Monthly Archives: March 2015

Social media witch hunts: “We’re the merciless ones!”

31 March 2015

From Salon:

Jon Ronson’s new book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” is a departure of sorts for the bestselling humorist/journalist. Instead of interviewing paranoid extremists (“Them”) or bizarre military researchers (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”) or convicted murderers (“The Psychopath Test”), he had heart-to-hearts with a publicist, a science journalist, a software developer and a caregiver for adults with learning difficulties. What drew Ronson to this collection of fairly ordinary people is an ordeal they all shared: public shaming in the age of social media.

. . . .

Justine Sacco, the publicist, tweeted a lame joke meant to parody racist attitudes toward AIDS, then boarded a flight to South Africa while Twitter erupted with calls for her head on a platter and gleeful jibes about the nightmare that would greet her when her plane landed. Jonah Lehrer, the journalist, got busted for plagiarism and fabrication and then somehow ended up apologizing at a podium while tweets accusing him of being a “sociopath” and a “delusional, unrepentant narcissist” scrolled up a giant screen behind him. Hank, the developer, made stupid double entendres about dongles with a buddy while sitting in the audience at a tech conference, offending another programmer, Adria Richards, and setting off a string of events that would end with both fired and Richards subjected to horrendous online harassment.

. . . .

All four, and a handful of others whose fates Ronson describes in “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” had their lives wrecked when hoards of digitally empowered crusaders descended on them. All lost their jobs. All went through periods of depression and withdrawal. “It’s not like I can date,” Sacco told Ronson, “because we google everyone we might date.” Some, like Lehrer, were more culpable than others, but their stories left Ronson with nagging doubts about the tools he’d once idealized as a means by which “giants were being brought down by people who used to be powerless.” He decided to investigate what he calls “the great renaissance in public shaming.” And he was frightened, badly, by what he found.

. . . .

I was so happy that you were able to help Lindsey Stone, whose name I hesitate to even mention.

Lindsey is quite happy to be part of the conversation. Being talked about in the way that I’ve been talking about her is actually better than having it all vanish. There are few things more traumatizing than being cast out into the wilderness by the masses, and there’s nothing better than being brought back in. So Lindsey — and Justine [Sacco], too — doesn’t really mind being discussed now that people are discussing them in this new way.

Was it Justine’s case that pulled you into the story of social-media shaming?

I was already in the midst of this when I came across her, but when I did, I just thought, “This is unbelievable.” There’s huge numbers of people willfully misunderstanding this woman for their own ideological ends and those people who were doing it: they’re us. I identified both with Justine and also with the people who tore her apart. And I thought: We’re punishing Justine, gleefully punishing Justine, with this thing that we are the most terrified might happen to us. That’s not a world that you want to live in.

. . . .

Some version of what happened to Justine really can happen to anyone, clearly, because how many followers did she have beforehand?

She had 170. And when the New York Times was fact-checking the excerpt they ran, she told them that no one had ever replied to any of her tweets, either.

She thought she was just sending this stuff off into the void.

Exactly, which is why I don’t buy the slightly cold argument of “Live by the sword, die by the sword,” and when you broadcast on Twitter you should expect these things to happen. Justine had no reason to suspect that.

. . . .

I think what people also don’t realize — or maybe they just don’t care — is that jumping on someone and telling them how terrible they are isn’t actually a great form of persuasion. It makes people dig in their heels and get defensive.

Yeah, although I know that Lindsey believed every negative thing that was written about her.

Oh, that’s terrible!

It was awful. I reinterviewed her a couple of weeks ago for the BBC and she said she read everything and felt worthless. I really think that when she said “worthless” she meant it; poor Lindsey believed everything. I think Justine had more self-esteem. Even me, with all my self-esteem [laughs] when a little flame war happened after the New York Times extract, I didn’t reply to everybody and I muted everybody but I read it all and it definitely made me feel anxious. I was, like, waking up at 4 in the morning and immediately going onto Twitter to see if anything else had happened. Even my tiny rain of shaming had an impact of me.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Action, reaction, motivation

31 March 2015

Action, reaction, motivation, emotion, all have to come from the characters. Writing a love scene requires the same elements from the writer as any other.

Nora Roberts

Amazon Buttons

31 March 2015

Nothing to do with books, but typical Amazon.

Writers Old and Young: Staring Across the Moat

31 March 2015

From author Cynthia Ozick via The New York Times:

Old writers are taken to be as nonessential as old magazines that long ago expired: they are repetitious and out of date, they fail to be of interest even to themselves, they are worn out. A very few have been known to admit to this crisis of confidence or exhaustion, as when in a burst of self-extinguishment as shocking as the unforeseen resignation of a reigning monarch, they submit to abdication. Admittedly, old writers tend to be cut off from their desks mainly by dotage, disability, or death; they do not voluntarily accede to unnatural stoppage. Such instances of self-erasure are rare, and may apply only to those old writers who own the immaculate status of literary popes. More typically, the banishment of old writers derives almost ritually from external sources. How do old writers learn that they are, after all, old writers? By being told, named, classified.

