Monthly Archives: March 2015

Sexism in literature

30 March 2015

From the (Pakistan) Express Tribune:

Quick, off the top of your head, name five books that have gotten critical acclaim recently. Chances are the books you’ve named are mostly those written by a male author. ‘But that’s just because I read genres that are more male-dominated,’ you might argue.

Or, ‘Well, men write better books than women.’ Such arguments are overly simplistic (not to mention misogynistic, in the case of the latter) and ignore the deep-rooted sexism that is prevalent in the world of literature today.

. . . .

Pakistan breeds sexism in literature

According to the author Saba Imtiaz, female-dominated genres are comparatively less-respected. “Women-dominated genres [like romance] are considered to be second-tier, ‘easier’ to read and write, and that lack of recognition of how long it may take to write that work is quite dominant,” she says. Her novel is sometimes categorised as ‘chick-lit’, a term Saba thinks is dismissive and belittling. “I’m sure that when I was younger I used the word ‘chick-lit’ too; I would hope that I am more aware now of how ridiculous a word it is,” says Shazaf Fatima Haider, author of the wildly amusing novel How it Happened (2012), who is equally offended when her novel is categorised as ‘chick lit’. “I don’t think of myself as someone who writes only for women, nor is the book solely read by women, so it’s quite amusing to see the quick categorisation based on the theme,” she says. “It is a novel about marriage and weddings and it is, therefore, usually considered as a woman-only book, which is a bit of a daft and one-dimensional way of looking at it. But that’s our gendered outlook at life for you.”

. . . .

Shazaf says that famous, lauded authors and critics are also complicit in this denigration of literature written by women. “[Nobel prize-winning British author] VS Naipaul famously said that he didn’t consider any woman writer his equal. He also said, ‘I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me,’” explains Shazaf. “Naipaul has also said in interviews that women writers’ views are narrow and sentimental. So yes, I think this sort of bias exists, though not many are brave enough to express it so overtly.”

It is not just critics who view books by female authors differently. Readers also respond differently to these books according to their gender. “Women tend to either identify with or despise a character or scene or the entire book,” says Saba. “But that’s because (in my book) the protagonist and her best friend are women and so there is more for women to compare or identify with. Men tend to be either entirely dismissive or terribly curious,” she adds.

. . . .

There is also a tendency to assume that female writers are drawing from their personal experiences when it comes to assessing and critiquing their work. “In addition to labelling women’s writing ‘frivolous’, there is also a tendency to draw in a female writer’s personal life and background into the conversation and critique, whereas a male author’s writing is never critiqued in this manner,” says Saba.

. . . .

“In my experience, I think people are quick to assume I wrote my book to work out issues that are personal to me. I think people generally have an easier time imputing intellectual and aesthetic playfulness to a male author than they do to a female author — they can understand a woman writing from hurt or rage more than from a place of greater dispassion or from sheer aesthetic pleasure.”

Link to the rest at The Express Tribune and thanks to Diana for the tip.

Amazon Home Services

30 March 2015

From the Amazon Media Room:

Amazon announced today the launch of Amazon Home Services (www.amazon.com/services), a new marketplace for on-demand professional services. In less than 60 seconds, customers can now browse, purchase and schedule hundreds of professional services from wall mounting a new TV to installing a new garbage disposal to house cleaning, directly on Amazon.com. Amazon Home Services features handpicked pros offering upfront pricing on pre-packaged services with helpful reviews from customers that have made verified purchases. Amazon’s Happiness Guarantee backs all service purchases, so customers know the job will get done right. With this expansion beyond physical and digital goods, Amazon is now making purchasing professional services as easy as buying products. Amazon Home Services is now available across the country in major U.S. metropolitan areas including New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

Link to the rest at Amazon Media Room and here’s a link to Amazon Home Services

So now, you can order a treadmill from Amazon and have Amazon send someone to put it together and haul away the box.

The secret to writing a novel a month

30 March 2015

From author Shantnu Tiwari, a TPV regular:

Ok folks, so this is Week 2 of Writing with Baby Challenge.

This week, I will give you the secret to writing a novel in one month (or in my case, 20 days). But let me warn you, there is no secret.

