Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Faux Intimacy of Celebrity Book Clubs

16 December 2017

From Paper Darts:

Book clubs have, throughout their existence, served a dual purpose: to recommend reading to their members, and to provide forums for discussion. While these purposes have remained core to the nature of the book club, the clubs themselves have evolved over time.

In the mid-’90s, book clubs took a new form with Oprah. Oprah has been a uniquely influential personality in several ways, not the least of which is her culture of accessibility. Her book club selections are, as Anne Helen Petersen describes them in her book Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, decidedly “midcult”—that is, not quite high art, but not quite lowbrow culture. They reflect a diverse authorship, often discover new and overlooked talent, and remain unintimidating to her substantial fandom.

I wasn’t very aware of Oprah’s Book Club growing up, but it still had some presence in my childhood home. Her selections peppered our shelves, and I remember my mom sharing them with me when I was a teenager. Mary McGarry Morris’s Songs in Ordinary Time, an Oprah pick, is still on my shelf today. I recently asked my mom about her relationship with Oprah’s Book Club. “Her picks were uneven,” she said. “But she has a good eye for the underappreciated writer. I really like that.”

. . . .

At the start of 2016, feminist darling Emma Watson launched a book club called Our Shared Shelf with Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road as her pilot selection. The club has since gained a solid moderator team on Goodreads, and Watson has been spotted hiding selections around Paris in a partnership with The Book Fairies. The Our Shared Shelf team appears to consciously target activist voices and—more than its peer clubs—voices of color, drawing from the writings of bell hooks, Maya Angelou, and Marjane Satrapi. Our Shared Shelf also has a distinctive community feel to it: its Instagram page includes pictures and commentary on the current book from readers. Watson is less of a host in this club; she’s another member. Yet the tone of Our Shared Shelf still feels like a (bookish and cutesy) call to action.

. . . .

In sharp contrast, Reese Witherspoon’s Instagram book club is almost offensively inoffensive. It’s a J. Crew of book clubs; her posts feature shelves organized soothingly by primary colors like cashmere scarves, and books spread across beach blankets. The selections tend to the likes of bestselling authors Ruth Ware, Liane Moriarty, and Paula Hawkins. Like Roberts and Preiss, Witherspoon doesn’t appear to have an agenda, other than possible publicity. Moriarty is probably a branding choice, as Witherspoon stars in the HBO adaptation of her book Big Little Lies. Generally, Witherspoon’s book club is bland and fun, even featuring posts with her kids.

Link to the rest at Paper Darts

Technology is nothing

16 December 2017

Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.

Steve Jobs

Barnes and Noble Sends Millions of Nook Related Emails

16 December 2017

From GoodEreader:

Barnes and Noble has sent out millions of emails to anybody who as an account with them. They thanked everyone for registering your new NOOK and provided some helpful hints for getting the most out of your device. This included some tutorials on customizing fonts and and hyping up their bestsellers lists. The problem is that these emails are sent by mistake and the vast majority of people receiving them had not purchased a Nook recently.

Three hours after sending out millions of emails by mistake, the bookseller followed up and sent everyone more emails. It stated “We wanted to make you aware of a system error we experienced today, which caused you to receive an email thanking you for registering your NOOK Device or Reading App. Please disregard this email. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.”

Link to the rest at GoodEreader

PG says this will rebut all those naysayers who claim Barnes & Noble can’t compete with Amazon. /s

Or, as PG’s father sometimes said:

 

.

Do people say that any more?

UPDATE:

After posting the graphic above, it occurred to PG that this phrase and its application might not be familiar to all visitors to TPV.

Here’s an example if its usage.

PG grew up on ranches and farms. Most ranchers/farmers become adept at fixing things that break around the place and something is always breaking on a ranch. Fixing something yourself is much less expensive than paying someone to fix it for you and small ranches and farms are typically low-margin businesses, often with older equipment that breaks more often.

On occasion, a piece of equipment breaks (let’s say it’s a tractor) and even the most adept farmer realizes that he/she doesn’t have the capability of fixing it because the repair requires specialized tools/equipment/parts the farmer doesn’t have.

