last year. Shortly after the war started an American congressman proposed travel bans on several libel lawyers in London, including Carter-Ruck’s managing partner Nigel Tait. Dominic Raab, then Britain’s justice secretary, began designing legislation to tackle abuses of libel law by wealthy people seeking to avoid scrutiny (a practice which campaigners call “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”, or SLAPPs).

Like previous attempts to reform Britain’s libel industry, however, the anti-slapp proposals left two fundamental problems untouched. First, English law offers distinct technical advantages to claimants, presuming the falsity of the defamatory statement and placing the burden of proof on the defendant to show it is true. Second, mounting a defence is so expensive that it creates an inherent imbalance of power between wealthy plaintiffs and those they are pursuing.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG is on the outside looking in on the issue of British libel laws, so he can’t comment one way or the other about the OP.

However, he was a bit surprised reading that the burden of proof in a British libel suit is imposed on the defendant. This is not the way it works in any jurisdiction PG knows about in the US.

In a legal dispute, one party has the burden of proof to show that they are entitled to damages under the provision of the law, while the other party has no such burden and is presumed to be correct. The burden of proof requires a party to produce evidence to establish the truth of facts needed to satisfy all the required legal elements of the dispute.

If the party who files a civil case with the burden of proof fails to demonstrate to the trier of fact any single required legal element of by a preponderance of the evidence produced (usually), the defendant wins.

In criminal cases, the government prosecutor must prove the defendant is guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If a crime requires criminal intent, for example, if the trier of fact decides the defendant committed the crime by accident or otherwise without criminal intent, the defendant is not guilty.

7 Books About Authorship Hoaxes

From Electric Lit:

Public fascination with con artists, scams, and heists has been on the rise, with stories of Anna Delvey, Rachel Dolezal, Caroline Calloway, and Elizabeth Holmes splashing across magazine covers in the last decade. Alongside it, my thirsty interest in literary scandals has grown, watered by “Bad Art Friend,” a mysterious manuscript thief, the pathological lies of an editor cum author, and the invented auteur JT LeRoy. Surely there must be fiction in this vein, I thought. We live in a literary soup of cultural appropriation, ghost writers, plagiarism, fabricated memoirs, artificial intelligence, autofiction, and nebulous influence. Who doesn’t love a juicy story about pretending to be someone you’re not in order to make art? So began my fiendish fascination with novels that dive into questions about authorship, who owns a story, what parts of life we can acceptably use to write and which are unethical (or at the very least, gauche). If there are a glut of real-life examples of scammers, surely there must be fictional tales of authorship hoaxes.

The ones I found tend to keep pace with thrillers, though the crimes were less gory, more fixated on the ever-hungry ego, and pleasurably literary. Often, these books portray adults who can’t do their own homework, pushed to the brink by their desire to succeed while their peers burst up as stars, they desperately steal the work of others. These books are less about “real talent” and more about vanity and ego that fuel people to be known as artists, rather than make great art.

Even the books in this list whose villains aren’t stealing source material (or whole manuscripts) offer an exploration of authenticity and how to deal with inevitable periods of diminished inspiration. Inherent in this plot, is a sense of mystery about where a work originates and how one can prove who owns material. Some of these take up the dangers of cult personalities and the treacherousness of fame. Others lambast broken systems (publishing, the artworld) and how creative merit fails to correspond to financial or critical success. Underneath them all sits the question: Who are you and where do you get your ideas?

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

At any given reading, it seems the most common question is “Where did you get the idea for this?” John Boyne’s main character Maurice Swift is obsessed with this too, because, simply put: he is a good writer with no good ideas. After a chance encounter with famed author and Holocaust survivor Erich Ackermann, he panders to the older gay man and preys upon his loneliness, becoming an assistant of sorts, traveling with him on book tour. Over the course of the tour, he teases out a story that Erich has never shared about his time during World War II, which Maurice uses to write his first novel. As the rest of this elegantly plotted novel unfolds, we watch as Maurice continues to find new and atrocious ways to grift stories for his novels. 

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Jacob Finch Bonner had a respectable start to his publishing career but has been struggling to write a second book for far too long. When a student of his comes along that is painfully arrogant but has a brilliant idea for a book, Bonner is jealous. The plot is undeniably juicy, and it seems only a matter of time that he will be eclipsed by a student, washed up and forgotten about. But the book never comes out and Bonner eventually discovers his student died. He decides to use the plot for his own next book (chapters of Bonner’s book are interwoven with the story so readers slowly come to see what exactly this atomic plot is). This thrilling read gets even more propulsive when someone who knows Bonner stole the story starts hunting him down to pay penance.

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

This recent release is a fast-paced and pulpy book that follows two grad school peers, June Hayward and Athena Liu, and the ways their careers diverge drastically. While Athena has become a bestseller, June’s books have never caught the attention of the media. When June witnesses Athena’s death (in a ridiculously campy scene involving choking on a pancake), she decides to steal Athena’s latest manuscript about Chinese laborers in World War I. After Athena’s death, June edits the book, and through a series of incredible maneuvers by her publishers is transformed from a white author to a racially ambiguous one rebranded as Juniper Song. Unsurprisingly, June, or Juniper is haunted by fact that someone might figure out her secret. And indeed, they do. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Why the West needs to stop the global rise of revisionism

From The Economist:

In recent weeks pessimism about the war in Ukraine has gripped Western media and opinion-makers. The Ukrainian counter-offensive over the summer and autumn yielded disillusionment. Leaks suggest that Western officials have broached the subject of possible peace talks with Russia with Ukrainian counterparts. Trumpian Republicans are blocking American military assistance to Ukraine.

That a stalemate on the battlefield would feed pessimism is not surprising. But the argument for scaling back support for Ukraine is premised on framing the war there as fairly isolated, and its loss of territory as tragic and unfair but neither existential for the West nor unique in modern times. This perspective gives the West an option on when and how to administer its help to Ukraine, and when to scale it back or stop. This logic is wrong and the perspective—convenient as it may be—leaves out a bigger and more disturbing picture.

Far from being an isolated conflict, Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine has led to a wave of revisionism in international politics. Azerbaijan’s lightning war against the ethnic-Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and Hamas’s attack on Israel may be different in scale, but they have the same cause: the weakening of guarantees and provisions that maintained the balance of power, encouraging previously constrained players to challenge this balance. The logic of revisionism suggests that each failure by the West to establish deterrence and each tactical retreat—in Ukraine, Syria, Azerbaijan or the Middle East—is another step on the way to dismantling its geopolitical dominance.

Those who urge Ukraine to negotiate with Mr Putin must understand that he is mainly interested in two things. One is to force Ukraine to recognise and accept his conquests—at a minimum Russia’s land corridor to Crimea—as faits accomplis. The other is to humiliate the West by showing that it is unable to secure, and thus will betray, Ukraine.

Pundits close to the Kremlin are already citing what Henry Kissinger, America’s former secretary of state, recalled being told by Hafez Assad, Syria’s dictator at the time, after the Yom Kippur war of 1973: “You [America] have betrayed Vietnam. Someday you’re going to sell out Taiwan. And we’re going to be around when you get tired of Israel.” Revisionists draw strength from these words.

Countries that have previously drawn comfort from American guarantees are feeling unsettled. In a recent report rand, a global-policy think-tank, urged America to provide additional assurances of its nuclear-umbrella commitment to South Korea, which is losing its faith in American guarantees and considering its own nuclear-weapons programme to deal with a growing threat from North Korea and China.

This unease reflects a fundamental shift. For many decades security guarantees offered by America were seen by allies as iron-clad. That perception is changing. One reason is the world’s inability to halt North Korea’s nuclear programme. Another is dwindling confidence in the bipartisan political consensus required in Washington for America to convincingly fulfil its commitments.

Revisionists thrive not on confidence in their own relative strength but on doubts about the resolve of the hegemon. There is no doubt that America is stronger militarily than North Korea, Russia and China, and they know this. But they also know that they can compensate for their relative weakness with their resolve and appetite for risk.

In the first year of the war in Ukraine, the West hesitated over handing advanced weapons to the government in Kyiv, giving Russia time to prepare for a war of attrition. And today’s talk of “tiredness” is nothing but a euphemism, used to dodge obligations for long-term assistance to Ukraine in a protracted war with unclear results. In a recent opinion poll for the European Council on Foreign Relations and Oxford University, conducted in 21 countries around the world, only in America did half or more of respondents express confidence in Ukraine winning the war within five years. The prevailing view in the global south is that Russia will emerge victorious—revealing distrust of the West’s promises to help Ukraine.

While the West contemplates the setbacks of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, Russia, China and the global south are contemplating the West’s failure to contain and punish Mr Putin’s aggression. And in the logic of revisionism the accumulation of these setbacks brings closer the moment when the West will be faced with a challenge of far greater stakes, be it over the Korean peninsula or Taiwan. If the West is tired and disappointed with Ukraine, it hardly has the luxury of time to revitalise itself.

Talk of fatigue and the need for negotiations only strengthens the resolve of Mr Putin, the revisionist-in-chief. He is betting that the West will eventually abandon Ukraine, exhausted by its costs. The only outcome of negotiations that would satisfy him lies well beyond anything that Ukraine could accept.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Booker judge admits it’s nearly impossible to read ALL the books.

From Lit Hub:

In a refreshing “quiet part loud” moment earlier this fall, this year’s celebrity Booker judge, Peep Show’s Robert Webb, admitted publicly that it’s basically impossible to read the entire pre-longlist pool of 163 books in seven months. While that’s not exactly a novel-a-day, as Webb suggests, it’s pretty damn hard, particularly if you have a day job that has nothing to do with reading books.

Webb’s big mistake, of course, wasn’t that he didn’t finish every single novel, but that he admitted it. Most of us who read professionally can tell by the 50-page mark if we don’t like a book: the DNA of truly great writing is usually there in each sentence, each paragraph, and so we read on.

. . . .

It’s always been the case that the more you look behind the scenes of literary prizes the more arbitrary (and silly, frankly) the whole enterprise seems. If we’re being honest, the point isn’t to pick the ONE TRUE best novel (that’s not how art works) but rather to remind the broader public that novels exist, that they should be celebrated, and, while we’re at it, purchased in hardcover for $29.99.

Link to the rest at Lit Hub

PG suspects there are many different and more effective ways for selecting the Booker prizes than by inviting a group of traditional publishing insiders to read (or not read) the candidates and then vote according to the best interests of their publisher.

PG is not suggesting that such behavior would ever occur in the hallowed and dusty halls of major publishing.

Elvis and the Colonel

From The Wall Street Journal:

I love a good contrarian pop-culture take. The Beatles have too many fans. Monty Python is painfully unfunny. Chefs are not artists. But recasting the notorious Col. Tom Parker as a good guy is about as strong a current as you can swim against. The infamous talent manager has been blamed for ruining Elvis Presley and robbing from him for years. In “Elvis and the Colonel,” Parker’s former protégé takes on the monumental task of redeeming one of the more despised figures in Americana.

Greg McDonald grew up in the entertainment business with Parker’s guidance, later becoming a talent manager for the singer Ricky Nelson. He eventually took over Parker’s All Star Shows production company and was the president of the label that signed the Backstreet Boys and ’NSync. He also owns Parker’s likeness and image.

In attempting to redeem his late mentor, Mr. McDonald nails a necessary prerequisite. As he recounts Parker’s biography, he convincingly rehabilitates the colonel’s reputation into a 20th-century American success story—the stowaway immigrant from the Netherlands who became a hobo, an Army enlistee, a carny and, ultimately, an entertainment mogul. It’s impossible to dislike or disrespect Mr. McDonald’s Parker.

The early years of Presley and Parker’s relationship read here like a standard Elvis biography. Parker honed his game promoting the country stars Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow. Presley outgrew his local management under a Memphis disc jockey and wanted more. When Parker attended a 1954 Presley show in Texarkana, Texas, he saw the audience “going crazy, especially the young girls,” he later recounted to Mr. McDonald. “They were screaming and fainting and throwing their clothes on stage.” Parker realized that Snow could never amount to as much. Once Presley and the colonel got going, the hits and dollars piled up. Mr. McDonald covers the RCA deal, Presley’s enlistment and film career. The duo’s charitable works, including support for the USS Arizona memorial, receive deserved, refreshed attention.

It isn’t until Mr. McDonald’s appearance, nearly halfway through the book, that we begin to learn some quality inside stuff. As a teenager, Mr. McDonald worked as an air-conditioning mechanic, with access to many celebrities’ houses in Palm Springs, Calif. One day he stumbled upon Presley and a female companion sunbathing by a pool. Young Greg and Presley immediately hit it off, and the boy was soon introduced to Parker. The colonel and his wife also took a liking to him, and before long Greg was a regular at the Parker household. His relationship with the colonel took a surprising turn when Parker practically adopted Greg and saw to his education. It’s a major plot point supporting the colonel-as-good-guy narrative.

In the ensuing years, Mr. McDonald worked hard to remain close to this potent pairing. He became a driver for Parker, and sometimes Presley, with a front-row seat to many memorable moments. He dishes on how a miscommunication between the singer and his entourage resulted in Presley missing a dinner invitation from Marilyn Monroe.

Mr. McDonald also recounts the only meeting held between Presley and the Fab Four, with more detail and richer quotes about that 1965 Bel Air encounter than I’ve seen anywhere else. It’s a vivid scene, right down to the details of Presley’s attire and the Inspector Clouseau accent affected by a nervous John Lennon. After a few moments of stoned-Beatles awkwardness, Presley threatened to go to bed if John, Paul, Ringo and George were just going to sit there staring. “I thought we might sit and talk and jam a little,” Presley said. This cut through the haze and a session for the ages broke out, with Presley playing bass on the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine.”

Mr. McDonald is at his best when he’s looking at the world as the talent promoter he eventually becomes. Observing the increasingly restless Presley of the mid-1960s—an era in his career most fans don’t care about—Mr. McDonald notes: “Becoming famous is one thing; avoiding becoming infamous, entirely another.” Where we see Presley practically sleepwalking through cheesy movies, Parker sensed constant danger. “Once you’re at the top, you’re walking across a lagoon on the backs of alligators,” Mr. McDonald writes. “The press loves a fall as much it loves as a rise, and they’re happy to send you in either direction.” Parker’s job wasn’t simply to fatten the golden goose.

As for the belief that Parker robbed Presley, think of it this way: He didn’t have to. Their relationship was unprecedented and up to them to negotiate. And if Presley sensed the shelf life of rock ’n’ roll expiring with the ’50s and sought to pivot to movies and soundtracks, who could blame him? In hindsight we may feel deprived of a precious decade of great music, but the films were a wise career move at the time. So what if the results of “Fun in Acapulco” (1963), “Harum Scarum” (1965), “Clambake” (1967) and others—it really is a long, horrid list—pale in comparison to the singer’s smoking early songs: “Mystery Train,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Presley, according to Mr. McDonald, had become addicted to his lifestyle and needed the money. Parker worked tirelessly to deliver.