Writing with Baby Challenge, Week #2

So this week (over last 6 days) I wrote 5317 words. I’m hoping to average around a 1000 words a day. I use iDoneThis to track my word count- it’s pretty cool. You get an email everyday, and you reply to it saying how many words you typed. Saves the I forgot to note my wordcount excuse.

At this rate, will finish my current book in 2 months, which while slower than my previous pace of a book a month, is still faster than what, 90% of the writers out there.

. . . .

So what’s the secret to fast writing? It’s my secret sauce, which you can have for 6 monthly payments for $99.99!

The truth is, there is no secret. Sure, you can learn tricks like how to type faster. I can type 2000 words an hour (only when I’m in the middle of the book and in full flow). Before the baby, I was writing for an hour and a half a day (in 2 sittings), and easily typed 3-4000 words a day. Since I go for short novels (55-60k) words, that means a whole novel in 20 days.

. . . .

[Some authors] don’t trust their creative side. Their critical side, which is the side that has been trained in school to find fault with everything, to analyse and rip apart rather than build, is the part that takes over. The critical side is never happy with anything. No matter what you write, the critical side will find a fault with it (in the voice of your worst teacher).

If you want to write fast, there are no shortcuts. You just have to trust your creative side, and just damn type

Link to the rest at Shantnu Tiwari

Here’s a link to Shantnu Tiwari’s books

Amazon makes even temporary warehouse workers sign 18-month non-competes

30 March 2015

From The Verge:

Amazon is the country’s largest and most sophisticated online retailer, but it still runs largely on manual labor. Scattered around the country are massive warehouses staffed by workers who spend their days picking objects off shelves and putting them in boxes. During the holiday season, the company calls on a huge reserve army of temporary laborers.

The work is repetitive and physically demanding and can pay several dollars above minimum wage, yet Amazon is requiring these workers — even seasonal ones — to sign strict and far-reaching noncompete agreements. The Amazon contract, obtained by The Verge, requires employees to promise that they will not work at any company where they “directly or indirectly” support any good or service that competes with those they helped support at Amazon, for a year and a half after their brief stints at Amazon end. Of course, the company’s warehouses are the beating heart of Amazon’s online shopping empire, the extraordinary breadth of which has earned it the title of “the Everything Store,” so Amazon appears to be requiring temp workers to foreswear a sizable portion of the global economy in exchange for a several-months-long hourly warehouse gig.

. . . .

“Employee recognizes that the restrictions in this section 4 may significantly limit Employee’s future flexibility in many ways,” the agreement asserts, referencing the section containing the noncompete agreement and three other clauses. “Employee further recognizes that the geographic areas for many of Amazon’s products and services — and, by extension, the geographic areas applicable to certain restrictions in this Section 4 — are extremely broad and in many cases worldwide.”

The contract — which was obtained through applying and being accepted to a seasonal Amazon warehouse position — even includes a provision that requires employees who sign it to “disclose and provide a true and correct copy of this Agreement to any prospective new employer […] BEFORE accepting employment[…]”

. . . .

It’s unclear whether Amazon has attempted to enforce its noncompete contracts with hourly warehouse workers, and Amazon did not respond when asked about this by The Verge. But the company does have a history of aggressively pursuing such cases against white collar workers. Last year, after a former Amazon marketing manager took a job at Google, Amazon leveled a suit against him that was said to test the limits of noncompete law. The willingness of courts to validate such agreements can vary dramatically across states. But regardless of whether courts are willing to enforce them, noncompetes can still affect workers’ behavior.

. . . .

Courts are often reluctant to enforce noncompete agreements that cover the entire United States, let alone the whole world, according to Garden, who notes that the standard of “reasonableness” is the main legal test of the agreements. Yet different states have far different ideas of what counts as reasonable. (In an apparent nod to this, the Amazon contract stipulates that the signer consents that “each and every covenant and restraint in this Agreement is reasonable.”) California law bans the enforcement of noncompetes. Oregon, North Dakota, and Colorado have also enacted strict limits on noncompetes. “Then there are states like Texas and Florida and a bunch of others that are on the other end of the spectrum,” says Lobel, “that think of it as a simple contract issue, and if you sign the contract and you breach it then, well, you’ve breached the contract, and they’ll enforce it, and they’ll give injunctions quite easily.”

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

PG says the story sounds a little weird and you can count him as skeptical.

