Books in General

Then I went back

1 July 2015

Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.

Last line from Molly by Samuel Beckett

Scottish prize goes to book rejected 44 times

1 July 2015

From TeleRead:

Here’s heartening news for writers still battling on through a blizzard of rejection slips from publishers: English historical author John Spurling “has won the sixth Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction for his novel set in imperial China, The Ten Thousand Things,” despite being rejected 44 times by publishers. According to Spurling’s own statement, “I always thought that I would like success to be in my seventies, and I’m seventy-nine this year, so have just made it!” The award to Spurling was worth £25,000 ($38,888).

. . . .

Spurling received his prize at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival in the beautiful Scottish Borders town of Melrose., near to Walter Scott’s historic home at Abbotsford. He reportedly spent 15 years working on The Ten Thousand Things, “set in 14th-century China, during the final years of the Mongol-ruled Yuan Dynasty, and is the story of Wang Meng, one of the era’s four great masters of painting.”

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Author Warns U.S. Military to Focus on China

29 June 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Peter Singer, one of Washington’s pre-eminent futurists, is walking the Pentagon halls with an ominous warning for America’s military leaders: World War III with China is coming.

In meeting after meeting with anyone who will listen, this modern-day soothsayer wearing a skinny tie says America’s most advanced fighter jets might be blown from the sky by their Chinese-made microchips and Chinese hackers easily could worm their way into the military’s secretive intelligence service, and the Chinese Army may one day occupy Hawaii.

The ideas might seem outlandish, but Pentagon officials are listening to the 40-year-old senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.

In hours of briefings, Mr. Singer has outlined his grim vision for intelligence officials, Air Force officers and Navy commanders. What makes his scenarios more remarkable is that they are based on a work of fiction: Mr. Singer’s soon-to-be-released, 400-page techno thriller, “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War.”

. . . .

Pentagon officials typically don’t listen to the doom-and-gloom predictions of fiction writers. But Mr. Singer comes to the table with an unusual track record. He has written authoritative books on America’s reliance on private military contractors, cybersecurity and the Defense Department’s growing dependence on robots, drones and technology.

The Army, Navy and Air Force already have included two of his books on their official reading lists. And he often briefs military leaders on his research.

“Ghost Fleet,” co-written with former Wall Street Journal reporter August Cole is based on interviews, military research and years of experience working with the Defense Department.

“He’s the premier futurist in the national-security environment,” said Mark Jacobson, a special assistant to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who made sure his boss read the book. “Peter’s always where the ball is going to be. And people in the Pentagon listen to what he has to say.”

Release of the book by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Tuesday comes during a new period of soul-searching for the U.S. military.

. . . .

“Ghost Fleet,” which includes hundreds of endnotes, challenges conventional military doctrine and relies on real events to warn that the U.S. military is vulnerable to cyberattacks that could cripple its ability to win a war with China.

The time has come, Mr. Singer tells military officials in his briefings, for the Pentagon to consider the possibility that Americans could face real dog fights in the sky and deadly naval battles unlike anything the U.S. has seen since World War II.

“It may not be politic, but it is, in my belief, no longer useful to avoid talking about the great power rivalries of the 21st century and the real dangers of them getting out of control,” he told Air Force officers at the Pentagon. “Indeed, only by acknowledging the real trends and real risks that loom can we take the mutual steps to avoid the kind of mistakes that would set up such an epic fail in both deterrence and diplomacy.”

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

Here’s a link to Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War

While not making light of the security issues Mr. Singer raises as a consultant/researcher, PG does think this is a potent way of generating publicity for a new novel.

Trends in Russia’s reading culture

29 June 2015

From Russia Beyond the Headlines:

According to survey carried out by Public Opinion Foundation this year, despite a rise the popularity of their electronic counterparts, most Russian readers still prefer printed books: 49 percent, as opposed to only 9 percent. However, this is only based on individuals who read at least once a month, and perhaps a more telling statistic is that 37 percent of those surveyed said that they do not read books at all.

29-year-old Anna Yudina loves to read and always buys books, even though she lacks the space to store them in her apartment. “I really love going to bookstores or just rummaging through bookstands on the streets,” she says. “I guess it’s the best way to relax. I then have to take them to my grandmother’s because my rented apartment is too small to keep them.” She explains that despite her passion for printed books, she is being forced to download more and more electronic books in order to take them on her business trips.

Vadim Mescheryakov, the director of the Mescheryakov Publishing House, explains that the percentage of people who read books has not changed for several generations. “Some of these people buy electronic books, but this does not prevent them from reading printed ones,” says Mescheryakov. According to the publisher, readers today are characterised by their solidarity.