So, the farmer drags the tractor up onto a trailer that he’s hooked to his pickup truck and drives to the farm implement dealer on the outskirts of a small town for repair.

The implement dealer has a couple of guys who work as mechanics for not a lot of money. They “fix” the tractor.

The farmer comes to pick up the tractor and inwardly groans as he/she pays the bill. When the farmer gets the tractor back to the farm, it breaks again the first time he/she starts it up.

After a few more emphatic phrases, the farmer mutters, “cheap help,” referring to the mechanics the implement dealer hired to help “fix” equipment.

The mistake described in the OP is not one that a minimally competent and experienced email marketing manager would make.

In a properly-designed mass email system, someone would have to blow through a couple of “Are you sure you want to do this?” messages before an email was sent to this type of audience. In a properly-designed tech administration structure, not a lot of people would have access to the “Send to all” email function.

In a great many organizations, such a mistake would be a firing offense for everyone involved.

This is a disaster for Barnes & Noble. It blows up whatever trust its customers have developed for the company. Fears that their Nooks/BN accounts were hacked won’t go away for awhile. During the peak of the holiday shopping season, some Barnes & Noble customers will take their online purchases elsewhere.

A lot of those who received the email have already unsubscribed from the Barnes & Noble mailing list.  A reader who is trying to decide whether to buy a Nook or a Kindle will remember that BN might be a company that can’t handle technology.

How to Tell A Story on Social Media

16 December 2017

From Medium:

I spend an enormous amount of my time trying to figure out how to storytell in micro moments because it’s apparent that we’re living in an ADD culture — where everybody is short on the only commodity that matters in this life — our TIME.

. . . .

The notion of storytelling hasn’t changed but the mediums through which we tell the stories have. With the advent of social and ever-evolving consumer attention, you now have to tell a story in new and interesting ways, be it 6 seconds or 60.

I’m obsessed with the idea of finding ways to tell a story that grab your attention the moment you take out your phone and scroll through various social platforms. That’s the game we’re playing. That’s what you have to focus your energy on.

We don’t sit on the couch with a remote in our hands, bound by the TV Guide schedule, with only a few channels to choose from. Whether you like it or not, we live in a world where there’s obnoxious amounts of information getting thrown at us and unlimited amounts of outlets to consume that information which is entirely accessible on our own time. We live in a completely on-demand culture and as consumers and marketers, we need to recognize that.

. . . .

How many people reading this article are upset when somebody calls them?

The mediums have changed. We would much rather have you send a text or a tweet or a Snap to communicate because we can get to it on our own time. It’s the new model of storytelling and whether we like it or not, it’s not going anywhere.

. . . .

In a world where there’s a an enormous amount of social content, if you don’t make someone stop what they are doing and create a response, you are going to lose. Whether that’s an action or an emotion, the true test of storytelling is how you feel or what you do after you consume it.

A few months ago I bought flowers for the entire NYC VaynerMedia office. It wasn’t a holiday and therefore it was entirely unexpected so it evoked a feeling of surprise and delight. People were pleased and the reaction was a mix of happiness, positivity and a boosted morale. If that day was Valentine’s Day it might have been a little bit more expected and the story would have been more cliche and therefore wouldn’t evoke as much of a response. It’s all about the setup, the punchline and hacking people’s expectations.

In a sea of a million stories, a great one is going to make you react.

Link to the rest at Medium

Artificial Intelligence and copyright: a happy (or even possible) relationship?

15 December 2017

From The 1709 Blog:

[I]n the realm of IP one of the questions that have been asked with increasing frequency is whether and to what extent AI has the potential to replace humans, including in the creative fields.

As AI machines become increasingly autonomous, can they be regarded as ‘authors’ in a copyright sense and, if so, can the works they create be eligible for copyright protection? If the answer was again in the affirmative, who would own the copyright in such works?

. . . .

For instance, readers with an interest in music might have had the opportunity to listen to the recently released single Hello Shadow, which is the first song extracted from the the first multi-artist music album composed with AI.

This album was curated by Benoit Carré, head of SKYGGE, who collaborated with several musicians and performers, including – in the case of Hello Shadow – Stromae and Kiesza.

