Monthly Archives: November 2016

The gifts of reading are many

30 November 2016

From LitHub:

This story, like so many stories, begins with a gift. The gift, like so many gifts, was a book—and the book was given to me by a man called Don, with whom I became friends in Beijing during the autumn and winter of 2000. Don and I were working as English literature teachers in a university on the west side of the city, third ring-road out. Our students were mostly the sons and daughters of high-cadre officials: if you mentioned Tibet or Taiwan, 30 faces dipped to their desks. We taught our syllabus from a fat crimson-jacketed anthology of English literature that reframed literary history, Chinese Communist Party style. Literature was functional, and its function was the advancement of the Maoist project. Wordsworth the revolutionary was included, but not Wordsworth the late-life conservative. Oscar Wilde starred as socialist but not as aesthete. Ezra Pound didn’t make the cut, for obvious reasons. Thomas Hood’s ‘The Song of the Shirt’ was the most important Victorian poem.

Teaching with The Big Red Book, as we nicknamed it, was hard work. It was easy to forget that literature might be there to thrill, perplex or amaze, rather than only to instruct. What kept me honest was Don. Don turned 60 that year. He was from San Francisco. He was tall, just starting to stoop. He dressed Kerouac-style: black jeans, black leather jackets, white T-shirts. Pebble glasses, short grey hair standing up in spikes. Small, sharp, wonky teeth, which you saw a lot of because Don talked so much and laughed so much. Fast, rat-a-tat questions-and-answers, or long think-pieces spoken at several words a second, but without ever making you feel like he was taking more than his fair share of airtime.

Don was from a blue-collar background in California, and had met poetry at the City Lights Bookstore in his early twenties. It had changed his life. He’d heard Ginsberg read. He’d hung out with Ferlinghetti. He’d worked night school and then part-time at a state college to get a degree in literature as a mature student. But eventually he couldn’t afford to live in California and teach the texts he loved, so he’d switched to Beijing where accommodation came with the job, and the basics were cheap. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone with a higher-voltage passion for books than Don. Literature wired him. When Don read, he crackled.

. . . .

On the seventh morning I heard Don get up early and walk around the house. The front door closed. I guessed he was heading to the market. I went to the kitchen to make coffee. There was a neatly wrapped present on the table, with a card. I read the card. He’d gone to Edinburgh, hadn’t wanted to wake us before leaving. I felt a quick punch of guilt. He’d loved his stay with us, he said, and had left a few small tokens of thanks.

The present on the table was a copy of Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End. I walked into the other room. There was another present there, propped up against a lamp: a CD of West Coast jazz. And then in the room in which I worked, on my desk, was the third and last of his presents. It was a paperback copy of a book by Patrick Leigh Fermor that Don and I had talked about once in Beijing, drawn to it by our shared love of walking (which Don mostly did in cities, and I mostly did in mountains). Its title was A Time of Gifts.

If you’ve never read A Time of Gifts, may I urgently suggest that you buy a copy as soon as possible, or better still ask someone to give you one as a present? Together with the two books that follow it—Between the Woods and the Water (1986) and The Broken Road (2013)—it tells the story of Leigh Fermor’s legendary walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople in the early 1930s, started when he was just 18, and constituting what is fondly known by Leigh Fermor’s many modern admirers as “the longest gap year in history.”

Link to the rest at LitHub

Travel

30 November 2016
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Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

Ibn Battuta

Amazon Said to Plan Premium Alexa Speaker With Large Screen

30 November 2016

From Bloomberg Technology:

Amazon.com Inc. is developing a premium Echo-like speaker with a screen, a sign the world’s largest online retailer is trying to capitalize on the surprise success of its voice-controlled home gadgets and fend off competition from Google and Apple Inc.

The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon’s existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company’s voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter. This will make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments, and news, the people said. They asked not to be identified speaking about a product that has yet to be announced.

. . . .

High-grade speakers will make the gadget sound much better than current Echo devices, this person also said. Amazon’s new device is scheduled to be announced as soon as the first quarter of 2017, this person added. Amazon, based in Seattle, Washington, declined to comment.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Technology

Amazon has already announced that voice-controlled devices – Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote and Echo, all featuring Alexa were, along with Fire tablets, the best-selling products from any manufacturer across all of Amazon on Thanksgiving weekend/Cyber Monday – so doing more in that area would seem to be a no-brainer.