In the first place, while the laws vary from state to state, most courts considering noncompete agreements tend to apply a reasonableness test when asked to enforce them.

It’s difficult for PG to envision very many judges enforcing an 18 month noncompete agreement against a temporary warehouse worker. It’s also difficult to believe that courts would enforce a noncompete agreement prohibiting a former low-level hourly employee from working for a competitor within a large geographical area for a low level worker. As a matter of public policy, most state governments aren’t trying to prevent their residents from being gainfully employed.

In one case PG remembers, Amazon sued in Washington to enforce a non-compete against one of its vice-presidents in the Amazon cloud business who went to work for Google’s cloud business. If PG’s recollection is correct, the court hearing the case reduced the time for the non-compete from 18 months to 3 months. If the vice-president had continued to work during the litigation, the three months would have almost certainly expired before the court handed down its decision.

As mentioned, non-compete agreements are illegal in California except in very narrow circumstances. If Google had moved the VP to California and he sued Amazon in California, it is almost certain a California court would have voided the non-compete agreement and barred Amazon from enforcing it.

Additionally, there’s the practical question involved in Amazon ever discovering that one of its former warehouse employees has started working for a competitor. If you’re an Amazon vice-president that starts working for a competitor, your profile is high enough so Amazon is likely to hear about the new job. If you move from an Amazon warehouse to a Wal-Mart warehouse, the chances of being discovered are minuscule.

PG says that blanket noncompete agreements for all employees are a really dumb idea in part because gaining a reputation for suing its former employees hurts a company when it is recruiting high-quality talent. Amazon usually doesn’t do dumb things, but maybe their employment lawyers are an exception.

Even when you don’t want to

29 March 2015

Write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.

Agatha Christie

The Weight of Knowledge: On Moving Books

29 March 2015

From The Millions:

“Forty-five?”

“Yes, sir, 45 boxes over the original moving estimate.”

“How much is that going to cost?”

“Well, the revised estimate adds another 1,000 pounds, so $450.”

“Jesus.”

“But that’s just a weight estimate. It could be a lot less depending on what’s in them. They could be filled with pillows for instance. What is in them?”

“Not pillows.”

Many were filled with books, hundreds of them. And if the mover was to believed, they weighed about half a ton: the approximate weight of my knowledge.

I had packed all of the books into two types of freely acquired boxes: those labeled “Adult Brief for Incontinence (Moderate Absorbency),” which my wife brought home from a hospital; and a colorful array picked up at our local liquor store, everything from Ciroc Red Berry to Kinky Blue Liqueur, a versatile concoction which doubles as an aphrodisiac and a window cleaner.

I thought about packing thematically, sorting my volumes by intoxicant. The Russians would go with the vodkas, the Irish with the whiskeys, Germans with the beers, the French with the cognacs, and those few authors whom I knew personally, along with William Faulkner, with the beloved bourbons.

. . . .

Before my last big move, from California to North Carolina about five years ago, I had unloaded most of my book-hoard — I prefer this Old English construction to “library” or “collection,” both of which don’t quite capture the thrilling chaos of that word-treasure spread over my shelves, coffee tables, floors, bathrooms, and car.

. . . .

After the purge, my book-hoard was whittled down to a few boxes to be shipped via media mail.

“Now to get the media mail rate there can only be books in here,” explained the suspicious postal clerk as she watched me hoist the boxes onto the counter.

“I understand.”

“If we open it up and find even a toothbrush, we’ll charge you the full rate.”

(Had she divined my scheme to defraud the post office by cheaply shipping dental supplies, or was she bluffing?)

“Got it,” I replied, despite the realization that I had actually thrown a non-media mail object in with my Norton anthologies — not a toothbrush but an armless Hideki Matsui bobblehead doll. (It made it through undetected.)

Those several dozen books transported from the West Coast multiplied over the years to fill 45 some-odd boxes, proving that the greatest fiction is that book lovers can reform.

. . . .

I took the carful to a used book store, where the clerk instructed me to wait as he sorted the books into two piles — one he wouldn’t buy and the other he’d buy for a pittance. For a bibliophile, this period is especially dangerous, akin to an alcoholic trying to dry out in a Kinky Blue Liqueur distillery. If you must browse to pass the time, I recommend confining yourself to the least tempting section, for me “Spirituality” or “Business.” Then plug your ears when the clerk offers you a figure for store credit, which can be twice as high as the cash offer. Always take the cash.