The SKYGGE project started as a research project (the Flow-Machines project, conducted at Sony Computer Science Laboratories and University Paris 6) in which scientists were looking for algorithms to capture and reproduce musical “style” [an example being Daddy’s cara song in the style of the Beatles]. However, the novelty and huge potential of the approach triggered the attention of musicians who joined the team.

It is clear that SKYGGE produces music thanks to AI, but there is a substantial human input. But as things have the potential to develop in the sense that AI will be able to create music entirely on its own, without any human input, will the resulting songs be protected by copyright?

. . . .

[A]t the international level there is no definition of who is to be regarded as an ‘author’ in a copyright sense. However, legal scholarship seems oriented in the sense of concluding that, from its text and historical context, under the Berne Convention only natural persons who created the work can be regarded as authors.

In any case, although generally speaking it seems possible “to agree that an author is a human being who exercises subjective judgment in composing the work and who controls its execution”, this does not mean that at the national level there are not situations in which also works created by non-human authors can qualify for protection, or courts have not addressed issues of non-human authorship.

. . . .

Harmonization of the standard of originality at the EU level has been limited. Only the Software Directive (Article 1(3)), the Database Directive (Article 3(1)) and the Term Directive (Article 6) provide that, respectively, for computer programs, databases and photographs copyright protection shall be only available if they are their “author’s own intellectual creation”.

. . . .

One may wonder how a non-human author can exercise such rights. The question becomes even more complex, if not impossible to solve, if one considers that the CJEU has clarified that the language of that directive imposes that authors are considered as the exclusive first owners of economic rights.

Link to the rest at The 1709 Blog

PG just checked the number of posts he has created for TPV.

The number is . . . . . 16,130.

PG stifled an OCD impulse to figure out a way to determine how many sentences and words are contained in those 16,130 posts.

PG doesn’t think MS Word is up to the task, but he’s never tried. (OCD stifling is going quite well at the moment.)

However, PG wondered if he could create a short program to rearrange segments of the 16,130 posts to create an almost infinite number of new posts and transform TPV into a perpetual blog.

(PG understands that perpetual motion devices are supposed to be impossible, but, since blog posts don’t contain motion, physics may not negate the concept of a perpetual blog. PG will stop trying to think about physics now.)

PG couldn’t stop wondering whether MS Word could be up to some sort of word-counting task for those 16,130 blog posts (OCD scores one point). Quite frankly, he had his doubts about MS Word.

So, he copied and pasted 20 copies of the ms from Mrs. PG’s forthcoming novel into a single MS Word file, expecting the word-counting function to fail.

PG apologizes to all the programmers in Redmond.

20 copies of Mrs. PG’s next book contain:

  • 2081 pages (MS Word manuscript pages, not pages in a printed book or ebook pages)
  • 43,500 paragraphs
  • 1,154,740 words
  • 6,295,780 characters (with spaces)

As PG looks at these numbers, he may need to retract his apologies.

Other than the page count, MS Word says that 1) the number of paragraphs, 2) the number of words and 3) the number of characters in 20 copies of Mrs. PG’s next book are each divisible by 10.

What are the chances of this happening? (PG is becoming tired of numbers, so he won’t go down that path).

Ever dubious, PG suspected a bit of fudging by the programmer responsible for the word count feature in MS Word. Was Microsoft just guessing?

He was about to make an accusation.

But first, he added a single character to this monstrous file.

(pregnant pause)

(no sexism intended)

And . . .

the characters count increased by 1. To a number not divisible by 10.

Then he entered a space and another single character.

And the word count increased by 1 while the character count increased by 2 (one space and one character).

Then he hit the Enter key and another single character.

And the paragraph count increased by 1 with character and word count each incrementing properly.

PG can confirm that the paragraph, word and character counting algorithms in his copy of MS Word appear to be accurate (No, he’s not going to personally count words. He’s an attorney, not an accountant.), at least for a document containing 20 copies of Mrs. PG’s next book.

He unconditionally withdraws any and all disparaging comments directed towards any and all nameless programmers in Redmond.

Color

15 December 2017

Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.