Around Casa PG, Alexa is definitely better-informed on most subjects than PG is.

 

Author’s Vision of a Future Beijing Looks to China’s Present

30 November 2016

From The New York Times:

Sunlight is so scarce that it is rationed based on economic class. Schools are so packed that the poorest parents must wait in line for days to secure spots for their children.

Those are the grim scenes of Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing,” a science-fiction novelette that won a Hugo Awardin August, beating out Stephen King. The story is set in a futuristic Beijing, though many of its scenes seem grounded in the problems vexing Chinese society today.

Ms. Hao, 32, is the first Chinese woman to win a Hugo, conferred by the World Science Fiction Society.

. . . .

Science fiction has taken off in China in recent years, and more and more Chinese authors are gaining international recognitionfor their work. What do you think makes Chinese science fiction unique?

Some Chinese science fiction reads like nonfiction with a few sci-fi elements mixed in. Chinese science fiction isn’t necessarily about the universe, the future, artificial intelligence or technology. It might be about the present or even ancient Chinese history.

. . . .

In “Folding Beijing,” you portray a deeply stratified society in which even mingling among economic classes is forbidden. Why focus on inequality?

We see from history that, at the beginning of every new empire, equality was one of people’s aspirations, but as the empire grew older, inequality appeared again, and people had to overthrow the empire and start all over again. It seems even now there isn’t an ideal solution. Inequality will continue to be a challenge for human society in the future.

. . . .

You have a deep interest in Chinese history. What do you think defines the modern era in China?

I think now is a time of free thought if you look across the broader picture of thousands of years of Chinese history. Thirty years ago, culture and tradition were shattered during the Cultural Revolution. Our generation doesn’t have the same connection to past traditions, and we’ve absorbed so much from Western culture, which is popular.

That has advantages and disadvantages. The bad side is that foreign culture doesn’t have its roots in China, so no matter how much we learn about it, it’s not ours. We don’t know much about traditional culture, which means we are lost. The good side is that we don’t have traditional burdens and are eager to learn unfamiliar things. It’s a time full of uncertainty and potential, and nobody knows where we’re heading.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

English

30 November 2016

4 Steps to Selling More Books with Less Social Media

30 November 2016

From Digital Book World:

When I ask new email subscribers to tell me their number one book marketing challenge, the answer is overwhelmingly the conundrum that is social media: it takes too much time, and the results are difficult to measure. I agree.

Without a solid understanding of how social media does and doesn’t work, authors resort to the splatter method. But trying to hit every social media channel is a poor marketing strategy. On the contrary—you can successfully sell more books with less social media in four steps:

1. Find, build and target your proprietary audience.
2. Choose a primary social media channel for engagement and selling based on five specific criteria.
3. Designate social media outpost channels to direct potential fans to your primary social media channel.
4. Create a content system designed to foster engagement first and sell books second based on authentic author interaction with fans.

. . . .

Finding your readers shouldn’t be like playing Where’s Waldo. Here are a few tactics to find out where your readers are on social media.

• Survey your own readers. If you don’t know the social media preferences of your readers, ask them. You can send out a free survey on Survey Monkey or Google Forms to all your readers via email and social media posts. Find out who they are (demographics), where they spend their time on social media, and what other authors they read.
• Check free general use statistics on Pew Internet and other free data sites. Pew Internet provides the most reliable and extensive data on social media use worldwide. There are reputable marketing sites like HubSpot, Buffer, Marketo, Nielsen, Social Bakers and others that also publish free periodic data reports on social media use.
• Check your social media channel data. Most major social media channels will give you data about your followers.
• Check with your professional associations. Some writer organizations, such as Romance Writers of America, offer data about the genre’s readers to members.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Best-Ever Holiday Shopping Weekend for Amazon Devices

30 November 2016

From Amazon:

Amazon today announced its best-ever holiday shopping weekend for devices—including a record-breaking Cyber Monday with Amazon device sales up more than 2x over last year and millions of devices sold.

Echo Dot, Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, Fire tablet, and Amazon Echo were not only the best-selling Amazon devices, but they were the best-selling products from any manufacturer in any category across all of Amazon.