Link to the rest at The Millions

Top 10 twins in children’s books

29 March 2015

From The Guardian:

In the post-apocalyptic world of my novel The Fire Sermon, all humans are born as twins. However, the twins share a fatal bond: when one twin dies, so does the other.

Literature has long been fascinated by twins, whose uncanny appeal lies in the fact that they’re simultaneously alike and different. Older readers can look forward to the nuanced (and sometimes twisted) take on twins in Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, and Ian McEwan’s Atonement, among others. But for the younger reader, here are 10 of the best twins to enjoy.

1. Sam and Eric, in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies

The twins in Golding’s classic can’t be told apart – not even by Piggy, the only boy who really tries. They’re so identical that the joint nickname that Jack gives them, “Samneric”, sticks. These twins have none of the heroism of Ralph or Piggy, or the charismatic evil of Jack or Roger – instead, they’re the ordinary, well-intentioned bystanders who become complicit in awful crimes. By the end, the question is not whether we can tell Sam and Eric apart, but whether we can distinguish Samneric from ourselves.

. . . .

7. Fred and George Weasley, in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series

If being identical twins didn’t already present enough mischief-making potential, being identical twins in a school of magic takes the chaos to another level. Fred and George, partners in mischief, make the most of it all, with identity swaps and magical pranks. Their inseparable nature only makes (spoiler ahead!) their ultimate separation more poignant.

8. Claude and Eustace Wooster, in PG Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves

Claude and Eustace are the literary precursors of Rowling’s Weasley twins. They create chaos at every turn, and inevitably drag with them their hapless cousin, Bertie Wooster. Even when Claude and Eustace are supposed to be studying in the countryside, they do a sideline in taking bets on the sermon times of the local clergy. Usually partners in crime, their mistake is to compete for the love of the same woman, a division that Bertie’s brilliant butler, Jeeves, is able to exploit in order to outwit them once and for all.

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

Why I Quit Goodreads (or, The Bookternet Is Not Safe for Women)

29 March 2015

From BookRiot:

A few months ago, I quit Goodreads.

Partly, I was paring back my social media life to those that are most useful to me  (Twitter) or make me happiest (Instagram). Partly, I found the Kathleen Hale controversy profoundly upsetting. But mostly, I was just sick of being harassed. I was tired of being questioned by authors or rabid fans about my three-star reviews (by the way can we talk about how a three-star review is not a bad review, people?), messaged and spammed and poked at to read someone’s self-published magnum opus, and invited to everything all over the world always. But those are minor annoyances. The Kathleen Hale controversy snapped into focus something I had always kind of wondered about: as a woman, putting my views on the internet is an act of risk-taking.

And this is gendered, folks. I don’t think Hale would have stalked a male commentator, and I know my male colleagues here at Book Riot get very different reactions for saying the same things my female colleagues do. This is about being a woman who wants to exercise her voice, and this is about the people who will always read that voice as a threat.

Once, a week or so before I deleted my Goodreads account, I gave a book that shall remain nameless a two-star review. A man claiming to be the author’s publicist messaged me to ask that I reconsider. I ignored the message (I never had that many followers on Goodreads and it seemed to me that I was a small potatoes target) and, a day or so later, received an angrier message, this time demanding that I take down the review. I wrote back and noted that I had made some positive points about the book but that overall it didn’t work for me. Reviews on Goodreads, I noted, are personal reflections for the most part — mine certainly were — and I wasn’t condemning the book as a whole. The person wrote back and asked, “How would you like it if people used the internet to say mean things about you? It can be done, you know.”

. . . .

It got me thinking about how often I read articles on book sites (not, blessedly, this one, with its carefully managed community and moderated comments) where I have wanted to join in the discussion, only to read the comment threads full of male aggressions and personal attacks, racism and sexism and threats of violence, and think: no, this is not for me. My voice is not welcome here.

At least once a week, now, I scroll past a comment thread and move on.

This is a problem that is wider than us in the bookternet but it is, make no mistake, a problem in the bookternet. We were supposed to be the safe space for intellectual discussion of this act of reading that we so love. And yet.