Yet it has long been a credo among old writers (and perhaps among old readers too) that the idea of generations is facile and false; that yes, old writers are either remembered and read or not, and that the young in their turn must begin again the inborn progress of will under pressure of rapture. What unites writers (or so old writers believe) is not a common time frame — a contemporaneous cohort — but an affinity of temperament, an affinity that defies the present and the local, and can journey across the borders of time and geography; and is, most particularly, unconcerned by the imaginary moat touted by birth certificates.

. . . .

 Aspiration is not the same as ambition. Ambition forgets mortality; old writers never do. Ambition wants a career; aspiration wants a room of one’s own. Ambition feeds on public attention; aspiration is impervious to crowds. Old writers in their youth understood themselves to be apprentices to masters superior in seasoned experience, and were ready to wait their turn in the hierarchy of recognition. In their lone and hardened way of sticking-to-it, they were unwaveringly industrious; networking, the term and the scheme, was unknown to them. In their college years, they might on occasion enroll in courses in “creative writing,” though unaware of the vapid redundancy of the phrase: courses presided over by defeated professors who had once actually published a novel and were thereby rendered reverential, but afterward were never heard from again. Old writers were spared (by the nonexistence of such things) the institutionalization of creative writing M.F.A. programs in the universities, taught by graduates of M.F.A. programs — a cycle of M.F.A. students becoming M.F.A. teachers teaching M.F.A. students who will in turn become M.F.A. teachers: a Möbius strip of job-­manufacture. Old writers in their youth were resolutely immured in their first novels, steadfastly enduring unworldly and self-chosen isolation; they shunned journalism, they shunned coteries, they shunned parties, they shunned the haunting of magazines for review assignments, they shunned editorial work, fearful of being drawn into the distracting pragmatism of publishing — magnetized instead by the lure of the Ding an sich.

. . . .

 Young writers, meanwhile, bring to mind those magically endowed characters in the fairy stories whom the youngest son meets on the way to his future: the man in the blindfold, the man with his ears tightly bandaged — because otherwise sight so powerful will see too unbearably far, and hearing so sensitive will be assailed by all the sounds of the earth. In the bottomless force of their seeming immortality, young writers are mercifully lent these blindfolds and ear muffs, and why? To shield them from what old writers have come to know: how things turn out. Old writers have the eyes and breadth of biographers, even when they are not literally so: they are witness to the trajectories of entire lives, the early flourishing and the latter-day fizzling, or else the unpromising seed and its surprising fruitfulness. Old writers have seen and heard the howls and wounds of the madness that failed recognition confers, and they have seen and heard the triumphal parades that the madness of great reputation allows.

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

Here’s a link to Cynthia Ozick’s books

Why an Imperfect Version of Proust is a Classic in English

31 March 2015

From The New Yorker:

The art of translation is usually a semi-invisible one, and is generally thought better for being so. A few translators’ names are familiar to the amateur reader—we know about Chapman’s Homer, through Keats, and Richard Wilbur’s Molière is part of the modern American theatre—but mostly translators struggle with sentences for even less moment (and money) than other writers do. One key exception to this rule is C. K. Scott Moncrieff (1889-1930), whose early-twentieth-century English version of Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu,” has been a classic in our own language since the day of its first publication. Newly published volume by newly published volume, working almost as a simultaneous translator, Moncrieff inserted Proust into the English-speaking reader’s consciousness with a force that Proust’s contemporaries in continental languages never really got. Mostly thanks to Moncrieff, Proust is part of the common reader’s experience in English.

. . . .

But the ease of Moncrieff’s translations also started a fistfight, ongoing, about whether his Proust is Proust, near Proust, Anglicized Proust, or not Proust at all. That Moncrieff called Proust’s book “Remembrance of Things Past,” borrowing from Shakespeare, rather than anything close to a literal rendering of the title “In Search of Lost Time,” is typical of what the translation’s detractors kvetch about to this day.

. . . .

The picture of the times that Moncrieff’s life provides is interesting, but what matters most is the book he made from the book he found. He began translating Proust in 1919, after returning with a serious leg wound from what was called “gallant service” in the war. In a spirit very nearly casual, he interspersed his translations of the later volumes with a great deal of other work. What made his Proust translation so superior—so much so that Joseph Conrad could actually say that he thought Moncrieff was a better translator than Proust was a writer?

