Monthly Archives: September 2014

“The Guns of August” Is Still WWI’s Peerless Chronicle

29 September 2014

From The Daily Beast:

The historian Fritz Stern memorably called World War I “the first calamity of the twentieth century, the calamity from which all other calamities sprang.” No one in late June 1914 anticipated that the assassination by a Serbian nationalist of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, would draw in all five major European powers and their various allies into a cataclysm that would snuff out the lives of 20 million soldiers and civilians, destroy three empires, and lay the groundwork for an even bloodier World War II.

Shock and disillusionment over such vast, seemingly senseless destruction led the writers and artists dubbed a “lost generation” to toss out most of the old assumptions about the meaning and purpose of human experience, and gave birth to what scholars in the humanities generally refer to these days as “modernity.”

Historians have never stopped debating the Great War’s causes and consequences, and they never will. The centenary of the conflict’s outbreak this year has ushered in a torrent of new books about its origins, as well new editions of contemporary memoirs and classic histories.

. . . .

It’s fair to say, though, that the first literary event to mark the centenary of the War happened a bit further back in time, when in 2012 the Library of America published its edition of Barbara W. Tuchman’s classic, The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I.

. . . .

Originally published in 1962, The Guns of August spent more than 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1963. It has never been out of print. Rereading the book for the first time since the early ’70s, it’s not hard to see why it continues to attract a wide readership even to this day.

The Guns of August is a spell-binding exploration of the failure of great-power diplomacy to prevent a war no one wanted, and an elegantly written, lucid military history of the war up to the First Battle of the Marne in September 1914. It was at the Marne that the German drive on Paris was miraculously halted at the very last moment, and the Western front settled down into a seemingly futile, static war of attrition that would not break open for more than three years.

“After the Marne,” Tuchman writes with characteristic sagacity, “the war grew and spread until it drew in the nations of both hemispheres and entangled them in a pattern of world conflict no peace treaty could dissolve. The Battle of the Marne was one of the decisive battles of the world not because it determined that Germany would ultimately lose or the Allies would ultimately win the war but because it determined that the war would go on. There was no looking back …”

And so in a single paragraph she captures brilliantly both the tragedy and the significance of the basic story line of her fine book.

. . . .

Academic historians over the years have generally praised the elegance and incisiveness of Tuchman’s prose, but they have also taken her to task, often with an undeserved measure of condescension, for being too tough on the Germans, as well as for leaving developments on the Serbian-Austrian and Russian-Austrian fronts out of her narrative entirely. She’s also been criticized for abstaining from extended analytical forays into what one might call abstract causes, such as the inadequacy of supranational institutions for crisis resolution, or the absence of transparent decision-making protocols within the key government departments.

Tuchman, of course, never earned a PhD; nor was she ever affiliated with a university history department. She described herself as a writer whose subject was history, not as a historian. She struck back at the “professional” historians more than once over a long and distinguished career. “The academic historian,” she opined, “suffers from having a captive audience, first in the supervisor of his dissertation, then in the lecture hall. Keeping the reader turning the page has not been his primary concern.”

As it happens, The Guns of August is one of the greatest page-turners in the English language. And it has to be said: having been a longtime editor of history books at an Ivy League press myself a few years back, the problem with academic history writing that she alluded to in the ’60s has only gotten considerably worse—a development that deeply troubles many of the best academic historians, as well as the readers of history, wherever and whoever they are.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

PG will add his recommendation of Ms. Tuchman. He is not certain whether he has read all her books, but he has read a great many and found her to be an immensely-talented writer.

Canadian authors caught in e-book dispute with publisher and Amazon

29 September 2014

From The Globe and Mail:

The Betrayers, a new novel by Toronto author David Bezmozgis, was published in the United States on Tuesday. But American readers trying to order the hardcover edition from are being informed that the novel “usually ships within 2 to 3 weeks,” a surprisingly long wait for an anticipated new release such as this. The novel’s American publisher, however, is Little, Brown and Co., a division of French conglomerate Hachette.

. . . .

“As an author, you want your books available, that’s as simple as it gets,” says Bezmozgis, who is midway through a 10-day U.S. book tour. “And to find yourself in the middle of this dispute – it’s not a good place to be.”

The day before his book was scheduled to arrive in bookstores, Bezmozgis took to Twitter to vent: “Despite obstacles posed by V. Putin & J. Bezos, my novel, The Betrayers will be published in the US tomorrow, Sept 23. Those trying to find the novel on will see they are only offering it in 8 track and wax disk format. To find the book in the US, I suggest your local indie bookstore….”

“[Amazon] styles themselves as the people who make things easiest as possible for their customers,” he says, “and the peculiar thing is that now it’s their customers and the authors who are suffering the most.”

. . . .