. . . .

When I say the bookternet is not safe for women, I mean it. Thankfully I have never been physically attacked or directly harmed by my experiences tweeting and blogging about books. But I have certainly been made to feel unsafe, to live on the defensive, to question the motivations of those who engage with me, to block first and ask questions never. That’s not the person I want to be, but it’s the person I must be if I wish to have a public voice on a big platform like Book Riot. If I have to choose between my sweetness and my voice, my voice will always, always win. It has to.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

‘Insurgent’ And Why Young Adult Novels Make Box Office Hits

28 March 2015

From Forbes:

The second installment of Veronica Roth’s dystopian trilogy, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, grabbed $52.3 million in its opening weekend at the U.S. boxoffice, just shy of Divergent’s $54.6 million debut last year. Clocking $47 million worldwide, Insurgent brings the teen action franchise’s total earnings to a plump $388 million so far, with two movies still to come.

Roth, who earned an estimated $17 million last year selling some 7 million books, is but one of many ink spillers whose literary successes have translated into box office hits. Nearly a quarter of the 200 top-grossing films worldwide tallied by Box Office Mojo have been directly adapted from books, excluding children’s tales, comic book or picture book translations.  Of those 48 titles, 16 started as Young Adult novels and earned a collective $13.4 billion at the box office.

Young Adult (YA) fiction – a genre usually designed for readers 12 and up – has become a global powerhouse that reaps dollars from page turners and popcorn crunchers alike.

“These books already have great source material and a die-hard fan base,” said Jodi Reamer, a senior book agent at Writers House who worked with Twilight‘s Stephenie Meyer and The Fault in Our Stars‘ John Green. She says a novel’s built-in audience means YA adaptations are a shoo-in for studios – and profit makers for publishers.

“At most, a publisher is going to spend a million [dollars] on marketing and promotion, but a studio at the very least will spend a million, so there will be a huge audience discovering the books and driving sales,” Reamer explained.

She would know: Twilight‘s vampire love saga notched a total of $3.34 billion at the global box office from its five installments, propelling Meyer to shift over 116 million copies of the series.

Link to the rest at Forbes

The Secret of the Jane Austen Industry

28 March 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

The poet W.H. Auden said of Sigmund Freud that he was no longer just a person but had become a climate of opinion. That is about as effusive a compliment as one can imagine, and there are very few thinkers or writers who merit it. But one who undoubtedly does isJane Austen. She is not only a climate of opinion, she is a movement, a mood, a lifestyle, an attitude and, perhaps most tellingly of all, a fridge magnet.

What explains the continued popularity of Jane Austen and the handful of novels she wrote? It is, after all, rather remarkable that a woman who spent her life in quiet provincial circumstances in early 19th-century England should become, posthumously, a literary celebrity outshining every author since then, bar none. Tolstoy, Dickens and Proust are all remembered, and still read, but they do not have countless fans throughout the world who reread their books each year, who eagerly await the latest television or movie adaptation, who attend conventions in period costume, and who no doubt dream about the heroes and heroines of their novels.

And it gets better. Although the literary sequel is an established genre, there are no other writers who have quite so many imitators. Each publishing year brings its crop of Austen novels, whether they are prequels, sequels or fresh treatments of a plot from a new perspective.

. . . .

The continued life of the Jane Austen industry must have a secret. At the heart of it is probably the simple, persistent appeal of romance. Austen is about women engaging with men in the eternal dance of attraction between the sexes. That, it would seem, is what people want to read about and to see portrayed one way or another on the screen. The woman identifies her man or he identifies her. They encounter obstacles, whether personal or social, but, if it is meant to be, they overcome them and are happily paired at the end. So resolution and happiness are thrown into the mix, and however jaded we are, it seems we can never get enough of those.

Yet there is far more to Austen than that. There are plenty of superficial romantic novels that are forgotten as soon as they are read. Austen is far from superficial. Although her books are set exclusively within the confines of a certain class, she provides a fascinating picture of the ways of that slice of society and the confines within which its members, particularly women, are obliged to live. She is also extremely funny, able to paint the foibles of characters with a dry wit that has dated very little. Her books are intimate and compelling. She has a voice that somehow seems to chime even with a modern sensibility. She is, in essence, timeless.

Lind to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

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