Proust himself, in a cranky letter of thanks, put his finger on the conventional complaint about Moncrieff’s version—which was that Moncrieff tended to smooth out or sweeten certain knotty or perverse moves in Proust. The question of the first volume’s title captures the issue: “Du Cote de chez Swann” is a weird construction in French, meaning more or less “The Way by Swann’s Place.” Proust’s own advice for improving on Moncrieff’s title is, in a way, perfectly right—he said that you only need add a “to”: “To Swann’s Way.” But that wouldn’t sound right in English. “To Swann’s Place” is closer. But, ultimately, “Swann’s Way” is the simplest choice and has the right kind of nimbus. The place isn’t the subject; Swann is. Moncrieff, though off, is actually on, and on without being too self-consciously poetic in the pursuit.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

What’s the Matter with Ebooks?

31 March 2015

From Dan Cohen, Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America:

Over the past two years I’ve been tracking ebook adoption, and the statistics are, frankly, perplexing. After Amazon released the Kindle in 2007, there was a rapid growth in ebook sales and readership, and the iPad’s launch three years later only accelerated the trend.

Then something odd happened. By most media accounts, ebook adoption has plateaued at about a third of the overall book market, and this stall has lasted for over a year now. Some are therefore taking it as a Permanent Law of Reading: There will be electronic books, but there will always be more physical books. Long live print!

I read both e- and print books, and I appreciate the arguments about the native advantages of print. I am a digital subscriber to the New York Times, but every Sunday I also get the printed version. The paper feels expansive, luxuriant. And I do read more of it than the daily paper on my iPad, as many articles catch my eye and the flipping of pages requires me to confront pieces that I might not choose to read based on a square inch of blue-tinged screen.

. . . .

[R]un through a simple mental exercise: jump forward 10 or 20 or 50 years, and you should have a hard time saying that the e-reading technology won’t be much better—perhaps even indistinguishable from print, and that adoption will be widespread. Even today, studies have shown that libraries that have training sessions for patrons with iPads and Kindles see the use of ebooks skyrocket—highlighting that the problem is in part that today’s devices and ebook services are hard to use. Availability of titles, pricing (compared to paperback), DRM, and a balkanization of ebook platforms and devices all dampen adoption as well.

But even the editor of the New York Times understands the changes ahead, despite his love for print:

How long will print be around? At a Loyola University gathering in New Orleans last week, the executive editor [of the Times], Dean Baquet, noted that he “has as much of a romance with print as anyone.” But he also admitted, according to a Times-Picayune report, that “no one thinks there will be a lot of print around in 40 years.”

. . . .

The tea leaves, even now, are hard to read, but I’ve come to believe that part of this cloudiness is because there’s much more dark reading going on than the stats are showing. Like dark matter, dark reading is the consumption of (e)books that somehow isn’t captured by current forms of measurement.

For instance, usually when you hear about the plateauing of ebook sales, you are actually hearing about the sales of ebooks from major publishers in relation to the sales of print books from those same publishers. That’s a crucial qualification. But sales of ebooks from these publishers is just a fraction of overall e-reading. By other accounts, which try to shine light on ebook adoption by looking at markets like Amazon (which accounts for a scary two-thirds of ebook sales), show that a huge and growing percentage of ebooks are being sold by indie publishers or authors themselves rather than the bigs, and a third of them don’t even have ISBNs, the universal ID used to track most books.

The commercial statistics also fail to account for free e-reading, such as from public libraries, which continues to grow apace. The Digital Public Library of America and other sites and apps have millions of open ebooks, which are never chalked up as a sale.

Link to the rest at Dan Cohen and thanks to Dave for the tip.

E-books Gained, Online Retailers Slipped in 2014

30 March 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

E-books’ market share of new-book sales increased slightly in 2014 over 2013, while the share of all book sales made through online retailers and bookstore chains dipped in the same period. Those were two of the major trends found by the most recent survey of consumer book-buying behavior conducted by Nielsen Books & Consumers.

E-books accounted for 15% of the spending on all new books (backlist and frontlist titles) last year, up from 12% in 2013. The format’s share of units rose at a slightly slower rate, rising by one percentage point in the year, to 21%, an indication that though e-books remain lower priced than print titles, prices have increased. Print accounted for 70% of new-book spending in 2014, a drop of seven percentage points from 2013.

. . . .

The online retail channel, which includes Amazon, accounted for 35% of all new book sales, both print and digital, in 2014, down from 38% in 2013. Online retailers had a larger share of units, accounting for 39% of units sold, reflecting the impact of the sale of lower-priced e-books. The decline in online retailers’ share of spending despite growth in the e-book market suggests that e-tailers’ share of print book sales may have declined last year.

Bookstore chains’ share of spending fell from 25% in 2013 to 22% in 2014, and its share of units last year was 21%.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The best time

30 March 2015

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

Agatha Christie

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