Who got ripped off in early rock ’n’ roll? Virtually everyone. It’s easy to sympathize with Big Mama Thornton and Little Richard for recording “Hound Dog” and “Tutti Frutti” for a ¼ cent a sale, but the Beatles received a similar deal. A guitarist for Manfred Mann once told me that the five members of his group split a penny for every dollar earned on hits such as “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.” You know who didn’t get ripped off? Elvis the movie star. For each of his films, Presley earned a six-figure salary and a profit share of nearly 50%. Unheard of. Parker got 50% of Elvis, but he earned it, Mr. McDonald tells us. “What history and countless other books on Elvis Presley don’t tell you is that Colonel Parker was the first megamanager who made forays into today’s multimedia world of music, film, television, publishing, and Las Vegas-style entertainment.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal.

The 25 Most Iconic Book Covers of All Time

From Book Riot:

When it comes to lists of the most iconic book covers of all time, I am not always impressed with what titles turn up again and again. And I’m ready to take the heat for leaving some of your faves off this list. Here’s my first question for others compiling these lists. Are the covers of books like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Catcher in the Rye really that iconic? Or are they stuck in your mind because you’ve seen them a million times thanks to their status as school curriculum standards? Let’s not peak in high school, folks.

Moreover, why do we seem to celebrate only the covers for books considered literary masterpieces of the 20th century, with a focus on midcentury design? Certainly there are iconic book covers from that era, and you’ll see some below. But there’s more to lionize in the history of design than this singular period and genre. I want to take a wider view.

I’m also not afraid to assert that some of the most iconic book covers have just come out. Because if we don’t believe that at least some of the best things ever to be made are being made right now, be they book covers, movies, music, or literature, then what is the point of making anything? I’d rather take a brave stance here and be proven wrong in the future than go with the same old choices everyone makes. Believe me, there are still plenty of safe choices on this list. So without any further ado, and in no particular order, the most iconic book covers of all time.

. . . .

How recognizable is this cover design by S. Neil Fujita, with illustration by John Kashiwabara? So iconic that you can buy any number of T-shirts that spoof its design. To name a few, you can acquire a shirt to claim you are: The Rodfather (with a fisherman casting instead of marionette strings), The Dogfather (bones as marionette sticks), The Gabagool (for the fans of cured meats), or The Godmother (it’s pink).

Talk about iconic! Milton Charles designed the paperback, whose silver foil-embossed cover has a die-cut hole representing the house’s attic. When the cover is opened, a full page painting called a stepback reveals the creepy family, illustrated by Gillian Hills. It’s lurid and voyeuristic in the best possible way. The rest of the Dollanganger series received a similarly iconic treatment. If you come across an old copy that has the cutout and the stepback — later printings don’t have the hole in the cover — you’re a lucky duck.

You know a book cover is iconic when it can be ported from book to movie franchise to theme park rides with ease. This cover by renowned designer Chip Kidd is a quintessential example of this.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

We’re All in This Together, Anecdotes from the Front Lines

From Writers in the Storm:

I’m going to take a break from technical advice about structure or the gaming world and how the Boss Fight relates to fiction, and talk about meeting other writers and what you can get out of that. I’ll throw in some Rules of Encounter and Warnings, Scary Moments, and maybe elicit a smile or even a chuckle. 

For once I know exactly where the idea for this essay came from. I have two thirty-something friends with whom I share movies and books and from whom I learn much. Driving back from a show I said something about Frank Herbert and one of them said, “Wait, stop. You’ve met Frank Herbert?”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact I have and I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to talk about that encounter because I believe it has meaning, a meaning that perhaps will help you in your writing efforts. 

Big-Time Authors

As writers we spend our time at the keyboard, or thinking about what we will say once we return to the keyboard, or studying ways to improve what we produce at the — well, you know where I mean. There can be an underlying, hidden assumption that somehow the big-time authors are different, that they have some secret, that they are not like us. It ain’t so. 

All of us, from The NY Times list down to the newly-published writer share attributes.

We are all in this together. Meeting your writer heroes will help you to understand just how true that is, how strong that bond is, 

A few of my own True Life Adventures will illustrate this point and I’ll add some Rules as well as Words of Warning. 

Writing is not easy. For all of those times when the characters leap off the page and entertain you with their stories there are a lot more — at least if you are like me — times when it’s pulling teeth or worse. One of those True Life Adventures stars was Harlan Ellison and I’ll let him explain what it’s like.

True Life Adventures 

You may say, “But I’ve never met any important writers or agents and don’t have a clue how to.” Part of those meetings is luck, part is persistence. Here’s how I did it, and with each example there’s a Takeaway, something to remember. 

Harlan Ellison

Ellison taught a UCLA class called Ten Tuesdays Down the Rabbit Hole and it was an epic event. Through a friend I was offered a chance to be a Teaching Assistant. I was working full time and taking two classes — six units — but I said yes anyway. I helped a little bit with various things and as a result got to meet Harlan and actually come to know him. I’ll never forget him saying, “Writing is easy. You just cut off part of yourself and put it on the page.”

Takeaway: Say yes. Seize every opportunity, grab it by the ears and figure out how you’ll get it all done later. 

Frank Herbert        

Frank Herbert lectured at Golden West college. After the lecture was over I hung around to say thanks and to tell him how much I loved Dune. I expected that he would be surrounded by a crowd of admirers but that was not the case and to my amazement I found myself sitting and chatting with a man whose work I admired. I got to tell him how I had read Dune when it was serialized in AnalogScience Fiction, and he asked about my work!

           Takeaway: hang around after a class/talk. If nothing else, say thank you.

Paul Bishop

At one convention in San Diego you could sign up and submit a chapter in advance for review by one of the writers at the conference. I did and my reviewer was Paul Bishop, author of Tequila Mockingbird as well as other excellent thrillers, and career LAPD police officer. At one point in the review, I had something wrong in my description of a revolver. Bishop reached down into his boot top, extracted a small weapon, and showed me the right way. Yes, it’s true. I’ve had a reviewer pull a gun on me. 

Takeaway: If you attend a convention and have an opportunity to get your work reviewed, take it!

. . . .

Donald Maas

At a convention in Alaska I must have looked like a writer because this guy in the airport wanted to know if I’d share a cab to the hotel. It was the agent Donald Maas and I did not pitch my work In the taxi. We talked pc issues and since my contract work lately had centered around just that I was able to answer some of his questions. Later I was able to use this as the lead when I pitched my work, “We met at . . .”  Ultimately his agency chose not to represent me but I had a chance. 

     Takeaway: take notes, keep a journal. When you submit work, lead with “We met at Bouchercon, and you said . . .” This is not an original thought on my part. It has turned up in my reading several places. One source went so far as to suggest that you say, “We met at and you suggested I send in  . . .” even if you had not, in fact met them, because at a convention with thousands of people they’ll never remember.

My take on this is not to do it. One, they might remember they’d never met you. (Back to Donald Maas — this is a bright guy. He’d remember if he had not, in fact met you like you claimed. Can you spell, “Kiss of Death?”.) In addition to possibly backfiring it’s dishonest. 

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

The OP brought back the period in PG’s life when he attended a lot of conventions, sometimes as a speaker and later as a booth jockey.

While he had a lot of fun at conventions for lawyers where he was a speaker and made a lot of friends in the process, he’s glad he’s not doing it any more. The principal reason is large airports and making connections through large airports and missing connections in large airports.

What is antisemitism—and why do differences in interpretation matter?

From The Economist:

Since Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel on October 7th, and the outbreak of war in Gaza, there has been a sharp increase around the world in reports of antisemitic incidents. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an NGO based in New York City, says that in the two weeks after the attack the number in America quintupled compared with the same period last year. Britain and France have reported similar spikes. Social media have amplified the problem. On X, formerly Twitter, antisemitic posts soared by an astounding 919% the week after Hamas’s attack, compared with a week earlier, as assessed by the adl. (Islamophobic posts also increased.) Several large companies, including Apple and Disney, suspended advertising on X after a report by Media Matters for America, an activist group, found that ads had been placed next to antisemitic posts. Elon Musk, who owns X, added to the furor when he endorsed an antisemitic post that accused “Jewish communities” of “pushing…hatred against whites.” He has since apologised.

Some antisemitic incidents are clear in their intent. The ADL says that on October 15th, for example, a woman was punched in the face in New York City. When she asked her assailant why, she was told “You are Jewish”. But other examples are treated with ambivalence. Many condemn the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine shall be free”, which is heard at many pro-Palestine events, as an incitement to the ethnic cleansing of Jews and destruction of Israel. Yet others see it as a legitimate rallying cry for the establishment of a Palestinian state. In this fraught context, how should antisemitism be defined?

The term was coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr, a German journalist and proselytising antisemite. Hostility towards Jews had existed for centuries, but he gave a name to an ancient prejudice—and espoused its use. In the decades leading up to the Holocaust, antisemitism was considered to be too obvious to require a precise definition. It was only in 2016 that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an intergovernmental organisation, proposed one: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”  It has become the international gold standard, adopted by over 1,100 institutions and governments around the world, including America, Britain and France—although it is not legally binding.

But the IHRA’s definition has not been universally accepted, mainly on account of its 11 worked examples of antisemitism. Some, again, seem clear-cut, including perpetuating old claims of “a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media…or other societal institutions.” The tweet that Mr Musk described as “truth” easily meets that bar, by perpetuating a conspiracy theory that Jews want to eradicate whites. But some human-rights activists argue that other ihra examples are erroneous. Specifically, they object to the idea that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” or “applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” are antisemitic. Critics argue that these examples weaponise antisemitism. An open letter signed by dozens of academics and writers in 2020 argued that the IHRA definition risked turning the fight against antisemitism into a purely political “stratagem to delegitimise the fight against the oppression of the Palestinians”. The un has been urged to reject the IHRA definition on these grounds; sure enough, it does not use it.

At what point does criticism of Israel slide into antisemitism? The IHRA definition says that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. Supporters of the code stress that it condemns as antisemitic those who deny Jews the right to a state of Israel but allows criticism of the country of Israel and its government. Consider, again, “From the river to the sea”. Hamas used the phrase in its charter of 2017, which argued for the “full and complete liberation of Palestine”: the consequence of this could only be killing Jews or driving them off the land.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Opportunists and Patriots

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the concepts of loyalty and legitimacy emerged fitfully and confusingly. Under the monarchy, these concepts had been straightforward: All subjects were united by their loyalty to the sovereign, whose will was their command. But in founding a republic on principles at once lofty and vague, the Founders created a problem that vexes us still. If a nation is defined by its commitment to shared ideals, who draws the line between a difference of opinion and a difference of principle? Where does loyal opposition end and treason begin? What distinguishes the transgressions of a demagogue from the enraged voice of the people?

Today we rely on nearly 250 years of shared history and tradition to navigate the vague boundaries suggested by these unanswerable questions—and yet we can hardly keep from leaping at one another’s throats. The Founders built an arena of partisan politics without grasping the full fury of the beast they had unleashed within it.

Founding Partisans” by H.W. Brands and “A Republic of Scoundrels,” a collection of essays edited by David Head and Timothy Hemmis, are as different as two books on the founding can be. But each captures the moral confusion of the era, when the rules of democratic politics were still unwritten and everything seemed up for grabs.

Mr. Brands, a prolific historian and a professor at the University of Texas, provides a brisk account of the controversies that first divided the heroes of the Revolution. He begins with the Federalists’ effort to replace the Articles of Confederation with a stronger national government and concludes with the Jeffersonian Republicans’ repudiation of the Federalists in the election of 1800, the first transfer of power in U.S. history.

Though the Federalists organized themselves into a national political party, they didn’t understand themselves as one. Political parties, or “factions,” to use the Founders’ term, were understood as regrettable evils. They existed to serve narrow or sinister interests. An organized political party was thus, by definition, “opposed to the general welfare,” Mr. Brands writes.

The Founders hoped that the Constitution would suppress the influence of factions, but they assumed that virtuous leaders (namely, themselves) would naturally agree with one another. The discovery that so many leading figures disagreed on important matters came as a shock. Each side in this deepening divide began to see their opponents as a menace to the republic.

The failure to anticipate the pull of partisanship was nowhere more evident than in the Constitution’s provisions for electing the president: Each appointed elector, chosen by the states in a manner determined by their legislatures, would vote for two people, at least one of whom could not inhabit the elector’s own state. The thinking was that electors would name a local favorite on the first ballot and, on the second, the worthiest citizen throughout the land. The runner-up would be vice president.

This process, reflecting a hope that Americans would ultimately choose a leader independent of faction, was incompatible with an election in which a candidate would be supported by a party against his rivals. Sure enough, in 1800 the Democratic-Republicans voted in lockstep for Thomas Jefferson as their president and Aaron Burr as vice president. But no one thought to ensure that Burr received at least one less electoral vote. The result was a tie, allowing the defeated Federalists in the House to decide who would be president. Burr slyly advertised that he was willing to make a deal with his adversaries.

The crisis passed, thanks to Alexander Hamilton’s intervention. In this sense, the outcome seemed to vindicate the Founders’ hope that virtuous leaders would combine against conniving partisans. But it was a close-run thing.

Mr. Brands follows countless other historians in providing a blow-by-blow account of the nation’s first experience with partisan combat, though not a single historian is cited in the text or notes. He relies instead on the Founders’ own words to capture the controversies in which they participated. This choice gives his narrative an immediacy that heavy-handed analysis often diminishes. Indeed, “Founding Partisans” reads less like a work of history than a journalist’s insider account of high politics, except here the intemperate, backbiting quotations come from sources who are safely dead rather than anonymous.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

New York City

Chapter 1.
He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion…no, make that: he – he romanticized it all out of proportion. Yeah. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.’

Uh, no let me start this over.

Chapter 1.
He was too romantic about Manhattan, as he was about everything else. He thrived on the hustle bustle of the crowds and the traffic. To him, New York meant beautiful women and street-smart guys who seemed to know all the angles…’.

Ah, corny, too corny for my taste. Can we … can we try and make it more profound?

Chapter 1.
He adored New York City. For him, it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. The same lack of individual integrity that caused so many people to take the easy way out was rapidly turning the town of his dreams in…’

No, that’s going to be too preachy. I mean, you know, let’s face it, I want to sell some books here.

Chapter 1.
He adored New York City, although to him it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. How hard it was to exist in a society desensitized by drugs, loud music, television, crime, garbage…’

Too angry, I don’t want to be angry.

Chapter 1.
He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat.’

I love this.

‘New York was his town, and it always would be.”

Woody Allen

So, how are the various social media platforms doing?

From Chuck Wendig:

So, how are the various social media platforms doing? Are they worth your time as a person, as a writer, as seven possums in a trenchcoat? Given that community and audience are both found and earned through these social networks, I figure it’s worth taking a gander at them again as I’ve done a number of times over the last year — in part because the social media landscape has broken into a number of little islands thanks to various tectonic shifts beneath the internet crust and we’re all just trying to find a place to rest our digital heads at night. Also in part because, as a writer, I need to find not just a place to HAWK MY WORDY WARES, which is of dubious value, but rather a place where I can meet writers and readers and agents and publishing folks and bookstore people and in general contribute to a larger, greater, cooler bookish ecosystem.

That said, as always, this is all purely my perspective. It is zero percent useful wisdom and one hundred percent just some bullshit that passed through my head like a cloud of stupid. I am not to be listened to. I’m just some jackass with a blog. Proceed with that situational awareness.


So, to jump to the start, I’m on Threads now.

It’s fine!

That’s more or less my capsule review. It’s fine! It’s fine. It’s fine.

