Books in General

Authors Guild Demands South Carolina Police Cease Pressure on School About Reading List

14 July 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a strongly worded letter to the Fraternal Order of Police Tri-County Lodge #3 in South Carolina, the Authors Guild today (July 13) is demanding that the organizing stop “interfering in the reading selections of a high school in suburban Charleston.”

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with this case from our reporting earlier this month on how the police organization president, John Blackmon is calling for an English-class summer reading list to drop The Hate U Give (HarperCollins, 2017) by Angie Thomas and All American Boys (Simon & Schuster, 2015) by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

Both books have stories that include police brutality and racism as themes, and both are among the most highly acclaimed bestsellers in their sector of recent years. Blackmon’s complaint about the books–two of four titles from which students of Wando High Schoo’s English 1 class in Mount Pleasant are to choose and read one.

In the guild’s open letter to the police group, executive director Mary Rasenberger writes, “Attempts at censorship by law enforcement organizations cannot be tolerated in a democracy. Educators must be free to choose books on any and all subjects for their students’ reading.”

. . . .

Rasenberger writes to Blackmon, “This interference–which is clearly based on the content of the books in question–must stop.

“It is a blatant violation of students’ first amendment rights and an improper attempt at censorship by law-enforcement officials.

“It is a fundamental principle of democracy that police have no proper role in deciding what books should or should not be read. We have already co-signed a letter to the principal of Wando High School to urge the school to abide by its own internal processes, and we ask the Fraternal Order of Police to cease its efforts to influence that process.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

While PG has an instinctive response to oppose actions by government entities to restrict the availability or use of nearly any book, he must note here that this is an argument between two different entities comprised of government employees.

Arguably, the Fraternal Order of Police is a private membership organization (assuming police officers are not required to be members) and can say what it wants about any subject. In their private capacity, police officers are permitted to create associations to further their personal goals and exercise their first amendment rights individually and as a group to support or oppose just about anything they desire just like any other group does in the United States.

Assuming, for argument’s sake that the police department, rather than a private association is trying to forcibly limit books read by teenagers, that’s a bad idea because there’s an express or implied government backing for the limitation.

However, the summer reading list was clearly created by government employees acting in direct connection with their employment, so a clearer First Amendment infringement argument could be made by or on behalf of the students who are apparently required to read one of four books on a list provided by the school as a summer assignment. If these are suggestions by the high school and the students are free to read whatever they want, there shouldn’t be a problem, but if all the books were about police brutality and racism and included strong anti-police themes, PG thinks a student might object.

If all four books on the summer mailing list were written by white supremacist or antisemitic authors (or even – gasp – by Republicans), one might expect a lot of protests against the list, including by the Fraternal Order of Police.

PG will note that the two books mentioned in the OP are published by huge corporations – HarperCollins is owned by News Corp. was an American multinational mass media corporation headquartered in New York City and controlled by Rupert Murdoch and Simon & Schuster, Inc., is a subsidiary of CBS Corporation.

PG was also reminded of the increasing popularity of home schooling, at least in some areas of the country, which involves no government action. PG was further reminded of friends who are home schooling their children. Their two oldest children started college at age 16 and 14 after each attained a perfect score on the ACT.

How young writers are leading a poetry comeback

12 July 2018

From PBS:

Twenty-eight million American adults read poetry this year — the highest percentage of poetry readership in more than 15 years, according to a surveyof arts participation conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We’ve never seen an increase in poetry reading. If anything there had been a decline — a pretty sharp decline — since about 2002 at least,” said Sunil Iyengar, NEA director of research and analysis.

Iyengar, author of the blog postannouncing the poetry data, said these numbers are “quite remarkable.” And while the full arts participation report won’t be released until later this year, he said these results were too significant not to share early.

Young adults and certain racial ethnic groups account for a large portion of the increase. U.S. poetry readers aged 18 to 24 more than doubled, jumping from 8 percent in 2012 to 17 percent in 2017. Among people of color, African Americans and Asian Americans are reading poetry at the highest rates — which more than doubled in the last five years — up 15 and 12 percent, respectively.

. . . .

Other notable increased readership groups include women, rural Americans and those with only some college education.

. . . .

“Young people are taking the opportunity outside class to continue pursuing and reading and engaging poetry, whether it be in print or through YouTube videos,” Green said. “They want it and then they’re replicating it; they’re starting to write their own poems.”

Link to the rest at PBS

Habsburg culture is back in vogue

12 July 2018

UPDATE: PG made a grievous marketing error.

Mrs. PG has written two books set during the Habsberg era: The Last Waltz and Exile.