“People who read books exchange opinions and buy after a careful selection process. They have become better connoisseurs of literature. Literary tastes are formed in childhood and are unrelated to trends. If parents have good taste, they’ll pass it down to their children. Hence, a new generation of readers is formed and the percentage holds steady. It is also interesting that it is usually individuals on average and below average salaries who buy and read books, rather than wealthier members of society.”

. . . .

Mescheryakov believes that people are buying less books now than in the 1990s. “The prices are far higher these days,” he notes. “Russia has never had a particularly large reading public in relation to other countries. You will that find bookstores in Germany or France are far busier than in Russia, for example.”

Mescheryakov feels that bookstores should be supported through subsidies in order to change the situation for the better.

Link to the rest at Russia Beyond the Headlines

Desert Solitaire: An Uncommonly Beautiful Love Letter to Solitude and the Spiritual Rewards of Getting Lost

28 June 2015

From Brain Pickings:

“As the desert offers no tangible riches, as there is nothing to see or hear in the desert,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in his exquisite memoir of what the Sahara Desert taught him about the meaning of life, “one is compelled to acknowledge, since the inner life, far from falling asleep, is fortified, that man is first animated by invisible solicitations.” No one captures this invisible animation of inner life more bewitchingly than Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire — a miraculously beautiful book, originally published in 1968.

. . . .

In the late 1950s, Abbey took a job as a seasonal park ranger at Arches National Monument in Utah’s Moab desert. “Why I went there no longer matters; what I found there is the subject of this book,” he writes. Between April and September, between the canyons and the pages of his journal, he found a great many of the things we spend our lives looking for — a Thoreau of the desert, mapping the maze of the interior landscape as he wanders the expanse of the exterior.

. . . .

Abbey writes:

The time passed extremely slowly, as time should pass, with the days lingering and long, spacious and free as the summers of childhood. There was time enough for once to do nothing, or next to nothing, and most of the substance of this book is drawn, sometimes direct and unchanged, from the pages of the journals I kept and filled through the undivided, seamless days of those marvelous summers. The remainder of the book consists of digressions and excursions into ideas and places that border in varied ways upon that central season in the canyonlands…

Abbey’s digressions, to be sure, are oases of meaning — he writes about the ideas that animate his spirit with unsentimental sincerity and deep respect for the aliveness of language itself:

In recording my impressions of the natural scene I have striven above all for accuracy, since I believe that there is a kind of poetry, even a kind of truth, in simple fact… Language makes a mighty loose net with which to go fishing for simple facts, when facts are infinite… Since you cannot get the desert into a book any more than a fisherman can haul up the sea with his nets, I have tried to cecate a world of words in which the desert figures more as medium than as material.

He begins with what is possibly the most charming, disarming disclaimer in all of literature:

I quite agree that much of the book will seem coarse, rude, bad-tempered, violently prejudiced, unconstructive — even frankly antisocial in its point of view. Serious critics, serious librarians, serious associate professors of English will if they read this work dislike it intensely;. at least I hope so. To others I can only say that if the book has virtues they cannot be disentangled from the faults; that there is a way of being wrong which is also sometimes necessarily right.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

Here’s a link to Desert Solitaire

And here are a couple of photos that PG took a few years ago at Arches, formerly a National Monument, now a National Park.

End of Park Avenue

The Courthouse
And here’s a photo of the Delicate Arch, photo courtesy of The National Park Service:

Margaret Atwood draws cartoon strip for ‘geek girl’ anthology

26 June 2015

From The Guardian:

Margaret Atwood is taking a short break from writing acclaimed and award-winning literary novels to contribute a series of cartoons to a crowd-funded, all-female anthology aimed at the “geek girl” looking for “stories on dating and love”.

Racing towards its goal of C$37,000 (£19,000) on Kickstarter – launched earlier this week, it is already at over C$27,000 – The Secret Loves of Geek Girls is the brainchild of Hope Nicholson, a Canadian comic-book publisher and editor, who called it “a celebration of the stories we tell each other but never make public – until now”. Atwood is the most high-profile of a host of women, both creators and fans, contributing a mix of prose stories and comics to the anthology.

The Booker prize-winning Canadian writer is shown on the cover of The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, along with other contributors: “I’m white-hair w. cat; pleased I have long legs at last,” she tweeted of her image. She will be drawing her own cartoons detailing her “personal experiences as a young woman” for the anthology, says Nicholson.

. . . .

Atwood is also offering Kickstarter investors a four-panel comic strip created especially for one reader, costing C$1,500, which has already been snapped up. Fans have also pounced on a C$750 deal for the original art behind one of the strips she is creating for the collection.