Claude Monet

A Retrofit for America’s Dying Malls

15 December 2017

This is not quite the thing that PG usually excerpts. However, after his megapost yesterday, he’ll make an exception.

From The Wall Street Journal:

After Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch, Tenn., closed in 2011, it became the home of a new satellite campus of Nashville State Community College and a practice rink for Nashville’s professional hockey team. It still has stores, including an ethnic market filled with small immigrant businesses, but on a much smaller scale than before.

In East Austin, Texas, the abandoned Highland Mall was taken over in recent years by Austin Community College, which opened a state-of-the-art lab for teaching math on the second floor of the old J.C. Penney and is building housing for students and others on the old parking lots. With a new light rail stop, the development has also become a magnet for local employers.

As the Christmas shopping season reminds us, the traditional retail sector is undergoing profound change. While Amazon and its e-commerce rivals vie for ever-larger shares of the market, retailers such as RadioShack, The Limited, Payless and Toys ‘R’ Us have gone bankrupt.

. . . .

The so-called “retail apocalypse” is hardly universal. Overall, the sector is still growing at a healthy rate of 3% a year. But the shift in retail has been especially hard on many suburbs and rural areas. Dying malls and shopping centers have meant job losses and a shrinking tax base.

. . . .

When the Villa Italia Mall in Lakewood, Colo., closed and defaulted to the city in 2001, the local government worked with a developer to raze most of the buildings, cut new roads and create a lively hub neighborhood of homes, offices and arts centers, with some new stores too. Belmar, as it is now called, is already generating four times the tax revenue that the old mall did. Eight of the 13 malls in the Denver metropolitan area are being similarly retrofitted and remade.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

How “The Story of Ferdinand” Became Fodder for the Culture Wars of Its Era

15 December 2017

From The New Yorker:

Children’s books, like children themselves, come in for a fair amount of scolding, whether it’s the periodic “family values” attacks on books like “Heather Has Two Mommies” or the international stir kicked up just last month when an English mum argued that the non-consensual wakeup kiss at the end of “Sleeping Beauty” reinforces rape culture. You might think that “The Story of Ferdinand,” about a gentle bull who refuses to fight in either pasture or bullring, only wanting to sit under his favorite tree and smell the flowers, would be immune from such content-shaming. But the eighty-one-year-old book, which was written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson and is the basis for the new animated film “Ferdinand,” opening on December 15th, was caught in the culture-war crossfire of its own era. Mahatma Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt were on Team Ferdinand. Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco were not. But the battle lines weren’t drawn quite as neatly as those rosters suggest.

Set in the country somewhere outside Madrid, “The Story of Ferdinand” had the good or bad fortune to be published in September, 1936, three months after the start of the Spanish Civil War, when Fascist military forces began rebelling against the leftist Republic. In the book, the peaceful Ferdinand is mistaken for the “toughest, meanest bull in all of Spain” after he gets stung by a bee and starts “bucking and jumping and acting like he was crazy.” Carted off to the bullring, however, he reverts to languid form, sitting down and smelling “all of the beautiful flowers worn by the ladies in the crowd.” The picadors, the banderilleros, and the matador do their best, but “no one could get Ferdinand to fight,” and so he returns to his beloved pasture and tree. A sweet tale. But with Spain at war and the rest of Europe on the verge, Ferdinand’s pacifism conveyed a loaded message if looked at the right, or wrong, way. The book’s publisher, Viking Press, had wanted to hold it back until “the world settles down,” according to a reminiscence by Margaret Leaf, Munro’s widow, written on the book’s fiftieth anniversary. The author and illustrator insisted on going ahead, which the publisher did—though apparently without much faith, putting all its advertising muscle behind another picture book on its list that year: “Giant Otto,” by William Pène du Bois, which centered on a floppy dog the size and shape of a four-story burial mound. “ ‘Ferdinand’ is a nice little book,” Viking’s president reportedly proclaimed, “but ‘Giant Otto’ will live forever.”

. . . .