From the Economist:

In his novel “The Radetzky March”, published in 1932, Joseph Roth traces the changing fortunes of the Trotta family amid the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. “People lived on memories,” Roth writes of the era before the first world war, “just as now they live by the capacity to forget quickly and completely.” To the Trottas, life seems to be accelerating; nationalism, militarism and class antagonism are rife. Rumour runs amok. Little wonder that Vienna’s Burgtheater recently staged a version of the story. “We thought it fit the times we live in,” says Johan Simons, the play’s Dutch director.

This reinterpretation of Roth’s novel is one instance of a widespread interest in the art and style of the old Habsburg empire. Last year, for example, Arthur Schnitzler’s play “La Ronde”, set in Vienna in the 1890s, was staged in London; Federico Tiezzi, an Italian director, is reinterpreting a series of Schnitzler’s works outside Florence. “Morir”, a Spanish film released last year, was also inspired by him.

. . . .

The revival encompasses painting and music too. Spotify, a streaming service, listed Serialism, Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone musical technique, among the “biggest emerging genres” of 2017. Egon Schiele, an Austrian artist, was the subject of a recent biopic. A current show in Liverpool juxtaposes his work with modern photography; an installation in Paris focuses on Schiele and Gustav Klimt. Nudes by the pair feature in a forthcoming exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Habsburg culture is back. “Every few weeks I do a search on Twitter and there is an incredible benevolence about the Habsburgs,” says Eduard Habsburg, Hungary’s ambassador to the Vatican and the former ruling family’s unofficial social-media maven. “There is definitely renewed interest.”

. . . .

Yet this notion of the late Habsburg period as a warning coexists with nostalgia for its glamour, epitomised by the gold leaf on a Klimt painting. Forever 21, a teen-fashion retailer, has emblazoned the lush art of Alfonse Mucha (see above), a Czech contemporary of Klimt, on its denim jackets and sweatshirts. In the same glossy vein, a joint Austrian-Czech-Hungarian-Slovak production reached farther into the past to dramatise the life of the Empress Maria Theresa in the 18th century. The mini-series—either a celebration of a Catholic, conservative epoch or a tale of female empowerment, depending on the viewer’s bias—drew big ratings throughout central Europe. In the Czech Republic, a former Habsburg territory, a whopping 47% of television viewers tuned in.

Link to the rest at the Economist and thanks to S.E. for the tip.

PG went on a little Habsburg internet tour. Here are some of the fruits of his wanderings.

Emperor Franz Joseph

Emperor Franz-Joseph

This is Emperor Franz-Joseph, the definitive Habsburg monarch. He ruled the Austrian Empire and then the united Austro-Hungarian Empire for 68 years.  He died in 1916.

Austria-Hungary was geographically the second-largest country in Europe after the Russian Empire. By 1910, the Austro-Hungarian Empire included a huge number of ethnic groups, the largest of which were Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ukrainians, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Romanians and Italians.

A 1910 census found that 23% of the empire’s citizens spoke German as a mother-tongue, 20% Hungarian, 13% Czech, 10% Polish, 8% Ruthenian (Ukrainian), 6% Romanian, 5% Croat, 4% Slovak, 4% Serbian, 2% Slovene, 2% Italian, and 5% another of the languages which the survey asked about, including Bulgarian, Bunjevac (a Štokavian dialect of Croatian), and Romani.

The heir to Emperor Franz Joseph, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in 1914 in Sarajevo. The assassination was carried out by a group of Bosnians and Serbs who were trying to force the separation of the southern Slavian provinces of the Austro Hungarian Empire to create an independent nation of Yugoslavia. The assassination lead directly to World War I.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg



This is the marriage of  Archduke Charles (later Charles I due to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand described above) to Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma at Schwarzau Castle in 1911. Franz Joseph I (1830-1916), Emperor of Austria, is standing on the right-hand side of the photo.

Archduke Charles and Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma

Charles I reigned only two years, from 1916-1918. At the end of World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed and the couple fled to Switzerland with their children. Charles died in Madeira, off the coast of Africa, in 1922. At the time, Zita was pregnant with their 8th child. Zita died in 1989 and, for the first time in seventy years, returned to Austria where she was interred in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.

Fin de siècle (end of 19th century) Vienna was a rich scientific and cultural mélange prior to World War I. Sigmund Freud, (born May 6, 1856, Freiberg, Moravia, Austrian Empire) was developing his theories and treating patients in Vienna. Leading pioneers of 20th-century architecture (Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos), music (Arnold Schoenberg) and art (Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimpt and Richard Gerstl) were all drawn to the cultural ferment in Vienna.

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Eugenia Primavesi

Adolf Loos, American Bar

Oskar Kokoschka, Self Portrait

Otto Wagner, Station Karlsplatz

And, finally, a Habsburg musical piece.