Some general thoughts about it:

a) It’s obviously tied to Instagram and Facebook and therefore is tied to Zuckerberg which is bad and not good. No, it’s not awesome having to pick your social media platform based on which billionaire sociopath upsets you the least? But it is what it is, I guess. Our choices in life do not always amount to great ones, woefully.

b) If you want the place where the celebrities, the brands, the media outlets, are all going, it’s probably there. It’s got a big crowd — a lot of transfers over from Instagram, I guess? Despite the big crowd I don’t think it feels that peppy as yet. I can’t actually tell how many people I’m following (?) but it seems like a good group. That said, I do see a lot more general activity happening on Bluesky. Still, Threads is not precisely quiet, either, and even in the week since I’ve joined it looks to have picked up a bit.

c) There is a “who you follow” feed, which appears to present the posts of your followed accounts in the order they are posted. But it defaults to an algorithmic FYP feed, which shows a random disgorgement of… I mean, I assume it’s whatever the Insane Robot That Governs The Place wants you to see. It definitely seems to prioritize verified accounts over non-verified.

d) There does seem to be a pretty good bookish crowd of writers and readers.

e) The vibe there is… I dunno, is it wrong if I say, Ruby Tuesdays? Applebees? Like, if Twitter is currently your local Nazi Bar, and Bluesky is your local Eclectic Diner, this definitely feels like a popular-but-functional chain restaurant. People are having a nice enough time and it feels pretty reliable. It’s the “Hey, let’s go to Chili’s” variant of social media. Sometimes, you want that, and that’s okay, no shame.

f) The one thing I like about it in theory but not in practice is the granularity of how you can see your engagement — there’s All, Follows, Replies, Mentions, Quotes, Reposts, Verified, Dunks, Trolls, Posts By People Who Don’t Know What They’re Talking About But Probably Mean Well, Devil’s Advocates, Robots, Dog Photos, Replies From Stalkers, and People Who Still Think NFTs Are Cool. Or something like that. Point is, it’s definitely more granular but… I also don’t feel like each tab works great, and I’m really not seeing a lot of actually existing replies, and the overall GUI of those pages feels noisy and hard for me to parse, for some reason. That might just be me, though.

So, it’s fine! I don’t hate it. I don’t yet love it. It exists and I’m using it and have found some value there and in part that value is finding friends who are using it, too. Which is nice. I wasn’t going to join it but… real talk, writing is a lonely gig and sometimes you want to feel like there’s a room you can go into and hear some voices. Further, publishing is in a place where it’s still not sure exactly how to navigate the shattered social media landscape, and as much as I hate to say it, that means it’s (yet again) on writers to actually carve out their spaces and — well, we’re all just trying to either not die in the abyss or, at the very least, find other people dying in the abyss with us so we can commiserate with one another as we sink softly into the pudding of oblivion.

(Also, The Pudding of Oblivion is my next next novel, out in 2026.)

At the very least, Threads is not Twitter.

. . . .


I continue to not be on there or literally see anything that happens there and I’m probably better for it, and you’re probably better not seeing me there, and I think that’s a good decision we’re all making. I do understand that BookTok is currently *checks notes* kind of in control of publishing, whether it realizes it or not, and as such, I guess I should probably be there and be paying attention? At the same time, I can’t control it, and I suspect it would just cause my brain to swell up like an overfed tick and then it would pop and there’d be anxious brain goo everywhere. So, again, I remain here. Without the Tiks or the Toks to keep me warm at night.

. . . .


If you need to know what your racist aunt or that guy from high school is up to, Facebook is your jam. I dunno. It seems to throttle links now and ennh. I use it as a walled garden to keep up with family and friends, that’s it.

Link to the rest at Chuck Wendig

Publishers Launch Weeklong #ReadPalestine Campaign

From Publishers Weekly:

Publishers for Palestine, a coalition of more than 350 publishers from around the world, has organized a weeklong campaign called #ReadPalestine, held November 29–December 5, during which participating publishers are offering free ebooks by Palestinian authors and about Palestinian history and culture.

More than 30 ebooks are free to download throughout #ReadPalestine week, timed to coincide with the U.N.’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The titles include fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and are available in eight languages. Among the titles on offer are Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear by poet Mosab Abu Toha (City Lights Books), Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer by journalist Phyllis Bennis (Interlink Books), and Hamas: From Resistance to Regime by historian Paola Caridi and translated by Andrea Teti (Seven Stories Press).

. . . .

The campaign encourages indie bookstores and libraries to participate in #ReadPalestine week through book displays and social media posts, and for readers to share their favorite books by Palestinian authors and about Palestine with the hashtag #ReadPalestine.

Publishers for Palestine was established earlier this month, publishing a statement of solidarity on November 3. The letter called for “an end to all violence against Palestinian people” and invited “publishers, and those who work in publishing industries around the world who stand for justice, freedom of expression, and the power of the written word, to sign this letter and join our global solidarity collective.”

. . . .

“Publishing, for us, is the exercise of freedom, cultural expression, and resistance,” the letter continued. “As publishers we are dedicated to creating spaces for creative and critical Palestinian voices and for all who stand in solidarity against imperialism, Zionism, and settler-colonialism. We defend our right to publish, edit, distribute, share, and debate works that call for Palestinian liberation without recrimination. We know that this is our role in the resistance.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has no patience for any form of anti-semitism. From the date of Israel’s founding, when it was attacked by seven neighboring Arab nations, to today, when the worst sort of anti-Semitism is generated constantly by much of the Arab world, none of Israel’s neighbors regards a period of peace as anything more than a pause to replace their dead soldiers and rearm for the next attack.

The anti-Semitism of today is a direct descendant of the Nazi death camps and gas chambers.

For PG, Exhibit A of the steepening decline in values in America’s higher education system is the rise in the number of students and professors who are joining in the anti-Semitic campaign of hate for Jews.

With regard to the OP, a great many talented Jewish executives, editors, and authors were deeply involved in the growth and development of New York publishing during the 20th Century. The “publishers” supporting the “global solidarity collective” that is encouraging the Arab slaughtering of Israelis in their beds and the dismembering of Israeli children is proof that they have lost any sense of decency and are beneath contempt.

That the publishers participating in this disgusting campaign while claiming the “right” to be free of recrimination upsets PG even more. As the publishers might say, “Words have consequences.”

You Can’t Unsubscribe From Grief

From Electric Lit:

Replying All on the Death Announcement Email

On New Year’s Day, I got an email from an old writer friend announcing plans to end her life. Her life was already ending. This expedited ending-of-life had been approved by a medical professional. She was electing to die with dignity. Her death was scheduled for the following day. Like a hair appointment or a visit to the dentist.

It wasn’t an email directly to me. I subscribe to her newsletter.

Farewell, the subject line read. That was her voice. Grand and direct. There was no beating around the bush. Happy New Year! the email began and then: I’m planning to end my life.

After I closed the email, I tried to stop thinking about her, but that night, on the eve of when I knew she was going to die, I couldn’t sleep. I googled her name, read every article that appeared on my screen. Read all the hits that weren’t actually about her. The ones with her name crossed out that the algorithm insisted were relevant. Maybe it knew something I didn’t.

I read about all the diseases I was probably suffering from that had nothing to do with her (or the disease that was killing her), I read about all the new diet trends that would shed my hips of love handles (I hadn’t seen her since she got sick, but in her last photo she was rail thin), I read about a minor celebrity cheating on another minor celebrity and then them reconciling and then them breaking up and then them getting back together again (she loved the thrill of gossip)—I read everything in the hopes of catching a glimpse of my soon-to-be dead old writer friend.

A week later, I got an email from a literary magazine announcing the death of its co-founder. I did not know its co-founder. I just subscribed to the newsletter.

I read the announcement from the literary magazine as if it were the announcement of the death of my old writer friend because after she died, I didn’t receive such an email. Because she was not here to write one. Or to send one. Though she could’ve scheduled one. Which is a thought I’ve had more than once since her death. Why didn’t she do that? That would’ve felt so like her. Not so fast, it might’ve read. I’m still here.

After the newsletter announcing the death of the literary magazine co-founder, my inbox was flooded.

I am so sorry to hear this. May you and yours find comfort. Keep him close to your heart.

I didn’t email anyone when my old writer friend died because it felt like I didn’t know her well enough. We met at a writing residency in Wyoming in 2016. We watched the presidential election together: I baked cookies, she bought liquor. We only inhabited the same space for a handful of weeks. So, how can I justify the vacuum suck of losing her?

The day after the election, we sat at a kitchen table and talked about our bodies. About who they belonged to. About culpability. I remember us disagreeing. The strangeness of feeling so connected to each other and then realizing, suddenly, that we may not actually know each other.  

I cannot keep the literary magazine co-founder close to my heart because I did not know him at all.

Life is eternal! Your memories are the tap that keeps him living!

I think my old writer friend would’ve liked the idea of tapping a memory, like a keg or a maple tree.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

If Books Could Kill

From Wikipedia:

If Books Could Kill is a podcast hosted by Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri about popular nonfiction books about ideas in American culture and politics. It is based around criticising bestselling nonfiction books of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Books featured on the podcast include Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama.

. . . .

If Books Could Kill is hosted by Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri. Hobbes is a journalist known for hosting You’re Wrong About with Sarah Marshall (until 2021) and Maintenance Phase with Aubrey Gordon. Shamshiri was previously known for his hosting the podcast 5-4, along with Rhiannon Hamam and Michael Liroff.

The show targets “airport books”, popular nonfiction books often marketed as pop science or smart thinking that might be found in airport bookshops, which Hobbes describes as “the superspreader events of American stupidity”. Each episode is dedicated to the discussion of a single book, along with the book’s wider cultural influence. The hosts focus on flawed arguments, poor uses of data, factual errors, and the drawing of unsound conclusions or overgeneralizations. They often take a comic tone and will poke fun at the books and their authors.

. . . .


No.Book featuredBook authorRelease date
1FreakonomicsSteven D. Levitt and Stephen J. DubnerNovember 2, 2022
2OutliersMalcolm GladwellNovember 10, 2022
3Bobos in ParadiseDavid BrooksNovember 17, 2022
4The GameNeil StraussDecember 1, 2022
5The Population BombPaul R. Ehrlich and Anne Howland EhrlichDecember 15, 2022
6The SecretRhonda ByrneJanuary 12, 2023
7Men Are From Mars, Women Are From VenusJohn GrayJanuary 26, 2023
8The End of History and the Last ManFrancis FukuyamaFebruary 9, 2023
9The Clash of CivilizationsSamuel P. HuntingtonFebruary 28, 2023
10The Coddling of the American MindGreg Lukianoff and Jonathan HaidtMarch 9, 2023
11Hillbilly ElegyJ. D. VanceMarch 23, 2023
12Rich Dad Poor DadRobert KiyosakiApril 6, 2023
13The 5 Love LanguagesGary ChapmanApril 20, 2023
14NudgeRichard H. Thaler and Cass R. SunsteinMay 4, 2023
15May 19, 2023
16The World Is FlatThomas FriedmanJune 1, 2023
17Atomic HabitsJames ClearJune 15, 2023
18The RulesEllen Fein and Sherrie SchneiderJune 29, 2023
19Liberal FascismJonah GoldbergJuly 27, 2023
20God and Man at YaleWilliam F. BuckleySeptember 7, 2023
21The 4-Hour WorkweekTim FerrissSeptember 21, 2023
22San FransickoMichael ShellenbergerOctober 19, 2023
23The 48 Laws of PowerRobert GreeneNovember 2, 2023

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

Webtoons and Webcomics Keep Scrolling into Print

From Publishers Weekly:

Forget swiping right. Online comics are racking up readers, and the test of success is how far readers will scroll on down.

As demand for graphic novels remains strong, especially in middle grade and YA categories, publishers are turning to popular digital platforms to scout for turn-key titles.

Much of the webcomics buzz is driven by the success of South Korean–based global comics platform Webtoon, which bills itself as the world’s largest webcomics community. Launched in 2005, Webtoon has dominated the scene to such a degree that it’s become common to refer to all comics presented in the platform’s smartphone-friendly vertical-scrolling format as webtoons.

In 2022, Webtoon launched Webtoon Unscrolled, a U.S.-based imprint designed to bring many of the site’s most popular English-language series into print for the North American market. The trio of launch titles (True BeautyTower of God, and Cursed Princess Club) together sold-in more than 200,000 copies in the imprint’s first six months, according to the publisher.

Unscrolled plans to publish 20 ongoing series by the end of 2024, including Lumine by Emma Krogell, a fantasy about the adventures of a runaway werewolf and a witch boy, and the Eisner-Award nominated Third Shift Society by Meredith Moriarty, in which a psychically gifted but broke young woman finds work as a paranormal detective.

“As someone who did superhero comics for 35 years of my career, it’s wonderful to be on the creator-owned side,” says Bobbie Chase, executive editor of Webtoon Unscrolled, referring to the fact that the Webtoon platform allows the writers and cartoonists behind series to retain their intellectual property. The phenomenon of webtoons has, she adds, driven new voices to publish with “first-time creators producing smash hits out of the gate.”

Webtoon’s readership skews young and female. Almost half of the site’s creators are women, and many of the top series are by female or nonbinary creators. Chase notes that while romance comics rose to the top in the early years of the original Korean platform, the English-language version of Webtoon boasts a broader mix of genres, including fantasy, science fiction, and horror. (For more on the enduring popularity of romance comics, see “Readers Swoon for Webtoons,”).

Because Webtoon comics are creator owned, authors and artists are free to sign with other publishers, as well. Rachel Smythe’s mythological fantasy romance Lore Olympus, one of the biggest English-language properties on Webtoon, was first published by Del Rey at Penguin Random House. PRH recently made the bestselling series the flagship title of its new Inklore imprint.

Though Inklore isn’t exclusively focused on webcomics, it plans to publish several web-to-print titles, including series from South Korea and Japan, such as My Love Story with Yamada-kun at Lv999 by Mashiro (Apr. 2024) and Cherry Blossoms After Winter by Bamwoo (Nov. 2024).

Doing it for the fans

Inklore editorial director Rebecca “Tay” Taylor describes the imprint’s audience as in the 18–35 age range and largely female, and often seeking LGBTQ content. “They’re reading romantasy, they’re reading BL [boys’ love], they’re reading horror,” she says. “Basically, anyone who’s reading or writing fan fiction on AO3 [the fanfiction megasite Archive of Our Own]—that’s our audience.”

Taylor observes that these readers “haven’t been catered to by traditional publishing… so they’ve created the content they wanted to see in webcomics, fan fiction, and fan art. And they are legion.”

Online comics are “one of the fastest-growing categories out there,” according to Michael Petranek, editorial director at Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. Graphix’s web-to-print titles include the Prism Award–winning Magical Boy by The Kao (out now), about a trans boy who fights evil Sailor Moon–style, and Rainbow! by Angel and Sunny Gloom (Mar. 2024), in which a neurodivergent teenager tries to find love. Both first ran on Tapas, one of Webtoon’s biggest rivals.