Nicholson, who has already successfully funded and published two comic collections via Kickstarter, says that her new project was inspired by reading dating advice online. “I find myself very optimistic whenever I see an article on advice or information on geeks and dating. But soon this excitement turns to disappointment; the articles are almost always written with only the male geeks in mind,” she writes on Kickstarter.

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

monstre sacré

22 June 2015

From the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day:

monstre sacré, n.

. . . .

Etymology: French monstre sacré, lit. ‘sacred monster’ (1922 in sense ‘someone of great renown’, 1938 denoting a comedian of exceptional personality and fame) < monstre monstern. + sacré sacred adj.

. . . .
A striking or eccentric public figure; a person of controversial renown, esp. in the world of entertainment.
. . . .

1975 Times 30 Oct. 8/5   Half saint, half satyr, wholly monstre sacré, the face [of Bertrand Russell] looks out upon us from the photographs.

Link to the rest at the Oxford English Dictionary

10 fantastic fog words

22 June 2015

From The Week:

I encounter a lot of fog. How much fog? The San Francisco rugby club is called the Fog. Our fog has its own Twitter handle (with almost 86,000 followers).

We love those roiling and rolling clouds of moisture and mist, and of course, just as much, we love the terms that describe them. Here are 10 of our favorite words about fog.


“In studying a 13th-century scroll where nine scaly dragons writhe through a sepia mist, Mr. Li focused on a spot near the center where the brume twists into a spiral.”

Lee Lawrence, “How to Talk Back to a Chinese Master,” The Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2011

Brume comes from the Latin word for winter, bruma, which also gives us brumal, relating to winter. Brumaire is “the second month in the calendar adopted by the first French republic, beginning October 22 and ending November 20,” and is also known as “the month of mist.”

. . . .


“A regular St. Andrews ‘haar;’ and St. Andrews people know what that is. Miss Williams had seen it once or twice before, but never so bad as this — blighting, penetrating, and so dense that you could hardly see your hand before you.”

W.P. Livingstone, Mary Slessor of Calabar: Pioneer Missionary, 1927

Haar (in addition to what a pirate says) is “a wet mist or fog,” especially applied “on the east coast of England and Scotland, from Lincolnshire northwards, to a cold sea-fog,” says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The word comes from the Middle Dutch hare, a “keen cold wind.”

. . . .


“People living near Seneca Lake in upstate New York have long known of similar booming sounds, which they called ‘Seneca guns.’ In coastal Belgium, they are known as ‘mistpouffers,’ or fog belches.”

Charles Q. Choi, “Mysterious ‘booming sounds’ perplex scientists,”MSNBC, September 16, 2011

The mistpouffer is a “a mysterious noise heard over the ocean in quiet, foggy weather.” It’s also known as barisal gun.

The word mistpouffer comes from the Dutch mistpoeffer, which seems to translate as “fog swelling.”

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

Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë

19 June 2015

A discussion of Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë from the BBC

Thanks to Brendan for the tip.

How Shakespeare Used Prepositions

17 June 2015

From Grammar Girl:

In this excerpt from David Thatcher’s book, Saving our Prepositions we see how Shakespeare used (and didn’t use) prepositions, and how prepositions’ meanings have changed since Shakespeare’s time.

. . . .

There is a scholarly consensus that Shakespeare contributed about 1,800 words (and phrases) to the English language. Most of his lexical innovations were nouns (e.g., addition,assassination, bedroom, discontent, investment, luggage, moonbeam, pedant, radiance,watchdog, zany) and verbs (e.g., arouse, besmirch, donate, grovel, impede, negotiate,submerge, undervalue, widen) and adjectives (e.g., abstemious, bloodstained, deafening,equivocal, fashionable, jaded, lonely, obscene, sanctimonious, unreal). A few adverbs also figure as products of his inventiveness (e.g., abjectly, rightly, unaware, vastly). But he did not add one single preposition to the fifty or so which already existed in his time. As we have seen, they had been in existence for centuries. He made use of all of them, with a few exceptions (though some of these he employs as other parts of speech): alongside, across,amid(st), around, atop, inside, and outside. He never uses onto, a word first recorded in 1715.

. . . .

In fact, as is the case with the English language in general, prepositions (together with articles, pronouns and conjunctions) are the most frequently used parts of speech. Of the first sixteen most frequently used words in Shakespeare, five are prepositions: after the(first place), and (second place), and I (third place) they are to (fifth), of (sixth), in (tenth), for(fourteenth) and with (sixteenth). Not a single noun, adjective or adverb appears in the first fifty of Shakespeare’s most frequently employed words, and only four verbs (be, have, do,are, as well as will if we realize it also gets counted as a noun).

Link to the rest at Grammar Girl

Next Page »