  • Millions of the all-new Echo Dot sold since launch—sales of Amazon Echo family of devices up over 7x over last year’s Cyber Monday.
  • Millions of Alexa devices were purchased this holiday shopping weekend.
  • Fire Tablets sales were up 2x compared to last Cyber Monday.
  • Fire Kids Edition has its best holiday shopping weekend ever—continues to be the #1 kids tablet in the U.S., across all retailers.
  • Amazon Fire TV sales were up more than 2.5x year-over-year on Cyber Monday. Fire TV continues to be the #1 streaming media player in the U.S., across all retailers.
  • The Kindle e-reader business continues to grow—customers bought hundreds of thousands of Kindle e-readers this holiday weekend.

. . . .

  • The top 3 most popular Kindle cookbooks downloaded during Thanksgiving week include: “Essential Spices and Herbs,” “The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook,” and “Me, Myself and Pie.”

Link to the rest at Business Wire

As you do your holiday shopping, clicking on TPV Amazon affiliate links, either in the posts or at the top of the right column to start shopping on Amazon will generate a small affiliate fee for PG.

William Trevor’s Quiet Explosions

29 November 2016

From The New Yorker:

I first encountered the work of the Irish writer William Trevor, who died this week, at the age of eighty-eight, in one of his masterwork short stories, “The News from Ireland.” This was more than twenty years ago, when I was a graduate student, but I can still summon the emotional jolt, and the riveting sense of fiction’s possibilities that Trevor’s humane, wry, frank, and often melancholy worldview excited in me.

The first sentences of the story go like this:

Poor Irish Protestants is what the Fogartys are: butler and cook. They have church connections, and conversing with Miss Fogarty people are occasionally left with the impression that their father was a rural dean who suffered some misfortune: in fact he was a sexton.

In those few unassuming lines, one can see so much of what made Trevor unsurpassable. With barely an effort, he conjures a time and place and the particular knot of social mores that the story will spend its pages untangling. The gentle condescension of the short opening phrase conveys not the author’s own prejudice about the butler and the cook but a sense of how they are viewed by people who rank above them; we know the world we have stepped into is one where the constraints of social status are unyielding. But, with the fleetness and economy that are the hallmarks of his fiction, Trevor also narrows his focus to tell us how Miss Fogarty defends herself against her low station in life—with pretense and innuendo, and perhaps a dollop of self-delusion. It’s a magician’s trick. A sleight of hand. You barely realize what has happened and suddenly there you are, in the mid-nineteenth century on an Irish estate during the tyrannical years of the potato famine, immersed in a story of ordinary people quietly wrestling with fate.

This is the trick that Trevor pulled off again and again, with each story and novel he wrote in the course of his decades-long career. He drew us into the lives of English and Irish shopkeepers and farmers, priests and parishioners, and even those who, by dint of circumstance or carefully curated effort, ascended a rung or two on the hierarchy. And although his work very much reflected the prevailing political and religious mores of its settings, it did not focus on the large sweep of history. Instead, Trevor settled his gaze on private yearnings and small, wayward impulses: stories about siblings scuffling over small-bore inheritances, about lost love, about minor duplicities, and, always, about the press and passage of time.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Here’s a link to William Trevor’s books.

Our Irish blunders

29 November 2016
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Our Irish blunders are never blunders of the heart.

Maria Edgeworth

Amazon Plans To Escalate War On Fakes In 2017

29 November 2016

From Consumerist:

Rampant counterfeiting among Amazon Marketplace sellers is holding the retailer back. There are companies that simply won’t agree to sell their merchandise on the site, given the the company’s known issues with counterfeits, and the concern that genuine and knock-off merchandise could be co-mingled in Amazon warehouses. The online retail giant is now preparing a very public war on counterfeit merchandise.

Bloomberg Technology reports that Amazon plans to escalate its efforts in 2017, but kicked things off this year with new policies requiring some sellers to pay up to a $1,500 fee for each major brand that they sell. The company’s logic is that small-time counterfeiters who plan to quit the site after receiving a few complaints won’t want to register and pay a fee, but legitimate sellers that plan to stick around will be happy to.

One recent stand against counterfeits on the site came not from Amazon, but from Apple. The tech company was concerned about consumer safety as well as its trademarks: counterfeit products, the company noted, are “not subjected to industry-standard consumer safety testing and are poorly constructed.” Apple sued the makers of almost 100 products masquerading as its own on Amazon.

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

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