Emilia Rhodes, HarperCollins Children’s Books editorial director, says the decision to publish UnOrdinary by uru-chan, a superhero series from Webtoon, arose from “organic enthusiasm” she picked up from colleagues. (Volume two will be released in July 2024 from HarperAlley.) “A bunch of younger editors at the office were obsessing,” she adds, “and they totally turned me on to it.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

What Sleeping With Jane Eyre Taught Me About Pacing

From Jane Friedman:

I’ve been sleeping with Jane Eyre, lately—courtesy of The Sleepy Bookshelf, a podcast designed to help me snooze.

Except it’s been keeping me awake.

I’ve loved this classic since childhood, every reread captivating me as if for the first time.

But it soon became clear that I was sharing my bed not so much with Jane, as with Charlotte Brontë herself. Listening to the novel has been showing me things I had missed on the page—the first-person narrative drawing me in so close I could almost believe it was memoir—and night after night I’ve been reveling in a writing-craft class led by the venerated author.

One such class addresses a storytelling weakness that shows up a lot in my writing and editing practice: high-tension scenes that rush to their finish with the speed of a bullet train.

Brontë’s talent for keeping readers on tenterhooks reminds me of Matthew Dicks and his hourglass technique, which he shares in Storyworthy (entire book, so good!).

Going too fast is one of the biggest mistakes storytellers make, Dicks says. When you arrive at the moment readers have been waiting for, “It’s time to slow things down. Grind them to a halt when possible.”

Consider the properties of an hourglass: the upper chamber containing story still to be told. No grain of sand before its time. All flowing inexorably to the same destination.

In one of my favorite scenes (spoilers ahead), Jane Eyre returns to Thornfield Hall after a year of yearning, desperate to clap eyes on her great love, Mr. Rochester, whom she fled upon learning at the altar that he was already married.

As she approaches the Hall, I itch to press fast-forward. Would he be there? Would they helplessly reunite, or would her moral restraint prevail? Had I been turning pages, I’d be reading very fast indeed—which is what readers do when narrative tension flames through the roof. How else to defend against an author’s merciless manipulation?

But because I was forced to listen and wait, I caught Brontë in the act of tipping the hourglass—again and again.

She sends Jane on four separate journeys to find Mr. Rochester, starting with a 36-hour coach ride from her home to Rochester Inn—ample time for reader anxiety to flare. Rather than simply asking the innkeeper for news of her lost love, Jane prolongs hope by walking the remaining two miles to the Hall.

It is a walk designed to drive the reader to the edge of endurance.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

The Queen of Romance in AI

PG promises this is the last of today’s AI writing posts.

Prompt: Provide a fictional plot outline in Danielle Steel’s style and themes.


Title: “Shadows of Yesterday”

Plot Outline:

  1. Setting and Introduction:
    • The story unfolds in modern-day New York City.
    • Introduce the protagonist, Isabella, a young, ambitious, and successful magazine editor facing personal and professional challenges.
  2. Isabella’s Background:
    • Isabella comes from a wealthy, but emotionally distant family.
    • Flashbacks reveal her struggles with her demanding and critical mother, shaping her relentless drive for perfection.
  3. Career Challenges:
    • Isabella is up for a major promotion, but faces stiff competition and workplace politics.
    • Her professional life is a whirlwind of high-profile events, glamorous parties, and celebrity interviews, masking her inner turmoil.
  4. Romantic Entanglements:
    • Isabella’s love life is complicated, caught between a comfortable but unexciting relationship with a longtime friend and a passionate, unpredictable affair with a charismatic entrepreneur.
  5. Family Crisis:
    • A sudden family tragedy forces Isabella to reevaluate her life choices.
    • She returns home to confront unresolved issues with her family, particularly her mother.
  6. Self-Discovery and Growth:
    • Through these trials, Isabella embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
    • She begins to understand the importance of balance in life and starts to question her relentless pursuit of success.
  7. New Love Interest:
    • Amidst her personal growth, Isabella meets a new love interest – someone who challenges her perspectives and offers a more authentic and supportive relationship.
  8. Climactic Decision:
    • Faced with a pivotal career decision, Isabella must choose between her lifelong ambition and a chance at genuine happiness.
    • This decision is complicated by a surprise revelation related to her family’s past.
  9. Resolution:
    • Isabella makes a bold decision that prioritizes her personal happiness and true self over societal expectations.
    • The story concludes with her embarking on a new path, finding a balance between her career ambitions and personal life.
  10. Themes:
    • The narrative weaves through themes of self-discovery, the complexity of family dynamics, the pursuit of success, and the search for love and personal fulfillment.
    • It highlights the often difficult choices women face in balancing career, family, and romance.

This fictional outline is inspired by Danielle Steel’s style, known for her emotionally rich stories that explore family, relationships, and personal growth set against the backdrop of contemporary life. The plot combines elements of romance, drama, and self-discovery, typical of Steel’s bestselling novels

End of ChatGPT4

Since PG is not an expert on the works of Ms. Steel, he’ll leave comments on the accuracy of the plot outline to those who are.

For PG, this series of “Provide a fictional plot outline in (well-known author’s) style and themes” AI experiments is the first indication that AI might be a potentially-useful tool for authors.

It strikes him that AI might be helpful for beginning authors writing in various genres. PG checked the Romance Writers of America website and this is part of what he found:

The Basics

Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there’s a romance novel waiting for you!


Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. 

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as they want as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. 

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction. 

The same types of expected elements can be found in all the genre fiction that floats into PG’s mind – fantasy, sci-fi, YA, horror, mysteries, etc. His is impression from his personal AI experiments is that one of the things AI can do is generate some interesting ideas for rules-based subjects.

Hemingway Revived

After his AI experience with Zadie Smith, PG decided to try something similar with a dead author.

Prompt: Provide a fictional plot outline in Ernest Hemingway’s style and themes.

ChatGPT4 Response:

Title: “The Unyielding Current”

Plot Outline:

  1. Setting and Introduction:

    • The story is set in the mid-20th century, primarily in a small fishing village on the coast of Cuba.
    • Introduce the protagonist, Santiago, an aging and experienced fisherman, stoic and introspective.
  2. Santiago’s Struggle:

    • Santiago has been experiencing a prolonged streak of bad luck, having not caught a significant fish for weeks.
    • This struggle is a point of gossip among the villagers, though Santiago remains determined and uncomplaining.
  3. Man vs. Nature:

    • Santiago embarks on a fishing trip alone, determined to break his unlucky streak.
    • He ventures farther out to sea than usual, showcasing his knowledge and respect for the ocean.
  4. The Great Marlin:

    • Santiago hooks a massive marlin, beginning a multi-day struggle between man and nature.
    • This battle is not just physical but also a mental and existential one, reflecting Santiago’s deep contemplation of life and his place in the world.
  5. Santiago’s Reflections:

    • As the struggle with the marlin continues, Santiago reflects on his past, his triumphs and losses, and the nature of existence.
    • Themes of solitude, heroism, and the relentless passage of time are explored.
  6. The Turning Point:

    • After an arduous battle, Santiago finally reels in the marlin, a symbol of his personal victory against the odds.
    • However, his triumph is short-lived as sharks are attracted to the marlin’s blood.
  7. The Final Battle:

    • Santiago fights the sharks with all his might, but they devour the marlin, leaving only its skeleton.
    • This battle symbolizes the inevitable nature of loss and defeat, regardless of one’s strength or will.
  8. Return and Resolution:

    • Santiago returns to the village, exhausted and defeated, yet there’s a subtle sense of triumph in his resilience.
    • The villagers, who once doubted him, now look upon him with a newfound respect.
  9. Themes:

    • The story embodies Hemingway’s distinctive themes: the dignity found in human struggle, the relationship between man and nature, and the inevitability of death.
    • It also reflects Hemingway’s style of straightforward prose and his iceberg theory of omission.

This fictional outline is inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s narrative style and thematic focus, reminiscent of his celebrated work “The Old Man and the Sea”. It incorporates his characteristic exploration of themes such as strength, resilience, and the unyielding challenge of nature, all presented in a simple, yet profound narrative style.

End of ChatGPT4 Response

Provide a fictional plot outline in Zadie Smith’s style and themes

PG asked ChatGPT4 to create a detailed plot outline for The Fraud by Zadie Smith, a book that is a current NY Times bestseller.

The AI responded as follows:

As of my last update in April 2023, “The Fraud” by Zadie Smith is not a recognized title among her works. It’s possible that it’s a new release after my last training data, or it might be a lesser-known or misremembered title.

However, if you’re interested in a fictional plot outline inspired by Zadie Smith’s style and themes, I can certainly create one for you. Smith’s works often explore themes of identity, race, class, and the complexities of contemporary life, often set against the backdrop of multicultural London. Please let me know if you’d like me to proceed with this approach, or if there are specific elements you’d like included in this fictional plot outline!

PG took the AI’s advice and posted the following prompt:

Provide a fictional plot outline in Zadie Smith’s style and themes.

Here’s the response he received from ChatGPT4:

Title: “The Tapestry of Us”

Plot Outline:

  1. Setting and Introduction:
    • London, in the vibrant and diverse neighborhood of Willesden.
    • Introduce the central character, Aisha, a young mixed-race woman grappling with her identity.
  2. Aisha’s Background:
    • Aisha’s parents: her mother is a Jamaican immigrant and her father a British academic.
    • Flashbacks to her childhood show a constant struggle between her Jamaican heritage and British upbringing.
  3. The Inciting Incident:
    • Aisha receives a mysterious letter from an unknown relative in Jamaica, sparking curiosity about her roots.
  4. Exploring Identity:
    • Aisha’s journey delves into themes of racial identity, class, and belonging.
    • She navigates the complexities of being biracial in modern London.
  5. Contrasting Perspectives:
    • Introduce a cast of diverse characters, each offering different views on identity and culture.
    • Include a love interest, perhaps someone who challenges Aisha’s perceptions.
  6. Journey to Jamaica:
    • Aisha decides to visit Jamaica to explore her heritage.
    • The trip is eye-opening; she experiences a culture both familiar and alien.
  7. Revelations:
    • In Jamaica, Aisha uncovers family secrets and histories that reshape her understanding of her identity.
  8. Return to London:
    • Aisha returns with a new sense of self.
    • Her experiences in Jamaica influence her life in London, from relationships to career choices.
  9. Resolution:
    • Aisha embraces a multifaceted identity, understanding that she can be both Jamaican and British.
    • The story concludes with Aisha starting a community project that celebrates multicultural identities.
  10. Themes:
    • The narrative weaves through themes of race, class, the immigrant experience, and the search for personal identity.
    • It explores the idea that identity is not fixed but a tapestry of experiences and cultures.

This fictional outline borrows from Zadie Smith’s style in exploring deep societal issues through personal narratives, set against the backdrop of a multicultural London, much like her acclaimed works such as “White Teeth” and “Swing Time”.

End of ChatGPT4

Since PG has not read any of Ms. Smith’s books, he’ll leave an assessment of the outline to any who have.

The Greatest Novels of the 20th Century


List the 15 greatest English-language novels published in the 20th century, and what each novel was criticized for at the time of its publication and how the initial criticism is regarded today.


Compiling a list of the “greatest” English-language novels of the 20th century is subjective, but here’s a selection based on their impact, popularity, and critical acclaim. I’ll also touch on their initial criticisms and how these are viewed today:

  1. “Ulysses” by James Joyce (1922):
    • Criticism Then: Deemed obscene and unreadably complex.
    • View Now: Its complexity is seen as groundbreaking, influencing modern narrative techniques.
  2. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (1960):
    • Criticism Then: Simplistic and sentimental portrayal of racial issues.
    • View Now: Celebrated for its moral clarity and character depth, though some critique remains on its racial perspectives.
  3. “1984” by George Orwell (1949):
    • Criticism Then: Seen as overly pessimistic and anti-socialist.
    • View Now: Highly regarded as a prescient and profound exploration of totalitarianism and surveillance.
  4. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925):
    • Criticism Then: Viewed as a trivial chronicle of the Jazz Age.
    • View Now: Acclaimed for its exploration of the American Dream’s corruption and its stylistic brilliance.
  5. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov (1955):
    • Criticism Then: Condemned for its subject matter involving pedophilia.
    • View Now: Recognized for its literary artistry while still provoking debate over its themes.
  6. “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller (1961):
    • Criticism Then: Initially considered confusing with its non-linear narrative.
    • View Now: Hailed as a brilliant satire of war and bureaucracy.
  7. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley (1932):
    • Criticism Then: Criticized for its pessimistic dystopia and perceived anti-family and anti-religion sentiments.
    • View Now: Viewed as an important cautionary tale about technological and social control.
  8. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger (1951):
    • Criticism Then: Considered controversial for its frank language and themes of teenage angst and rebellion.
    • View Now: Generally seen as an emblematic novel of teenage disaffection, though it remains divisive.
  9. “Beloved” by Toni Morrison (1987):
    • Criticism Then: Challenged for its complex narrative style and raw depiction of the horrors of slavery.
    • View Now: Widely acclaimed for its powerful storytelling and exploration of the African American experience.
  10. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez (1967):
    • Criticism Then: Some viewed its magical realism as overly fantastical.
    • View Now: Celebrated for its rich narrative and contribution to world literature.
  11. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell (1945):
    • Criticism Then: Seen as a blunt allegory and criticized for its dark view of socialism.
    • View Now: Regarded as a sharp critique of totalitarianism, not just of socialism but of political power dynamics in general.
  12. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding (1954):
    • Criticism Then: Initially criticized for its portrayal of children as savagely and morally corrupt.
    • View Now: Now seen as a profound exploration of human nature and societal structure.
  13. “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie (1981):
    • Criticism Then: Its blending of fantasy and history was initially disorienting for some readers.
    • View Now: Celebrated for its magical realism and deep insights into Indian culture and history.
  14. “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac (1957):
    • Criticism Then: Criticized for glorifying a hedonistic and aimless lifestyle.
    • View Now: Regarded as an iconic representation of the Beat generation, though some criticism remains.
  15. “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck (1939):
    • Criticism Then: Accused of socialist leanings and exaggerating the plight of migrant workers.
    • View Now: Seen as a powerful and empathetic portrayal of the struggles during the Great Depression.

Each of these novels was groundbreaking in its own way, challenging societal norms and literary conventions of their time. The initial criticisms often stemmed from contemporary sensibilities and political climates, whereas current views tend to appreciate their artistic and thematic contributions more fully.

End ChatGPT4

PG is familiar with some, but not all, of the books listed, so he’ll be interested to see how visitors to TPV react to the list.

He was interested in reactions to how the AI described the criticisms of each book when it was first published and will be interested in opinions about the AI’s assessment of “greatest books” which, of course, is a very hazy description. He’ll also be interested in opinions about the “judgement” of the AI regarding what books to include and what books to exclude from the list.

Here’s a list of the best-selling books of the 20th Century that PG found online site that said it was sourced from The Guardian’s bestseller list (not a lot of overlap with the Greatest list):

1 Lord of the Rings. Author: J. R. R. Tolkien. Published in 1954-1955. Earned about 150 million.

2 Le petit prince (The Little Prince). Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Published in 1943. Earned about 140 million.

3 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1997. Earned about 120 million.

4 The Hobbit. Author: J. R. R. Tolkien. Published in 1937. Earned about 100 million.

5 And then there were none. Author: Agatha Christie. Published in 1939. Earned about 100 million.

6 The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. Author: C. S. Lewis. Published in 1950. Earned about 85 million.