The Radetzky March was composed by Johann Strauss Sr. and dedicated to Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz, commander of the armies of the Austrian Empire, first performed on 31 August 1848 in Vienna. Strauss was commissioned to write the piece to commemorate Radetzky’s victory at the Battle of Custoza in 1848.


The Appeal of the Hypnotically Dull Novel

12 July 2018

From Book Riot:

Boring is bad, right?

Well, there’s a trend toward celebrating, in a self-deprecating manner, the low-key pleasures of the obscure and mundane. The BBC’s Boring Talks podcast, for instance, devotes loving attention to things as pedestrian as wooden pallets. The Boring Conference is a sold-out event. The Object Lessons series shows that taken-for-granted items like shipping containers and driver’s licenses contain a wealth of fascinating stories. And the Japanese reality show Terrace House has been called “extremely, hypnotically boring”—in a positive review.

. . . .

In novels, dullness is one of the main reasons to give up on a book a few pages in. I find that reading to the end, in the hope of a grand payoff making the slow slog worthwhile, is generally disappointing.

Yet some novels are compelling not in spite of their tedium, but—in a perverse way—because of this tedium. The novels of Nicholson Baker are a good case in point. These have the flimsiest of premises: in The Mezzanine, an office worker sees that one shoelace is more frayed than another, and ruminates over this for the entire book. In Room Temperature, a father feeding his newborn daughter allows his mind to wander. That’s it. Nothing happens. The books take place almost entirely in the unexciting narrators’ heads…and that’s precisely what makes them interesting. Tracing a chain of thoughts, and appreciating the simple curiosity that to me is one of the most enlivening aspects of human existence, is what these books (quietly) revel in.

. . . .

Monotony in a novel can also feel deliberate, if it’s capturing the monotony of real life in a way that unrealistic fiction glosses over. Hideo Yokohama’s Six Four does this for police work, which is so often sensationalized in books and movies, despite the abundance of paperwork that makes up much of this job. Six Four feels plodding in the same way that it would feel plodding to be, say, a press director waiting for ages in a police station’s bathroom cubicle, hoping to hear the distinctive water tap use pattern of a certain high-ranking police officer, in order to ask him some questions. (And yes, this is a thing that happens in the book.) The possibility that reporters will issue a complaint is the main engine of suspense for much of the novel, and the present-day crime doesn’t take place until past page 450.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG must admit reading the books described in the OP sounds like torture, but one reader’s meat is another reader’s poison.

For example, PG finds the Battle of the Falaise Gap (AKA the Battle of the Falaise Pocket. Historians disagree about whether to honor the Gap or the Pocket by naming the battle after it.) quite interesting and could read about it for a long while without becoming bored.

OTOH, although Mrs. PG is quite well-educated about European history, Falaise holds no interest for her and she would undoubtedly and diplomatically change the subject if PG raised it over dinner.

Too Busy for a Book Club? Join an Online Version

11 July 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

As attendance at her Chicago book club began to dwindle due to vexing scheduling issues, Hannah Rau, 24, craved a better way to sate her reading addiction. The devourer of young adult and coming-of-age novels wanted more than her group’s sporadic get-togethers could deliver. And she found it online. “The ability to have book clubs available on my smartphone or tablet when I am on the go is great,” said Ms. Rau, who is now a member of four.

Whether through websites, newsletters, apps or social media, millions of readers like Ms. Rau are organizing online to discuss and analyze best-selling texts. Online clubs defy the restraints of time and geography, accommodating voracious bookworms when and where they’re most comfortable.

“These clubs are helping readers break out of their existing social bubbles,” said Alisha Ramos, who founded Girls Night In (, a book-club newsletter that now reaches 75,000 readers. GNI conversations unfold mainly on Instagram, but the discussion has evolved beyond the web’s bounds to include monthly in-person events in 10 cities, from Austin to Toronto.

. . . .

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck forged his eponymous online book club ( to “build a team of readers of all levels.” Every month, Mr. Luck picks two popular works—one for “rookies,” another for “veterans”—and spurs readers to post reactions on social media tagged #ALBookClub so they’re more easily searchable. Between games, Mr. Luck also hosts a podcast where he chats with best-selling authors including John Green and Phil Knight.

. . . .

Elsewhere on Facebook, the group #spiveysclub, founded by health and wellness tastemaker Ashley Spivey, emboldens members to review their latest reads and suggest new books. Along with posting opinions and generally respectful rejoinders, members coordinate book swaps and Secret Santa-like exchanges through the mail.