 “The Story of Ferdinand” sold respectably, at first, moving fourteen thousand copies in its first year. But it took off, in 1937, for reasons no one was quite sure of. By its first anniversary it had sold eighty thousand copies, a phenomenal number for a picture book during the Depression. By that Christmas, as this magazine reported, sales were “running slightly behind Dale Carnegie and well ahead of Eleanor Roosevelt.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

The Editor Who Pulled Joseph Conrad from the Slush Pile

15 December 2017

From The Literary Hub:

Edward Garnett’s daily job of ploughing through all the manuscripts submitted to Unwin by authors considerably less accomplished than Ford Madox Ford was generally a pretty thankless task, but just occasionally something was sent in which caused real excitement. Wilfred Chesson initially took charge of the manuscripts as they arrived at Unwin’s office and then passed on a selection to Edward, who did most of his reading at Henhurst Cross. On July 5, 1894, Chesson received a manuscript submitted for consideration for the Pseudonym Library. The author’s name on the typescript was “Kamudi”—the Malay word for “rudder.” This tale of a Dutch trader’s disintegration in Borneo impressed Chesson, who dispatched it to Edward. The story contained many of the elements of standard exotic “romances” of the time, including piracy, elopement and betrayal, but Edward immediately recognized that the narrative had qualities that set it apart from the usual run of Far Eastern potboilers.

Indeed, the manuscript seemed to challenge many of the conventions of such books: there was a distinctly antiheroic aspect to its main protagonist, the portraits of the natives ran counter to prevailing stereotypes, and the narrative’s mordant undercurrent was entirely unlike superficially similar works. The sophistication of the narrative point of view and the evocation of the tropical atmosphere evident in the opening chapter arrested Edward’s attention. He was captivated, too, by the figure of Babalatchi, an elderly, one-eyed statesman, and by a night scene at the river’s edge between the Dutch trader’s Malay wife and her daughter. Having read the manuscript, Edward firmly advised Unwin, “Hold on to this.” He was curious about the author, who he thought at first must have Eastern blood in his veins. “I was told however that he was a Pole,” Edward later recalled, “and this increased my interest, since my Nihilist friends, Stepniak and Volkhovksy, had always subtly decried the Poles when one sympathized with their position as ‘under dog.’” The Pole and the Russians: that early association in Edward’s mind was something he could never entirely relinquish.

. . . .

Edward may have become a little hazy as to the exact circumstances, but his impressions of the author remained razor sharp:

My memory is of seeing a dark-haired man, short but extremely graceful in his nervous gestures, with brilliant eyes, now narrowed and penetrating, now soft and warm, with a manner alert yet caressing, whose speech was ingratiating, guarded, and brusque by turn. I had never before seen a man so masculinely keen yet so femininely sensitive.

Despite his relative youth (he was 26 at the time of the encounter) Edward had already established something of a reputation. Even the mercurial novice author, who later described his initial view of the London literary scene as “as inviting as a peep into a brigand’s cave and a good deal less reassuring” was aware of the Garnett name. “The first time I saw Edward,” he later recounted, “I dare not open my mouth. I had gone to meet him to hear what he thought of Almayer’s Folly. I saw a young man enter the room. ‘That cannot be Edward so young as that,’ I thought. He began to talk. Oh yes! It was Edward. I had no longer doubt.”

The meeting between Edward Garnett and Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski came at an opportune moment for both men. As far as Edward was concerned the year had been blighted by marital tension, mental and physical illness and the further disappointment of his literary ambitions. Korzeniowski, who nine years earlier had anglicized his surname to Conrad, had fared little better. Orphaned at the age of 11, he had subsequently been brought up by his maternal uncle Tadeusz Bobrowski. Although he had seen relatively little of Bobrowski after 1874, when he embarked on a career with first the French and then the English merchant marine, Conrad remained close to his uncle, who effectively became his surrogate father.

In February 1894 he received a telegram from Ukraine informing him of Bobrowski’s sudden death. Conrad was in London at the time, where a month earlier he had signed off as second mate on the steamer Adowa.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

I didn’t go to bookshops

14 December 2017

I didn’t go to bookshops to buy. That’s a little bourgeois. I went because they were civilized places. It made me happy there were people who sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote and there were other people who devoted their lives to making those words into books. It was lovely. Like standing in the middle of civilization.

Jerry Pinto

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