7 Vardi Wala Gunda. Autor: Ved Prakash Sharma. Published in 1992. Earned about 80 million.

8 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1998. Earned about 77 million.

9 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1999. Earned about 65 million.

10 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 2000. Earned about 65 million.

11 O Alquimista (The Alquimist). Author: Paulo Coelho. Published in 1988. Earned about 65 million.

12 The Catcher in the Rye. Author: J. D. Salinger. Published in 1951. Earned about 65 million.

13 Think and Go Rich. Author: Napoleon Hill. Published in 1937. Earned about 60 million.

14 The Bridges of Madison County. Author: Robert James Waller. Published in 1992. Earned about 60 million.

15 You can Heal your life. Author: Louise Hay. Published in 1984. Earned about 50 million.

16 Cien años de soledad. (Hundred years of solitude). Author: Gabriel García Márquez. Published in 1967. Earned about 50 million.

17 Lolita. Author: Vladimir Nabokov. Published in 1955. Earned about 50 million.

18 The Common Sense Book of Babe and Child Care. Author: Dr Benjamin Spock. Published in 1946. Earned about 50 million.

19 Anne of Green Gables. Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery. Published in 1908. Earned about 50 million.

20 Il Nome Della Rosa (The name of the Rose). Author: Umberto Eco. Published in 1980. Earned about 50 million.

Help Me Get Out of a Speeding Ticket


Prepare a written argument that I wasn’t driving recklessly when I was pulled over by a highway patrol car on the 405 freeway in Long Beach at 3:00 AM for driving 8 miles over the speed limit when the freeway was almost completely empty and the highway patrol officer ignored another car that had just passed me traveling at least 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.


When preparing a written argument to contest a traffic citation for allegedly driving recklessly on the 405 freeway in Long Beach, it’s crucial to focus on specific legal and factual points. Here is an outline to structure your argument:

  1. Introduction:
    • State the date, time, and location of the incident.
    • Briefly describe the circumstances leading to the traffic stop.
  2. Clarification of Charges:
    • Clearly state the specific violation you were cited for (e.g., driving 8 miles over the speed limit).
  3. Road Conditions and Context:
    • Emphasize that the freeway was nearly empty at the time of the incident.
    • Explain that the conditions allowed for a slightly higher speed without compromising safety.
  4. Comparison with Other Vehicles:
    • Mention that another vehicle passed you traveling significantly faster (approximately 20 miles over the speed limit).
    • Argue that this indicates your speed was not excessively high compared to the flow of traffic.
  5. Definition of Reckless Driving:
    • Cite the legal definition of reckless driving.
    • Argue that driving 8 miles over the speed limit, in this context, does not meet the criteria for reckless driving.
  6. Safety Record and Driving Behavior:
    • If applicable, mention your clean driving record or lack of prior traffic violations.
    • Emphasize your commitment to safe driving and respect for traffic laws.
  7. Request for Consideration:
    • Request leniency or dismissal based on the specific circumstances of the case.
    • If appropriate, express willingness to attend a defensive driving course as an alternative to penalties.
  8. Conclusion:
    • Summarize your key points.
    • State that you believe the evidence supports a finding that you were not driving recklessly.

Remember, the goal is to provide a clear, factual, and concise argument that challenges the notion of reckless driving under the specific conditions of your case. It’s also important to remain respectful and professional in your tone throughout the document.

End of ChatGPT4

PG doesn’t see much genius in the solution that ChatGPT generated. It won’t put many lawyers out of business with this type of performance.

A green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.

“If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” said Gatsby. “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”

Daisy put her arm through his abruptly but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

14 Do’s and Don’ts of Time Management for Writers (from a Recovering Over-Achiever)

From K.M. Weiland:

For many of us, writing is one of the most important things in our lives. And yet, it can be all too easy to let that “most important thing” end up at the bottom of our to-do list. If yet another day has passed in which you haven’t been able to write—or a day in which you did write but getting it done was a struggle—you’re not alone. Time management for writers is possibly one of the key skills of the lifestyle. This is true whether you write full-time or write around your full-time responsibilities.

I’ve always been a schedule hacker and someone who tries to make every minute count. I’ve also always been someone who constantly laments that there isn’t just one more hour in the day. Time management is something of an obsession for me, probably because it’s a game you never completely win. In years past, I’ve gone down the overachiever path of absolutely flying through my days and trying to cram in as much as possible. There are seasons in which that is effective or even unavoidable, but eventually it becomes unsustainable. I’ve also gone through seasons in which circumstances dictated I do as little as possible, but that too is unsustainable over the long term.

Inevitably, the sweet spot is found in balance. Each person’s balance is different, depending on personality, health, goals, obligations, and other factors. No matter what your lifestyle, the demands of the modern day keep us busy and distracted. This can be especially challenging for a creative who needs downtime to breathe and think and wander, as well as concentrated go-time in which to enforce discipline and actually get words on paper.

Recently, I received the following question from reader Joan Arc:

I enjoy reading your blog posts and I like the fact that you like suggestions from your fellow writers. But as I am engaged in school and trying to balance life whilst I study, I find it is becoming more difficult to devote the time to read them. I was wondering if in the near future, you could give some helpful hints about time management and how to balance a writing schedule that will stay even when life takes priority. This is a thing that I, along with many aspiring writers struggle with, and consequently, I lose inspiration for my book. Do you have any suggestions for this?

In today’s post, I’m going to review some of the do’s and don’ts of time management that I have found most supportive throughout my writing career. First, however, I will say a word about consistency in general. I’ve written before about the pros and cons of writing every day, ultimately landing on the view that it’s not important that you write “every” day. What is important is consistency—whatever that means to you—since consistency is what staves off that loss of inspiration Joan references.

8 Do’s of Time Management for Writers

The following eight “do’s” of time management for writers are all practical steps to take in aligning your daily schedule to your vision for your writing life. Note, that it’s important to start with your vision. Start by getting clear on your own goals, not just for writing but for other areas of your life as well. This will help you identify your ideal schedule, as well as what is achievable at the moment.

1. List Your To-Dos So You Can See Them All in One Place

If your day is anything like mine, then it is made up of a bazillion little to-dos. Many of them are so infinitesimal (emptying comment spam on the website) or ordinary (brushing my teeth) that I don’t always think of them as “to-dos.” And yet, they add up fast. When trying to get clear about how to streamline your schedule and create flow states throughout your day, take the time to analyze everything. Time management for writers isn’t just about writing. It isn’t even mostly about writing. It’s about optimizing the entire day so the writing time comes as easily as possible.

2. Create “Batches” of Related Tasks

Once you’ve created a list, group your tasks thematically. A personal motto that serves me well in some instances and not so well in others is “do whatever is in front of you.” Sometimes this is the single best method for moving forward through a large task or for creating momentum when you feel stuck. Other times, it just ends up scattering your focus all over the place. Instead of eating the elephant one bite at a time, you eat a little of the elephant and a little of the giraffe and a little of the hyena—and you end the day feeling you haven’t accomplished anything.

Batch your tasks, so you can focus on one thing at a time. For example, don’t check email throughout the day. Reserve a slot at an optimal time of the day when you can sort through and respond to all emails at once.

3. Multi-Task (With Care)

Multi-tasking is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can undeniably help you move through multiple projects at a quicker rate. On the other hand, the growing amount of research on the loss of productivity associated with multi-tasking is sobering. Even though all that busyness can make us feel super-productive, the actual metrics don’t always weigh out. Use caution and consciousness when adding multi-tasking to your schedule.

That said, there are times when multi-tasking takes everything to 2.0. For example, you might plan to listen to an audiobook or podcast whenever your hands are busy elsewhere (e.g., commuting, doing the dishes, or, for me, designing weekly social media graphics such as the Pinterest image at the top of my posts).

4. Schedule Downtime Relentlessly

When we think of time management for writers, what usually comes to mind are all the tasks we want to do. But particularly if you’re wanting or needing to cram a lot into your daily routines, one of the most important things you can schedule is downtime. Make downtime your priority. Except in situations in which you have no choice (e.g., your paycheck is on the line, your child has an emergency, etc.), the downtime on your schedule should be the last thing to take the hit. I’ve learned this the hard way. These days, I adamantly schedule “downtime” and self-care first thing in the morning. If I don’t do it first, I don’t do it, and because it is the most important part of my day, I prioritize it relentlessly.

5. Make a Commitment With Yourself

Making schedules is the easy part; sticking with them is where the road can get rough. There are two key pieces to sticking with a schedule. The first key is creating a schedule that works. This often requires trial and error, some degree of flexibility, and self-forgiveness.

The second key is discipline. Think of your schedule as a commitment to yourself. Not only are you committing to do all the tasks you’ve laid out for yourself, but when you show up to one of those tasks, you’re going to give it your full attention. This is true for every task on your list, but as a writer, it’s the writing time that should be particularly sacred.

It can be so easy to carve out an hour or two in your day for writing… and then spend half or more of that time twiddling it away. Now, sometimes twiddling is really just creative lollygagging or even dreamzoning, both of which are part of the creative process. But other times (and you know when those times are), the twiddling is just procrastination.

6. Schedule Writing Tasks and Writing-Related Tasks Separately

People often ask me if outlining, researching, and editing count as “writing time.” In my view, they do. However, when it comes to time management for writers, it can be valuable to schedule them separately. Depending on your preferences, the temptation to do a little of everything during “writing time” may end up being counter-productive. For example, if I’m trying to get myself into the headspace of flowing with a scene I want to write, I don’t want to interrupt that with the sudden urge to go research some tidbit. I try to schedule myself out of my distractions by penciling in a slot for researching or editing or whatever else at a different time from my writing.

7. Create a Quick Warm-Up Routine

After zooming through all the to-dos that fill the rest of your day, it can be tough to sit down at your desk and suddenly turn on your inspiration and creativity. And yet, you only have an hour, and you can’t afford to waste any of it!

One of the best tricks I’ve ever used for transitioning into my writing time is a personalized warm-up routine. At certain times in my life (when I’ve had more time), I’ve scheduled warm-ups as long as 30 minutes. These days, my warm-ups are usually quite short. I choose tasks that help ground me, pull me out of a mental space and into my deeper, body-oriented imagination—such as a quick grounding meditation, lighting a candle, breathing some essential oils, or taking a bite of chocolate or a sip of coffee. I may also read over what I wrote the day before or read a quick section from my research or character notes, to help pull myself back into the mindset of my story.

8. Write in Fifteen-Minute Spurts

There you are, sitting at your desk right on schedule, ready to write. And… the words just aren’t coming. The urge to twiddle is strong. You look at the clock and suddenly this precious hour seems like for…ev…er. Before you know it, fifteen minutes have passed and you’ve rewritten the same sentence a total of three times.

The brain hack I like to use is writing in fifteen-minute spurts. I tell myself I’m going to write 500 words (or whatever) in fifteen minutes. Writing 2,000 words in an hour seems overwhelming, but 500 in fifteen minutes? I can do that! Then… when the fifteen minutes is up, I take another drink of coffee or a bite of chocolate, and do it again.

Link to the rest at K.M. Weiland

For PG, reading advice about becoming more efficient with time is usually worth his time. That said, the time management strategies that are effective for one person are not necessarily the best way for another person to reach a high degree of efficiency.

Sometimes, the types of strategies included in the OP can be helpful for PG, but at other times, he needs to think deeply over an extended period of time to prepare himself to do something well. At other times, it’s more efficient for him to close his eyes and let his mind wander.

It’s not like his brain forgets what he needs to figure out, but relaxing and mentally wandering reduces the pressure PG has been putting on himself to get a mental task accomplished.

When the pressure is reduced by not focusing on a task to obsession, the less conscious and less logical parts of his brain present a solution that his logicbrain would never have considered.

There’s nothing particularly original or groundbreaking to what PG’s brain does and doesn’t do, but a conscious brain hack isn’t the best way for him to get mental tasks done. Sometimes the best recipe for success is no real recipe at all.

Generative AI generates tricky choices for managers

From The Economist:

The remarkable capabilities of generative artificial intelligence (ai) are clear the moment you try it. But remarkableness is also a problem for managers. Working out what to do with a new technology is harder when it can affect so many activities; when its adoption depends not just on the abilities of machines but also on pesky humans; and when it has some surprising flaws.

Study after study rams home the potential of large language models (llms), which power ais like Chatgpt, to improve all manner of things. llms can save time, by generating meeting summaries, analysing data or drafting press releases. They can sharpen up customer service. They cannot put up ikea bookshelves—but nor can humans.

ai can even boost innovation. Karan Girotra of Cornell University and his co-authors compared the idea-generating abilities of the latest version of Chatgpt with those of students at elite American universities. A lone human can come up with about five ideas in 15 minutes; arm the human with gpt-4 and the number goes up to 200. Crucially, the quality of these ideas is better, at least judged by purchase-intent surveys for new product ideas. Such possibilities can paralyse bosses; when you can do everything, it’s easy to do nothing.

llms’ ease of use also has pluses and minuses. On the plus side, more applications for generative ai can be found if more people are trying it. Familiarity with llms will make people better at using them. Reid Hoffman, a serial ai investor (and a guest on this week’s final episode of “Boss Class”, our management podcast), has a simple bit of advice: start playing with it. If you asked Chatgpt to write a haiku a year ago and have not touched it since, you have more to do.

Familiarity may also counter the human instinct to be wary of automation. A paper by Siliang Tong of Nanyang Technological University and his co-authors that was published in 2021, before generative ai was all the rage, captured this suspicion neatly. It showed that ai-generated feedback improved employee performance more than feedback from human managers. However, disclosing that the feedback came from a machine had the opposite effect: it undermined trust, stoked fears of job insecurity and hurt performance. Exposure to llms could soothe concerns.

Or not. Complicating things are flaws in the technology. The Cambridge Dictionary has named “hallucinate” as its word of the year, in tribute to the tendency of llms to spew out false information. The models are evolving rapidly and ought to get better on this score, at least. But some problems are baked in, according to a new paper by R. Thomas McCoy and his co-authors at Princeton University.

Because off-the-shelf models are trained on internet data to predict the next word in an answer on a probabilistic basis, they can be tripped up by surprising things. Get gpt-4, the llm behind Chatgpt, to multiply a number by 9/5 and add 32, and it does well; ask it to multiply the same number by 7/5 and add 31, and it does considerably less well. The difference is explained by the fact that the first calculation is how you convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, and therefore common on the internet; the second is rare and so does not feature much in the training data. Such pitfalls will exist in proprietary models, too.

On top of all this is a practical problem: it is hard for firms to keep track of employees’ use of ai. Confidential data might be uploaded and potentially leak out in a subsequent conversation. Earlier this year Samsung, an electronics giant, clamped down on usage of Chatgpt by employees after engineers reportedly shared source code with the chatbot.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG says companies need to make their own rules for the use of technologies, but if they restrict what their employees can do, there’s a serious possibility that a competitor could take a giant step forward using AI for their business and label what they discovered as confidential.

Under the relatively standard confidentiality agreements used by tech firms and lots of other businesses small and large, the first mover could be confidentially doing something very beneficial for its competitive position vis a vis a competitor with a lock-down AI policy. Absent the combination of business expertise combined with a high degree of learned AI expertise, a competitor would be mystified about how the innovative company was providing its customers valuable new information services that would be difficult or impossible to deliver without the sophisticated AI piece of the solution.