One reason might be that Hachette does not operate a publishing arm in Canada; it only distributes international titles.

“It doesn’t feel immediate,” says Claire Cameron, whose second novel, The Bear, was published by Little, Brown in February. (While hardcover copies of The Bear will ship immediately, is selling them for full price, $25; the Kindle edition is $11.56.) Also, Cameron feels the Canadian market isn’t as overshadowed by Amazon as the U.S. market is. “Down there it’s so different because Amazon is so dominant,” she says. “It’s one of those things that makes me appreciate where we live.”

Link to the rest at The Globe and Mail


29 September 2014

Beauty is that quality which, next to money, is generally the most attractive to the worst kinds of men; and, therefore, it is likely to entail a great deal of trouble on the possessor.

Ann Brontë

Crowdsourced editing: e-publishing’s next frontier

29 September 2014

From The Guardian:

Publishing is an increasingly crowded field. This summer Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake became the first crowdfunded book to make it, via Unbound, on to the Booker longlist. Some publishers are crowdsourcing their slush piles: Swoon Reads, a YA imprint, lets readers vote on which manuscripts should get book deals.

Now, a publishing startup has entered a new frontier: crowdsourced editing. Advance Editions aims to “make good books better” by drawing on the wisdom, knowledge and proofreading skills of readers around the world.

An Advance Editions title is professionally edited before being soft-launched as a low-cost ebook, with the first half available to download free. Readers are then invited to suggest ways the author could improve the book, before it is finally published a few months later in ebook and print versions.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Literary Lions Unite in Protest Over Amazon’s E-Book Tactics

29 September 2014

The New York Times attempts to strike again.

From The New York Times:

The authors are uniting.

Last spring, when Amazon began discouraging customers from buying books published by Hachette, the writers grumbled that they were pawns in the retailer’s contract negotiations over e-book prices. During the summer, they banded together and publicly protested Amazon’s actions.

Now, hundreds of other writers, including some of the world’s most distinguished, are joining the coalition. Few if any are published by Hachette. And they have goals far broader than freeing up the Hachette titles. They want the Justice Department to investigate Amazon for illegal monopoly tactics.

They also want to highlight the issue being debated endlessly and furiously on writers’ blogs: What are the rights and responsibilities of a company that sells half the books in America and controls the dominant e-book platform?

Andrew Wylie, whose client roster of heavyweights in literature is probably longer than that of any other literary agent, said he was asking all his writers whether they wanted to join the group, Authors United. Among those who have said yes, Mr. Wylie said in a phone interview from Paris, are Philip Roth, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, V. S. Naipaul and Milan Kundera.

. . . .

“We’re talking about censorship: deliberately making a book hard or impossible to get, ‘disappearing’ an author,” Ms. Le Guin wrote in an email. “Governments use censorship for moral and political ends, justifiable or not. Amazon is using censorship to gain total market control so they can dictate to publishers what they can publish, to authors what they can write, to readers what they can buy. This is more than unjustifiable, it is intolerable.”

. . . .

The Wylie Agency has about a thousand clients. Many have not yet responded to Mr. Wylie’s query about Authors United, because they are traveling or are inattentive to email. But about 300 Wylie writers have signed on, as well as the estates of Saul Bellow, Roberto Bolaño, Joseph Brodsky, William Burroughs, John Cheever, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller and Hunter S. Thompson.

. . . .

Any threat presented by these initiatives does not seem to have weakened Amazon’s resolve. The retailer has said that it was trying to make e-books cheaper and thus more affordable for all, and that publishers and writers would make up in volume what they were losing in margin if the prices were lower.

. . . .

Whether a viable case could be mounted against Amazon is a matter of debate among antitrust scholars. An earlier effort by Hachette to interest government regulators in a case did not go anywhere.

Amazon had better luck. In 2010, it sent a letter to the Justice Department outlining a possible antitrust case against Apple and five major publishers that suggested they had colluded to raise e-book prices. How much that influenced the government is unknown, but the case became a reality.

. . . .

“Everyone is scared to death of being accused of something,” Mr. Wylie said. “It’s impossible for two publishers to have lunch without a lawyer being present.”

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

PG says the New York publishing establishment’s continuing hissy-fits about Amazon are sounding more like a B-movie all the time.

Perhaps The Last Dinosaur or The Land That Time Forgot.

UPDATE: Jake comments in an email about the photo of Phillip Roth at the top of the NYT story, “Crusading against Amazon lowering the price of books while being photographed sitting in your $9000 chair is either a master stroke of irony, or remarkably arrogant.”