PG had a similar experience with his law office when personal computers were new technology and not widely used by lawyers. PG jumped into PC’s and had a first generation machine on his desk as soon as it was available and earlier than any other lawyer he knew.

During this early period, each new hardware release meant the PG would work much faster and could handle more complex software than the previous generation. He bought a new machine a few weeks after it was released and passed his previous computer to his secretary so she could work faster and better.

An older lawyer friend from another state asked had heard PG talk about how happy he was with the productivity increases he could achieve with sophisticated computer hardware and software. His friend asked if he could spend time in PG’s office just to watch while PG and his very intelligent office staff produced their work. After a few days, PG’s friend said he had never seen so many pages of legal documents created in such a short period of time during his many years of practice.

Judging by the amount of outgoing mail from PG’s office each day, his friend would have guessed there were five or six experienced attorneys in the office, each with one or two legal secretaries providing support.

Being a first-mover with the sophisticated use of computers and the creation of document assembly systems to handle common tasks, PG made a lot of money during that stage of his legal career.

PG was entirely self-taught with personal computers but was willing to put a lot of effort and experimentation into learning how to leverage this technology to make things happen much faster and more accurately than previously possible. It was a steep learning curve for any lawyer like PG with no meaningful technical education, and most attorneys opted to spend all their time doing work for which clients would pay right away.

If PG were still in active practice, he would be spending a lot of time learning how to leverage AI to make his legal work faster and better than it had been before AI.

Will you ever buy mostly e-books?

From Nathan Bransford:

I first launched this poll in 2007, when Amazon’s first Kindle had just been released and iPads didn’t even exist yet. Now we have gadgets and gizmos aplenty, though paper has held on strong. It’s been interesting through the years to get the pulse of e-book optimism and pessimism.

My usual caveats to pre-empt the comments:

  • Yes, I know this isn’t a scientific poll.
  • Yes, I am aware it’s even less scientific to compare very different audiences and sample sizes through time.
  • Yes, I know that you want more poll options because one of these doesn’t precisely capture all of the nuances of your e-book and print book tendencies. Choose the one that’s closest!

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Here is Nathan’s sole polling question:

Will you ever buy mostly ebooks?

Will you ever buy mostly ebooks? Do you already?

You can pry my paper books out of my cold dead hands

I welcome our coming e-book overlords

Maybe. If it’s affordable and the technology looks cool.

I still have no idea

Click on the link above if you wish to participate.

While PG is not a big fan of overlords, he thinks the e-book overlords are much better than the printed book overlords.

Dancing with the Devil

From The Wall Street Journal:

How can we reconcile ourselves to the fact that bad feelings—feelings like anger, envy, contempt, spite and Schadenfreude—play such a prominent role in our mental lives? According to Krista Thomason, a philosophy professor at Swarthmore, we would do well to regard them as beneficial more than bad. Such feelings, she says, should be seen as worms in the garden of our mind. Sure, they are “weird and ugly.” But—like worms enriching soil—they are integral to our self-enrichment and self-care. Ms. Thomason believes that by focusing on the unattractive qualities of bad feelings, as we tend to do, we lose sight of their value, and she wants to correct the record.

In what sense do anger, envy, Schadenfreude, spite and contempt contribute to self-care? They all, Ms. Thomason says, help us pick ourselves up when we have suffered some kind of knock, deprivation or opprobrium. If we get angry when someone disses us, for example, our anger is a way of activating—and putting our indignant selves in touch with—our self-respect. When we feel Schadenfreude, Ms. Thomason notes, it is generally directed toward those who act as if they’re above us: If they take a tumble, we get a boost. “When the cupcakes baked from scratch by the self-righteous super mom go uneaten at the neighborhood block party,” Ms. Thomason observes, we “can’t help but smirk,” and our sense of personal value goes up a notch.

When it comes to envy, Ms. Thomason says, we feel it principally toward those who possess something we want but who deserve it less than we do. Our envy, then, is a way of asserting a claim—there’s a balance that needs to be righted. As for contempt, we feel it toward those whom we deem less competent than ourselves and so—in a world where we are always sustaining blows to our self-esteem—it’s a way of reaffirming our stature and restoring our confidence.

And then there’s spite. We exhibit it, Ms. Thomason says, when we feel we are being told what to do—say, our spouse is nagging us to control our sugar intake and so, to spite her, we eat four bowls of ice cream. The core motivation, in such a case, is to regain our autonomy. “Spite is a way of asserting that my life is mine to live,” Ms. Thomason says, “and that I’m the one who gets to decide who I am.”

Anger contributes to self-respect, contempt to self-esteem, spite to self-mastery, Schadenfreude to self-worth and envy to self-assertion: All are modes of self-care, which for Ms. Thomason is a form of resilience, not a shallow self-help means of “feeling good about yourself.” But for her argument to work, as she for the most part concedes, our feelings must at least be reasonably justified. Toward the person who cut us off in traffic anger might well be appropriate, but banging our car into his would not be. Spiting our spouse by eating an extra bowl of ice cream might well assert autonomy in a restorative way, but spiting her by putting ourselves into an insulin coma would not.

As she makes her claims, Ms. Thomason faults Christian and Buddhist saints for failing to recognize the psychological benefits that our bad feelings provide. Here, though, her argument becomes less persuasive. Such saints, by and large, were focused on something different from self-care: They worried about the moral costs that our bad feelings impose on others. Even when anger is justified, they felt, it closes our hearts and lessens our capacity for mutual understanding. Contempt causes us to despise other people and thereby retreat from our common humanity. Spite leads us to hurt them and Schadenfreude to exult in their misfortune.

But when it comes to the ills the bad feelings can inflict, Ms. Thomason pulls her punches. Anger, she suggests, is morally harmful—it hurts others—if it causes us to lash out but not if we simply “sit with it” until it goes away. Maybe, but how often does that happen? Contempt and Schadenfreude, she says, can actually bring us closer to our fellow human beings, assuming that we’re “laughing at others because we know we’re capable of the same blunders.” But is that how we truly experience those feelings? To claim that the psychological benefits of our bad feelings outweigh their moral harmfulness, it seems, Ms. Thomason has to gloss over how morally problematic they are.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Were PG a student at Swarthmore, he thinks he would avoid Professor Thomason’s classes.

Diagram a Sentence

PG asked ChatGPT4 to do something with the first line from The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed.

Prompt: Diagram the following sentences: ‘The King is dead. Long live the Queen.” The announcer’s voice crackles from the wireless and winds around the rapt patrons of Berlin’s Milk Bar as sinuously as the fog curls around the mournful street lamps, their wan glow barely illuminating the cobblestones.”

ChatGPT4: To diagram the given sentence, we’ll break it down into its constituent parts, focusing on the main clauses, subordinate clauses, phrases, and key parts of speech. The sentence can be diagrammed as follows:

  1. Main Clause: “The announcer’s voice crackles from the wireless”
    • Subject: “The announcer’s voice”
    • Verb: “crackles”
    • Prepositional Phrase: “from the wireless”
  2. Subordinate Clause: “as sinuously as the fog curls around the mournful street lamps”
    • Conjunction: “as”
    • Adverb describing how the voice crackles: “sinuously”
    • Comparative Conjunction: “as”
    • Subject: “the fog”
    • Verb: “curls”
    • Prepositional Phrase: “around the mournful street lamps”
  3. Additional Phrase: “their wan glow barely illuminating the cobblestones”
    • Possessive Pronoun: “their”
    • Subject: “wan glow”
    • Verb: “illuminating”
    • Direct Object: “the cobblestones”
    • Adverb modifying the verb: “barely”
  4. Independent Sentences: “‘The King is dead. Long live the Queen.'”
    • These are two separate declarative sentences.
  5. Contextual Setting: “winds around the rapt patrons of Berlin’s Milk Bar”
    • Verb: “winds”
    • Prepositional Phrase: “around the rapt patrons”
    • Prepositional Phrase: “of Berlin’s Milk Bar”

In this diagram, each part of the sentence is broken down to show the structure and how different elements are connected. This visualization helps in understanding the grammatical structure and the relationships between different parts of the sentence.


PG will leave the task of assessing how the AI did on this challenge to visitors who still remember what a “Direct Object” is. He doesn’t remember Mrs. Lascelles ever saying anything about “contextual settings.”

PG was expecting to receive a graphical diagram to be created by the prompt, like the following example:

PG speculates that the AI doesn’t have the ability to output graphic diagrams. (Yet)

Words fail us, and this writer knows it. How she is bringing people to the (grammar) table

From USA Today:

Ellen Jovin is not the grammar police.

She’s more like a grammar guru, a gentle, nonjudgmental guide who knows English isn’t etched into a linguistic stone, rigid and unchangeable. Instead, she knows it’s a living, evolving thing whose rules are subject to the wants, needs and whims of those who speak and write it.

Though she is hardly a Strunk & White scold, Jovin is so invested in English as an interactive pursuit that she has not only written a book about it (“Rebel With a Clause,” HarperCollins), but she’ll also set up a table just to talk shop, answer questions or geek out with fellow word nerds. Her husband, Brandt Johnson, also a writer, is working on a documentary film about the Grammar Table.

“I treasure everything about language,” Jovin said. And she enjoys sharing that passion with others, no matter their own relationship to words. “It’s about love for the language in all the forms it comes to us − slang, departures from traditional grammar, what words mean and how that can change. It’s fun.”

Jovin has taken the Grammar Table to all 50 states since 2018 (she has stops planned for Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona, in February) and is often in parks in New York City, where she lives. A longtime educator, consultant and writer, Jovin started the Grammar Table as a way to get away from a computer screen − where grammatical rules have degraded almost as much, it seems, as personal and political discourse.

. . . .

Jadene Wong is one of the people Jovin has connected with (yes, Jovin said, it’s fine to end a sentence with a preposition). A pediatrician at Stanford University and “self-admitted grammar nerd,” Wong loved “Rebel With a Clause” so much that she found the author’s website and reached out via email. She was delighted when Jovin wrote back.

Wong thinks so highly of Jovin − and grammar, apparently − that she took time out of her vacation in Hawaii to talk to USA TODAY. When she visits New York, she finds out where Jovin will be with the Grammar Table and makes a point of stopping by to talk.

“Her writing is so humorous and fun,” said Wong, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area. “She knows the rules, but she also goes with the times and the trends. She’s not a person who says, ‘You have to do this or you have to do that.’ She wants to know, ‘What would you do?’ She knows modern language. She’s not like your old schoolteacher.”

One thing Jovin does that’s reminiscent of an old schoolteacher, though, is diagramming sentences. Her Instagram, @grammartable, includes posts from her travels as well as a couple of quick diagrams of pop songs’ lyrics, including Pink Floyd’s grammatically challenged “Another Brick in the Wall” and Vampire Weekend’s salty song “Oxford Comma.”

And if you think diagramming is a relic as old as a ruler-wielding Catholic school nun, think again.

Ninth grade students at High School of American Studies at Lehman College in the Bronx learn how to diagram sentences as part of their English curriculum, said the school’s principal, Alessandro Weiss.

Jovin visited the school last year and will be back again this year.

“Ellen is excited about language,” Weiss said, and that’s something HSAS educators want students to share. “We want our students to find joy in language and to understand how it’s open to change.”

Diagramming not only helps students understand sentence structure and grammatical rules, but it also illustrates how much precision matters. Students can see misplaced modifiers, stray prepositions and the dreaded dangling participle more easily when it’s mapped out on a series of straight lines.

Link to the rest at USA Today

Helpful Writing Advice from the Pros

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” — Somerset Maugham

“Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.” — Truman Capote

“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.” — Doris Lessing

. . . .

“A bad review may spoil your breakfast, but you shouldn’t allow it to spoil your lunch.”— Kingsley Amis

. . . .

“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” — Ray Bradbury

. . . .

“The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died, and then queen died of grief is a plot.” — E. M. Forster

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

X remains primary social media platform for publishers

From The Bookseller:

Publishers say most of their social engagement still comes through X, formerly known as Twitter, though they are now actively engaging with alternatives such as Threads, BlueSky and Mastodon.

Since business magnate Elon Musk completed his buyout of the networking site in 2022, there have been a number of changes, notably to the platform’s verification policies, stripping verified blue ticks from accounts which hadn’t signed up for its paid-for subscription service. Links to articles also changed to only show the associated image without the headline, making it difficult to share news. This has prompted the book community’s use of the platform to dissipate, but most publishers still see X as their main social media platform as it still has the largest number of active users and newer alternatives are not yet set up for scheduling.

Jack Birch, senior digital marketing manager at Bloomsbury, told The Bookseller: “The users that have left Twitter/X since Musk’s takeover have not gone to a specific destination; they have fragmented across different platforms such as Blue Sky, Mastodon and Threads, as well as other platforms. As a company, we felt that Threads had the potential to be the biggest competitor to X, given Meta’s history of running successful social media apps and an existing audience that they could convert (cleverly linking Instagram followers to Threads at the click of a button). We hoped Instagram and Facebook users could pivot to a text-based social network, as well as pick up people leaving Musk’s X. However, after initial enthusiasm, interactions and impressions have dropped off a cliff.”

He believes that despite the press for dwindling numbers on Twitter/X, it remains the place for “influential media figures” such as journalists and celebrities and is still where “news breaks first”. Birch also cited how two of the more recent campaigns, Ghosts: The Button House Archives and The Rest is History, “performed exceptionally well on X, partly due to pre-existing, established fandoms, as well as each book’s content suiting the platform”.

He said that Bloomsbury believes Mastodon and Blue Sky are “currently too complicated for the general user to have wider popular appeal at least at the moment”. He added: “Our social media management platform, Sprout Social, does not currently allow us to schedule posts on these two platforms. With all of this in mind, we have put more energy into our Instagram and TikTok channels. Though content usually takes longer to produce, we are seeing excellent returns on engagements and impressions. As a company, we also have direct relationships with Meta and TikTok, and are able to solve any issues that may affect our accounts.”

“The social media landscape has always changed very quickly, but, since Musk’s takeover of X, it is even more unstable than it ever has been before. We have a large, and engaged, social media following on Meta, TikTok and X; it is still there where we see our key audience.”

A Bonnier Books UK spokesperson said: “We’re continuing to use Twitter/X across a number of our imprints, and so far it is proving fairly resilient with an active community of readers, media and influencers. Ultimately, we’re committed to going where our readers take us, and to ensure that we offer our community the space and the content to connect, debate and celebrate their love of stories – whatever the platform.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG suggests that, regardless of social media platform, traditional publishers are going to be small fish compared with real celebrities, tech companies or just about anyone else with the slightest bit of talent. For one thing, a talented social media influencer can maker significantly more money than the CEO of a book publisher.

He’s pressed for time at the moment, but feel free to compare the number of X followers of publishers with television networks, online news sites, newspapers, popular authors or just about any other provider of information or entertainment and post your discoveries in the comments.

Taking Pushkin off his pedestal

From Engelsberg Ideas:

On the evening of February 24, 2022, a few hours after Vladimir Putin ordered his army into Ukraine, thousands of Russians, most of them young, came out onto Pushkin Square in central Moscow. They stood around the statue of Alexander Pushkin, holding placards saying ‘No to War’ for a few minutes before their protest was dispersed by the police. By rallying next to the monument to the curly-haired poet, they were perpetuating a tradition dating back to Soviet times.