Military Book Fair Coming to San Diego

29 September 2014

From The Writer’s Forensics Blog:

Book enthusiasts are invited to attend the Military Book Fair on November 8th from 10 am to 4 pm.  This book fair is unique because it will take place on the aircraft carrier USS Midway, located in San Diego Harbor. You will have the opportunity buy one or more books at the Midway/Fair bookstore and have them signed, as well as a chance to listen to the authors during panel sessions.  Just buy a $20 Midway ticket and you get the Fair along with a tour of the aircraft carrier.  The added benefit is that you will be helping our military, because all proceeds go to several veterans’ organizations.

Link to the rest at The Writer’s Forensics Blog and thanks to Shelton for the tip.

PG says this location beats any Barnes & Noble he’s ever visited.

Our reply to Ellora’s Cave’s recent actions

29 September 2014

From The Book Pushers:

It’s been a crazy time these past few days. Jane from Dear Author is being sued by Ellora’s Cave.

Ellora’s Cave is suing Jane after she posted this very informative and well written post about Ellora’s Cave and their behaviour which has been reported by EC authors and past employees.

Ellora’s Cave, do you want to silence critics? Ellora’s Cave, do you want to silence your authors?

You won’t silence us.

. . . .

In one stroke, Ellora’s Cave have managed to evaporate all goodwill towards the company–what little they had considering some of the alleged behaviour they have directed and are directing towards their authors.

Some readers, bloggers and authors have decided not to review and buy any present or future books of Ellora’s Cave.

At the Bookpushers, we have made a decision not to review any titles of Ellora’s Cave. On a personal note, some of us have made the decision not to buy any present or future books of Ellora’s Cave.

Link to the rest at The Book Pushers

Could Ellora’s Cave Be More Pathetic and Pernicious?

29 September 2014

From Barry Eisler:

I was traveling . . .  so I missed the news that romance publisher Ellora’s Cave is suing Jane Litte and her blog Dear Author for “defamation.” Jane reported on EC’s apparent failure to pay EC authors royalties that were due, on authors calling for a boycott of EC-published books, and on related matters, and it seems EC responded the way powerful entities sometimes do when their abuses are exposed: they sued.

. . . .

I’ve opined many times that we’re living through a revolution in publishing, a revolution that promises more opportunities, freedom, and profits for authors, and better choice, convenience, and prices for readers. The publishing establishment is trying to impede that progress in a variety of ways: propaganda; marginalizing critics; calls for government intervention; and now, it seems, litigation designed to frighten and silence critics of entrenched interests.

. . . .

The post I wrote is about power dynamics in publishing. As I think should be reasonably clear from our discussions here (and my posts elsewhere), I don’t trust asymmetrical market power anywhere I see it, and despise its abuses no matter how or in what system it manifests itself.

. . . .

If EC doesn’t believe its suit is going to cause a massive backlash and result in new authors being afraid to sign with them, it can only be because: (i) they’re so desperate they think they have nothing to lose; (ii) they believe they have such asymmetrical market power that authors will submit new manuscripts to them no matter what; or (iii) both.

Link to the rest at Barry Eisler

Here’s a link to Barry Eisler’s books

The Psychology of Cryptomnesia: How We Unconsciously Plagiarize Existing Ideas

28 September 2014

From Brain Pickings:

“Any experience the writer has ever suffered,”William Faulkner told a university audience in 1958, “is going to influence what he does, and that is not only what he’s read, but the music he’s heard, the pictures he’s seen.” This notion — that “our” ideas are the combinatorial product of all kinds of existing ideas we’ve absorbed in the course of being alive and awake to the world — is something many creators have articulated.

. . . .

This fusion of existing bits into new combinations is a largely unconscious process, and for all its miraculous machinery, one serious downside is that it often obliterates the traces of the original sources we unconsciously fold into our “new” ideas.

. . . .

In the altogether illuminating 1994 volume The Psychology of Writing (public library) — which also gave us the conditions of the perfect daily routine and ideal creative environment — cognitive psychologist Ronald T. Kellogg defines cryptomnesia as “the belief that a thought is novel when in fact it is a memory” and examines how it arises.

Noting that writers frequently draw upon existing sources in a conscious way — “including verbatim quotations, expansions or summarizations, presentations of alternative points of view that differ from those of the writer, and mimicking the stylistic voice of another” — Kellogg turns to the unconscious mechanisms that drive cryptomnesia:

Much of what a writer knows, particularly discourse and sociocultural knowledge, exists only in tacit form. For example, sentence patterns as well as cultural beliefs are shared by members of the same discourse community and are drawn upon freely by all, without conscious awareness. The same sort of unconscious copying may also occur with specific sentences, facts, and arguments — forms of domain-specific knowledge. When it does, however, the author is subject to the charge of plagiarism… [Cryptomnesia] can lead to inadvertent plagiarism if a writer fails to acknowledge unwittingly an earlier source due to the failure to recognize his or her own thoughts and words as unoriginal.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

Love is

28 September 2014

Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.

Toni Morrison

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