Five weeks later, Ukrainian forces recaptured the town of Chernihiv north of Kyiv, which had suffered grievously from a month of Russian occupation and where hundreds had died. A Russian air strike had killed 47 civilians, a war crime that Amnesty International termed ‘a merciless, indiscriminate attack’. On April 30 Ukrainian soldiers took down a bust of Pushkin which had stood in the centre of the liberated town since 1900 and removed it to the local museum.

Across Ukraine at least two dozen Pushkin statues have been removed from their pedestals since the war began. Ukrainians say they are dethroning a Russian imperialist. They cited one of Pushkin’s poems in particular, ‘To the Slanderers of Russia,’ a jingoistic text, in which he castigates Europeans for opposing the Russian army’s suppression of the Polish uprising of 1830. It wasn’t just Ukrainians. In early 2022, Russia’s invading forces in Ukraine, also invoked an imperial Pushkin, putting up placards with his portrait in towns they had captured, such as Kherson, where the poet had lived.

Many Russian liberals who opposed the war in Ukraine were aghast at such actions. Their Pushkin was the one who was sent to southern Ukraine as a political exile and who was, in the nineteenth century, called ‘the bard of freedom’. He was the man who had written ‘I lauded freedom in a cruel age,’ a line which is inscribed on the pedestal of his statue in Moscow.

The Ukraine war has sparked a debate about the relationship of Russia’s literature and culture to its neo-imperial war. Ukrainians and others have called for the ‘de-colonisation’ of Russian literature as part of the fabric of the imperial state. Others have argued that Russian literature is part of an alternative narrative to that of the authorities. In a recent New Yorker article, Elif Batuman writes, ‘Literature, in short, looks different depending on where you read it,’ saying, more or less, that a nineteenth-century Russian text read in twenty-first century Georgia or Ukraine carries a menace that she had previously missed.

Pushkin stands in the middle of this debate. Partly because of his work because, in a pure literary sense, all modern Russian literature flows from him. But even more so because of what he is seen to represent – because of his statues. A few decades after he died in 1837 aged only 37, he was elevated to the status of ‘Russia’s national writer’. That makes him a synecdoche for Russian culture as a whole: take down Pushkin’s statue and you are challenging Russia as a whole.

The Pushkin statue debate reveals different understandings of what ‘freedom’ means to different readers in Russia and its former imperial lands.

For Ukrainians the word ‘freedom’ now means a life-and-death struggle. Having experienced violence perpetrated by Russia in 2014 in the east of the country and then wholesale in 2022, the vast majority of Ukrainians now feel an existential need to emancipate themselves from Russia in most forms. To the educated class, that now includes the desire to disassociate themselves from Russian texts and films that have for centuries either explicitly or – more commonly, implicitly– denied Ukrainians agency in their own historical story. The ‘Pushkin Must Fall’ campaign, however crudely expressed at times, is part of this process.

Then there is the seemingly Sisyphean task of a large segment of Russians to win freedom from their own abusive rulers. Alexander Etkind employs the term ‘internal colonisation’ to describe the peculiar nature of Russian imperialism in being directed equally towards its own heartlands and to its captured territories. Putin’s war is also directed inwards, towards crushing the tentative freedoms that Russians had acquired in the last three decades since the Gorbachev era. If Russian literature has little or nothing to offer Ukrainians at the moment, much of it remains a sustained critique of this ‘internal colonisation’ of Russian minds and bodies, and inspires Russians to resist it.

But the repeated failure of this educated class to make a political difference asks some serious questions of them. Too often ‘Great Russian literature’ is fetishised. It also needs emancipation. Its classic literature needs to be freed from efforts to co-opt, and commodify it as an axiomatic model of ‘civilisation’ with all the assumptions of cultural superiority that entails.

That process should begin with Pushkin, whose works are still the victim of official curating, 200 years after they were first censored. If he was sometimes the imperialist, his most frequent poetic mode is a mocking irreverence that talks everyone, including himself, down from their pedestals. Pushkin deserves to be stripped of his official veneration to reveal the irreverent poet underneath.

. . . .

Pushkin is a many-sided writer, open to multiple readings. Isaiah Berlin, in his essay about hedgehogs (who know one thing) and foxes (who know many things) called Pushkin ‘an arch-fox, the greatest in the nineteenth century’ and wrote of ‘the many varied provinces of Pushkin’s protean genius’. His greatest work, the novel in verse Eugene Onegin, was reduced to melodrama by Tchaikovsky. The original gives all sides of his varied personality, pulling off the trick of being both casually intimate and profound. Among the many Pushkins are the exile, the rebel, the libertine, the historian, the servant of empire, the African. For the average Russian reader he is first of all the lover, the author of dozens of uninhibited love lyrics that are instantly learned by heart.

Pushkin continually returns to the theme of ‘freedom’. He was a friend of the Decembrists who staged an abortive coup d’etat against autocracy in 1825 in the name of constitutional rule. In his youth, he wrote politically seditious poems, including one, ‘The Dagger’, that celebrates regicide and caused him to be sent into exile. He later dropped his revolutionary stance but remained strongly anti-clerical and critical of autocracy. Pushkin’s mature personal philosophy was a kind of individualism that eschewed Romantic egoism. He wrote in a poem of 1836 to which he gave the title ‘From Pindemonte’ (pretending it was a translation to try and bamboozle the censor): ‘Whom shall we serve – the people or the State?/The poet does not care – so let them wait./To give account to none, to be one’s own/vassal and liege, to please oneself alone,/to bend neither one’s neck nor inner schemes/nor conscience for obtaining that which seems/power but is a flunkey’s coat.’

This Pushkin was for many Russian and Soviet readers a kind of blueprint on how to maintain dignity in spite of the state. In a lecture on Descartes and Pushkin, given in 1981, the Georgian philosopher Merab Mamardashvili said, ‘In the history of Russian literature there is also, it is true, a single but well-known example for us of a naturally free person. That is Pushkin.’ Mamardashvili elaborated that he meant neither a freedom from moral obligation, nor the kind of withdrawal into an avant-garde underground that some Russian intellectuals were resorting to in that era. Pushkin was an exemplar on how to inhabit a free private and civic space, but not retreat from society.

Yet Pushkin was also a child of empire. In 1924 the émigré critic Giorgy Fedotov named him ‘Bard of Empire and Freedom’, in an essay that locates him in Russia’s imperial history. Pushkin was a Russian patriot – although he also exposed that sentiment to mockery and said, ‘Of course, I despise my fatherland from head to foot but I feel upset when a foreigner shares my feelings.’ He was a man brought up among and by the imperial elite, who believed in Russia’s mission civilisatrice. He frequently returned to the figure of Peter the Great as a man of both vision and cruelty, who tried to transform a backward Russian society into a modern European state.

The poet of empire is most brazenly on show in his Romantic poem, ‘Prisoner of the Caucasus’, written during his exile in the south of the empire in 1820-1. The main body of the poem itself is a Byronic Orientalising tale of a native woman’s doomed love affair with a Russian soldier. Pushkin shows empathy for his native protagonist, but then undermines it with a jingoistic epilogue that praises imperial bayonets and the Russian conquest of the mountain peoples of the Caucasus. Some of his friends and contemporaries, such as the politically liberal Pyotr Vyazemsky, were confounded. How could he could defend the freedom of Greek revolutionaries or African slaves and not that of Russian colonial subjects?

Link to the rest at Engelsberg Ideas 

Business Musings: All Good Things

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I should have seen it coming when I couldn’t figure out how to write the year-end blogs. I found a dozen topics that fit, but none really interested me. They’re all important from different perspectives. The perspectives are so different from each other that they no longer feel like part of the same industry.

For example, traditionally published writers claim they care about craft, but really, they care about old-fashioned readership—which has been declining through the trade channels for the past five years or more. Bestselling books published by traditional publishers sell half of what they sold in 2009, and that was already down by another third from 1999.

Traditional publishers don’t help writers get an audience. Traditional publishers buy up copyright for the term of the copyright so that they can have assets on their accounting books. They take years to publish something, which is often unrecognizable from what the author initially intended.

Still, traditional writers hope for “legitimacy,” whatever that means, and strive to get agents, even though book agents take 15% of the book for the life of the book and do very little work (as well as often practicing law without a license).

Traditional publishing has changed for the worse in the decade plus since I started this blog, and still writers get sucked into trad pub. I was done about five years ago writing for writers who want to go that route, because I hate to see their dreams crushed.

Just this week, I watched a writer whom I respect, who should know better, try to find a new agent because the writer’s partner, also a writer, has a New York Times notable book (which is also a bestseller), and can’t get their book agent to return phone calls.

How discouraging. When someone else (not me) suggested hiring an attorney instead of a book agent, the writer (whom I respect a bit less now) essentially called that someone an ignorant idiot.

That same interchange could have happened in 2015 or 2009. No one learns on that side of the fence, and very few people change. They don’t want to.

On the indie side of the fence, learning is essential. Writers share knowledge and ideas, all while writing the books of their hearts (to use the romance term). Some writers go awry because they get caught up in analytics or trying to write “what sells” but writers have always been like that.

The problem with indie these days is that there are so many good ways to make a living that there’s no longer one path.

Okay…that’s not a problem. That’s a good thing.

I started writing this weekly blog at the advent of the indie movement, mostly to remind myself that this is a viable career path. Now I can’t imagine existing without indie publishing. Going back to traditional wouldn’t be possible for me.

It was barely possible in 2009. The contracts got worse, the editors were a nightmare, and I wasn’t about to give my copyright to some corporation for a mere five figures, when I knew the copyright on a single book could bring in licenses worth tens of thousands of dollars.

I wasn’t that desperate in 2009 and I’m certainly not that desperate now. As I noted in some recent blogs, my books are all in print. The books of my traditional friends? Not in print at all. Or if they are in print, my friends aren’t making a dime off of them.

It’s discouraging, but as I’ve seen over the past few years, people have dug in. It doesn’t matter that traditional writers now have to get a “real” job to make a living. Or that the changes in indie have made it possible for those of us who understand business to make a good living while writing what we love.

We’ve changed.

The world has changed.

And honestly, I’m not that interested in writing about the publishing industry weekly. There is no publishing industry anymore. There are different aspects of book publishing, all of which fascinate me, and none of which make me want to pontificate for a few thousand words every single week.

Then there’s my writing itself. In the spring, I made a list of the books clamoring to get out of my brain. The series that need finishing right now, the standalones I’ve been dying to write, the books I’ve intended to write since the turn of the century if not longer, as well as the short stories that rise to the top of my to-do list because I read an inspiring article or saw an amazing play.

I will have time to write all of that if I double down on my fiction writing. Or triple down. When I write fiction, I write a minimum of 1,000 new words per hour. The blog takes a minimum of 10 hours per week from idea to page, including the audio (which is maybe 20 minutes of that 10 hours). I love the audio. It’s fun.

The blog, not so much.

In fact it had become such a drag that I put it off until the last minute, and then have to give up even more fiction writing time to get it down.

And while the blog makes me more money per month than someone would earn making minimum wage (not counting all the nonfiction books I get out of it or the other perks), I could make more money if I write three novellas a year, whether I sell them to traditional markets or not.

The blog is self-sustaining financially, but it’s actively costing me money. My earnings as a fiction writer have gone up dramatically in the past fourteen years.

The earnings—for those of you who still have a traditional publishing dream—do not come when a book or story is released but slowly over the course of a year. I used to say that indie writers don’t get advances, but with presales and the rise of Kickstarter, indie writers make money before the book comes out. Sometimes that money is more than a typical book advance. Sometimes it’s less.

But it’s always at the beginning—and then the writer goes on to sell copies of the book for years, rather than a few months as it happens in traditional.

So each moment I spend writing fiction brings me more money than I made even five years ago. I used to clock my writing time at $500 per hour, but it’s more like $1000 per hour…and that doesn’t count other licenses like sales of related merchandise or movie options. I haven’t done that math.

Thirty dollars per hour writing a blog post that has little resale value or $1000 per hour writing stories that can sell for decades. It’s really a no brainer.

I never really worried about that when I needed the blog to explain the changes in the publishing industry to myself. I just wanted the blog to pay me for my time. I did turn the posts into many books, some of which sell really well and some of which need massive updating. But I don’t want to update them. I have other things to do.

Yes, you’re beginning to understand where this is going. The weekly blog on my website is going away. I will be using the time to write more stories, finish some book projects, do other book projects and, oddly enough, do a lot more promotion of my existing work.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG will miss seeing the thoughts Kris shares on a regular basis and hopes she posts her thoughts and insights from time to time even if they don’t appear as frequently as they have in the past.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

What Makes a Great WordPress Theme for Authors?

From The Book Designer:

Before we get to the 10 best WordPress themes for authors, let’s get one thing out of the way.

Yes, you need an author website!

Too much enthusiasm? I think not. 

Over the years  I’ve seen way too many authors miss out on opportunities to engage with their audience and even sell more books because they don’t believe that they need a website, or they feel that being on social media is enough. Or, they don’t want to be on the internet at all. I kind of understand the reasoning behind the last one, but you still need a house, even if you’re never at home. 

. . . .

Now let’s talk about the best WordPress themes for authors and finding the best one for your author website.

When it comes to author websites, any ol’ template won’t work. As writers and authors, we have specific needs that not every template provides. For this list, I selected themes that met the following criteria:

  • Multiple layout options: You don’t want your website to look like your author neighbor across the internet street. 
  • Shop/Store option: Having an easy way to sell your books directly to your readers built into the theme (even if you don’t need it at first) will make life easier. 
  • Theme Support: It’s tough when you have questions but can’t find anyone to answer them.
  • Blog style options: An author has to write, so please give her some options.
  • At least a 4 out of 5-star rating (at the time of this article.)
  • Regularly updated
  • Detailed documentation

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

After the excerpt above, the OP goes through each of his Ten Best WordPress Templates.

PG has his opinions, but, since he’s not an author, share your opinions and selections in the comments.

Why This Ghostwriter Loves His Haters

From Publishers Weekly:

Whenever someone chooses to leave social media, you hear the same refrain: it’s gotten so negative, I can’t stand it. To me, that’s a reason to stay.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather hang out with people who like me in real life, and I’d certainly rather hear praise than criticism. But when it comes to building an audience online, it’s better to be hated than loved. For better or worse, social media rewards engagement, and negativity fuels engagement.

You may have heard the old saying, “All publicity is good publicity.” But I’m here to tell you that the best publicity of all is absolute hatred. Your online haters can inadvertently give you effective marketing, spread your name to new groups, give you opportunities to respond persuasively, and sharpen your brand.

Once you recognize this, haters also lose some of their power. They may try to bring you down by making you feel small or unworthy. If they make you feel bad, provoke you into an ill-tempered response, or drive you offline, they win. But once you realize they’re inadvertently boosting you, it’s an opportunity to turn that dynamic around.

I’ll give you an example: the online trick shot group Dude Perfect. These five guys have filmed themselves doing everything from calling and making a hole in one to sinking a basketball from a skyscraper. They’re good, and their online comments reflect viewers’ utter disbelief. And not just stunned amazement or polite questions about the veracity of videos—they deal with everything from scorn to conspiracy theories. This is a level of mastery everyone should aspire to and something I write about in my book So Good They Call You a Fake.

In an interview on Good Morning America, Dude Perfect member Cody Jones said the group loves it when people call their shots fake because it makes what they do “seem even more ridiculously impossible,” leading to more publicity and clicks on YouTube. Online haters are literally putting money in their pockets.

Now, not all online hate is created equal. When people are responding to you with racial hate and bigotry, their comments obviously provide no value. It’s best to report and block these people rather than engage with them.

The haters I’m talking about are people who come at you because of what you do. They’re the ones who criticize you because you’re talented or smart or successful—and they simply can’t stand it. For that reason, they try to cast doubt on your achievements and minimize your talents. These haters and trolls, who tend to move in packs, will latch onto something you say and begin circulating it among themselves, adding their own put-downs. But their attacks merely serve to elevate your standing online.

I’ll give an example from my social media feed. Last year, I was musing on the flaws of some popular movies, which could help authors more effectively write books. I went onto what was then still called Twitter, and shared a thread of my observations about how Captain Marvel, Rey from Star Wars, and Bo Peep from Toy Story were examples of what fans call a Mary Sue—a character with no flaws or weaknesses. I argued that this robs them of narrative arcs and obstacles to overcome, and ultimately is a disservice to viewers who want to see a strong female character.

My core audience—people who want to improve their writing or just enjoy well-told stories—loved my posts, but soon a new audience of haters found them and were determined to argue with me because I had criticized popular female characters. These haters seemed to be responding more to one another than to anything I’d written, high-fiving one another with each withering reply.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Since PG had never heard of Dude Perfect, he did a little investigation for the benefit of visitors to TPV.

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus Entry: Bad Influence

From Writers Helping Writers:

DESCRIPTION: This character compromises others and leads them down the wrong path. They could be villainous, deliberately attempting to misguide others, or may be the friend who’s always getting people into trouble.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Grima Wormtongue (the Lord of the Rings series), Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind), Amy Dunne (Gone Girl), Faith LeHane (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

COMMON STRENGTHS: Adaptable, Adventurous, Ambitious, Analytical, Bold, Charming, Creative, Decisive, Focused, Independent, Industrious, Intelligent, Observant, Persistent, Persuasive, Resourceful

COMMON WEAKNESSES: Controlling, Devious, Dishonest, Hypocritical, Impatient, Impulsive, Irresponsible, Jealous, Manipulative, Melodramatic, Mischievous, Pushy, Rebellious, Reckless, Selfish, Spoiled, Stubborn, Uncooperative

Manipulating and controlling others
Having a charismatic presence
Breaking social norms
Advocating for and taking shortcuts
Using bribes to entice others to their way of thinking
Encouraging risky or destructive behaviors
Shifting blame to others
Being cunning
Identifying threats or risks before they become a problem
Homing in on others’ weaknesses
Knowing how to exploit others’ desires to their own advantage

Being confronted by someone they’ve wronged and having to deal with the consequences
Encountering a cunning rival and having to up their game to outmaneuver them
Becoming friends with a positive role model who seeks to make the character better

Is being manipulated into manipulating others by a behind-the-scenes puppet master
Isn’t overtly trying to be a bad influence

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he “felt impelled” to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: “[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.” You see, he “feels impelled” to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Euphemism and exaggeration are both dangers to language

From The Economist:

George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language”, published in 1946, took aim at the bureaucrats, academics and hacks who obfuscated their misdeeds in vague, jargon-packed writing. Abstractions, euphemisms and clichés all served as “the defence of the indefensible”. Orwell lamented how “Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.”

If Orwell were writing today, he would find plenty of euphemisms to complain about. On October 7th an open letter from a clutch of student groups at Harvard University vaguely described the “unfolding violence” in Israel without ascribing blame to Hamas. Abstract brutality “unfolding” shocks rather less than a clearer description of Hamas slaughtering 1,200 Israelis, nearly all civilians, including many children.

As a onetime contributor to the bbc, it is easy to imagine Orwell defying the broadcaster’s refusal to use the word “terrorism”. Orwell had no trouble doling out his medicine to both sides; he would have also had harsh words for those describing the “collateral damage” buried in Gazan rubble, another abstraction designed to prevent readers picturing dead children. Around 13,000 Palestinians have died since October 7th.

Orwell’s famous essay had a long lead time: he was paid in December, and it appeared in print the next April. Today, however, billions of people can publish their thoughts instantaneously. The desire to grab attention seems to incentivise stylistic sin. The social-mediafication of writing has steered the tone from the offence of euphemism to its twin offence of exaggeration.

Taking what they no doubt believe to be an Orwellian starting point—the danger of being too soft in their language—keyboard warriors cannot resist the temptation to reach for the most inflammatory words available. What used to be called chauvinism, then sexism, is now “misogyny”, a word once reserved for actual hatred of women. Those who do not ascribe to left-wing views on race are accused not of bias, prejudice or even racism, but of “white supremacy”, a phrase that just a decade ago was reserved for neo-Nazis.

Call it the “dysphemism treadmill”. In its opposite, the “euphemism treadmill” (a term coined by Steven Pinker, a professor at Harvard), people run from one polite banality to another. They referred to people as “idiotic” until that became pejorative; then they opted for “retarded”, which became unsayable; and then they devised “special”, which is now a taunt too. The dysphemism treadmill works the other way round: “prejudiced” seems too mild so is replaced with “racist”, which then suffers the same fate and must be swapped out for “white supremacist”.

As is true of many modern trends, the most extreme words have radiated from America, where “communist” and “fascist” have nothing to do with sickles or swastikas and are sometimes applied to anyone you disagree with. Social media, the “great awokening” on the left and the magafication of the right have contributed to a verbal crescendo.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Law firms are throwing legal spaghetti at the wall to take down gen-AI, but judges are so far unimpressed

From The New Publishing Standard:

Law suits against AI companies abound, and no question there are some valid issues that need settling in court, but already it’s beginning to feel like lawyers are just throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping some strands stick.
Is this really what the publishing industry wants or needs?

Over at Publishers Weekly this week, Andrew Albanese summarises two on-going law suits against the alleged AI copyright thieves, and in both cases a judge has thrown out parts of the claims because they have no merit.

While the judge in one case has left the door open for revised claims – perhaps a nod to the fact that the law as stands was never written with AI in mind – the quick dismissal of some of the claims is a severe blow to the many in the AI Resistance camp who are citing as fact allegations of copyright theft, despite, as Albanese notes, many lawyers stating well in advance that the claims were not well-grounded in law.

From PW back in July:

Multiple copyright lawyers told PW on background that the claims likely face an uphill battle in court. Even if the suits get past the threshold issues associated with the alleged copying at issue and how AI training actually works—which is no sure thing—lawyers say there is ample case law to suggest fair use.”

PW offers several examples of why, that in the interests of the fair use clause I’ll leave to you to click through and read, and instead conclude the summary of that PW article with this quote:

 ‘I just don’t see how these cases have legs,’ one copyright lawyer bluntly told PW. ‘Look, I get it. Somebody has to make a test case. Otherwise there’s nothing but blogging and opinion pieces and stance-taking by proponents on either side. But I just think there’s too much established case law to support this kind of transformative use as a fair use.’ “

The July lawsuit came under scrutiny from TNPS at the time.

. . . .

The proposed class action suit before Chhabria was filed on July 7 by the Joseph Saveri Law Firm on behalf of authors Christopher Golden, Richard Kadrey, and comedian Sarah Silverman, just days after the Saveri firm filed a similar suit on behalf of authors against Open AI, with authors Paul Tremblay and Mona Awad as named plaintiffs.”

. . . .

In each case the law suits make the spurious claim that AI is generating writing in the style of an author or providing in-depth analysis of a published book, and that it does so by illegally copying an original work for its “training.”

For anyone who isn’t irrationally opposed to the very concept of AI and therefore clutching at any straw to attack it, the idea that it is a crime for an author to write in the style of another is as laughable as the idea that an author who learned their trade by reading other authors’ books has committed a crime.

What next? A lawsuit claiming an author has no spelling mistakes so they must have plagiarised a dictionary?

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Yahdon Israel Pulls Back the Curtain on Publishing

From Publishers Weekly:

In March 2021, days after he was hired as a senior editor at Simon & Schuster, Yahdon Israel went on Instagram Live to tell his thousands of followers what kind of books he was looking to acquire—essentially a call for submissions, which Big Five editors rarely put out.

He would be acquiring eight to 12 books per year, he said, and briefly rattled off the genres he was looking for. But for most of the livestream, he painted a picture of the sort of writer he wanted to work with: writers with strong senses of selves as well as business acumen, who understand that their art is also a product and that their work doesn’t end with turning in manuscripts. He encouraged anyone who fit the bill to email him directly.

Later that day, he received an email from a self-taught, unagented writer named Aaliyah Bilal with the manuscript for a debut short story collection about the lives of Black Muslims in America. It was titled Temple Folk.

“This book is the proof of concept of what hiring someone like me could mean for this industry,” Israel said of Temple Folk, which was a finalist for this year’s National Book Award. As an editor, Israel is keen to circumvent traditional channels—for instance, he hosts livestreams instead of lunching with agents—to engage directly with writers outside of the literary establishment. Temple Folk showed that alternative methods of acquisition can yield extraordinary results.

“She knew who she was and she knew who she wanted to be as a writer,” he said of Bilal. “But how would an agent have found her?” For Israel, looking for authors outside of their usual habitats—your Iowa Writers Workshops, your Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences—creates a healthier literary ecosystem.

“There are people who don’t have an agent, don’t have MFAs, and are probably writing something fire—and there’s actually no way to get to that person,” he said. “You’re trusting—or you’re hoping—that the cream rises to the top, but that only works if there are reliable and consistent factors that are finding cream in all its forms.” The onus, he said, is on the publishing industry to actively seek out talent, whether it be authors or employees, in unconventional places: “If you look for it, you’ll find it.”

Israel himself came to S&S without a traditional publishing background. Though he had long been deeply involved in the literary world—he served on the board of the National Book Critics Circle and the selection committee for the Aspen Words Literary Prize, taught at CUNY’s MFA program and the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and founded the Literaryswag Book Club, among other endeavors—he had never before worked at a publisher.

But the circumstances of his hiring, he stressed, were “an anomaly.” In late February 2021, Israel reached out to Kathryn Belden—a friend and Scribner’s editorial director—to let her know he was looking for a job in publishing, hopeful it might lead to an informational interview. Within a week, he was being courted by S&S CEO Jonathan Karp and then-publisher Dana Canedy. To his surprise, they offered him a senior editor role, despite him being prepared to start in an entry-level position. “Without those people,” he said of Belden, Karp, and Canedy, “I’d still be circling the outer perimeter of the industry.”

At every opportunity, Israel gives due credit to his colleagues—a personal practice that encapsulates the philosophy behind his social media presence. He’s become known for using Instagram to demystify the publishing process, and in doing so, he hopes to show readers—especially those who might balk at the prices on hardcovers—just how much work and how many people are needed to publish a book.

“Part of that transparency is about getting consumers to really think about, well, why does this book cost so much?” he said. “Because there’s a lot of labor from a lot of people that contributes to what you’re reading. It’s about getting people to appreciate labor that they don’t see, to think about the entire process that extends beyond and in addition to an author.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

When the Museum of Memory Becomes a Haunted House

From Electric Lit:

Jiordan Castle’s memoir-in-verse Disappearing Act follows the teen-version of herself as she lives through the arrest, court proceedings, and subsequent incarceration of her father while navigating the fraught years of the transition from girlhood to adolescence. Through mostly narrative poems‚ Castle invites us into her world as it’s changing faster than her mind can keep up.

The book’s dedication—”For me then, and for you now” —immediately signals to the reader a rare intimacy; that we will be led—sometimes smiling, sometimes wincing—into a moment in time not often shared beyond the performed facade of the nuclear family. Disappearing Act begins mid-story—following an FBI raid, Jiordan’s father’s suicide attempt, bad news from the attorney, Jiordan’s refuge with her best friend and their endless online personality quizzes (it being the early aughts)—the book progresses in a mostly chronological order.

In books about prison and “crime,” readers often desire—feel entitled to, even—grizzly details (look no further than the proliferation of true-crime podcasts and TV series). Castle deftly subverts this expectation: in Disappearing Act, we learn more context than content—her father’s mood swings; her mother’s torn support; her older sisters’ balancing of their own lives—though the reader does get a vague understanding that the father is guilty and the crime is money-related. This is not an attempt to hide or minimize the father’s actions, but is instead mimetic of a teenager toggling dizzyingly between an “adult,” “mature” perspective and the innocent confusion, sadness, anger, and helplessness of a young child.

Castle and I discussed her experience of crafting this book from painful memories; the role of the self in grand themes of “crime” and “punishment,” and how she navigated the personal and the secret when disclosing sensitive information.

Leigh Sugar: Disappearing Act is written in the voice of an early teenage you. What was it like writing the then-you, as the now-you?

Jiordan Castle: I have this sense of an inner child and a secret self when I write about myself, my life, no matter the when or the topic. To pull something not too grisly from True Detective, I think time, to me, probably is a flat circle. The person who lived this book is also the person who wrote it, but in time traveling through memory, I got to look at the character of myself as a kind of younger sister. I got to be generous and real and mean and thoughtful about the realities of coming of age in a way you can’t when you’re in it.

LS: That’s so interesting to me, because I realized recently I don’t have a strong connection to my inner child; I don’t really experience my life as continuous; it feels very disconnected. How did you get yourself in—and especially, out—of that inner-child/secret self headspace?

JC: For most of us, I think the hard-hearted memories live right at the surface. But that’s not all there is. I remember the funniest things, the sweet things. And when you’re a child, you’re feeling everything for the first time. Everything is, in some sense, the end of the world. And the beginning of a new one. I still feel that about that time, so it was easy enough for me to drop into character in a way and let myself feel the too-much-ness of that time. I remember presents and fights and how certain shirts looked and felt.

It also helped for me to create a playlist from that time in my life, and a playlist that’s more like what writing the book felt like to me. Having the two in conversation with each other is something special.

LS: What is different about this version than, say, a version for an “adult” audience?

JC: It’s so complicated because I do consider this book to be what I call “YA+” as if it’s for young adults and the dot dot dot of adults reconnecting with that version of themselves. Because this story still lives in me, I know it lives in other adults with similar experiences. The people I love talking to now, after readings, are teenagers who have a loved one in prison or have a friend who does, but also mother-daughter pairings. I find that so interesting. And it reminds me that maybe if we just allowed ourselves—and each other—to love what we love in earnest, without shame or bias, we would come to a place of more “we” than “I.” I’m looking for that “we” more and more these days.

I can’t ignore the fact though that if I had written, let’s say, a chronological, prose memoir looking back at the past in past tense—an adult lens on a teen experience—I would have a radically different book. I can’t say whether it would be better or worse (or whatever that means), but I do think it would pull me as the narrator further from the story I most wanted to convey.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

For some reason as he read the OP, the original definition of geek drifted into PG’s mind:

a carnival worker who was so unskilled that the only thing the worker could do at the carnival to entice an audience was to bite off the heads of live animals

Perhaps, it’s unfair to the author, the book and the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, but that’s what occurred.