One of the books #spiveysclub recently discussed was the “The Wedding Date” by first-time author Jasmine Guillory. Ms. Guillory chimed in and answered questions about her novel with clubs via Skype, adding that she’s met many friends that way. “It’s fun to see who’s reading the book,” she said.

On Instagram, Reese Witherspoon created the exceedingly popular @reesesbookclubxhellosunshine, which has amassed more than 568,000 Instagram followers. Each month, she singles out a new novel, posts photos, and leads bustling discussions using hashtags.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

PG isn’t certain why this topic might qualify as news in the eyes of the WSJ. To the best of his knowledge, these sorts of discussions have been occurring online for centuries (internet time).

In the 1980’s and 90’s, people on Usenet newsgroups (rec.arts.books,, rec.arts.books.tolkien,, etc., etc., etc.) talked about books and authors (but newbies had to be taught that using ALL CAPS was like shouting). Then came the web.

Perhaps it’s the celebrity angle that attracted the attention of the WSJ. (Look! Celebrities! Celebrities and Books! Does the Celebrity write about Books or is it the Celebrity’s PR agency?).

Tiny Jumpers Rule at the Double Dutch Summer Classic

8 July 2018

From The New Yorker:

Last Sunday, at the Double Dutch Summer Classic, a jump-rope competition held at the Josie Robertson Plaza, at Lincoln Center, in Manhattan, Miss K’s Loopy Jumpers, fourth- and fifth-graders from Brooklyn, marched onto the stage from their station on the shaded side of the plaza, to the sound of Mr. Fingers’s “Mystery of Love.” The m.c.s of the competition—two former competitive jumpers—had been hyping the crowd. “What’s the heartbeat of double Dutch?” one of them crowed. “The turn!” the well-informed crowd answered. Hundreds of people, primarily black women and their daughters, dressed in Sunday style, had come out to see the tournament. Attendees of the matinée of George Balanchine’s “Jewels,” performed by the Bolshoi Ballet, looked on from a Lincoln Center balcony before their performance began, and suddenly vanished. “They’re missing the real show,” one woman, who would spend the next five hours of the contest evaluating routines from behind dark sunglasses, said.

The sound of taut ropes lashing on concrete at short intervals is, to me, the sound of summer. As children, my neighbors and I would commandeer entire New York City blocks, sometimes setting our jump-rope stations in the middle of the road for extra room. In “The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop,” Kyra D. Gaunt remembers watching girls on her block do the same. “They made it seem so . . . natural, off-the-cuff, unrehearsed, magical, like watching Michael Jordan fly on the basketball court,” she writes. Like basketball or baseball, jump rope is cheap; unlike them, it has been considered a playground diversion, not a discipline. My friends and I were not aware that, back in 1973, David Walker and Ulysses Williams, two N.Y.P.D. detectives interested in building after-school opportunities for New York City children, had sketched out a set of rules for double Dutch, the style of jump rope that involves turning two ropes in a strand-over-strand motion, and had developed ways of testing a jumper’s competency, style, and speed. The next year, they founded the American Double Dutch League and held the first Double Dutch Summer Classic, at which around fifty teams competed annually until 1984. This past weekend, as part of an initiative led by Walker’s daughter, who took over the league from her father, the competition was revived, with the support of Lincoln Center and the nonprofit Women of Color in the Arts.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

If you’re not familiar with Double Dutch:



Do America’s Reading Habits Explain Today’s Lack of Clear Thinking?

3 July 2018

From Intellectual Takeout:

Ah! It’s a lovely Friday evening. You’ve had a successful work week and now it’s time to have some quiet relaxation. You have a book on the coffee table you’ve been wanting to delve into – but first, a quick glance at social media is in order.

Several hours and several videos later, you realize it’s time to head for bed, which you do, hating yourself all the way for having wasted the little time you had to exercise your mind through reading.

I’ll be the first to raise my hand and confess to having done the above – more times than I care to admit. And unless I miss my guess, I’m not alone in this folly.

I make this claim based not only on the knowledge of human nature, but also on a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Released annually, the American Time Use Survey breaks down the way Americans spend their hours, particularly those hours devoted to free time.

Of the hours devoted to free time, one area in particular is rather shortchanged. That area is reading.

Overall, Americans only spend 17 minutes per day in reading activities. As The Washington Post explains, this number has dropped six minutes since 2004. Broken down by age range, those in the millennial generation read the least, averaging seven minutes a day. Those in the 75 and older age range average 51 minutes per day.

. . . .

But things really start to soar when we come to the games/computer and television categories. The average American spends 28 minutes on the former and a whopping two hours and 46 minutes on the latter!

Link to the rest at Intellectual Takeout

There Are Two Ways to Read — One Is Useless

2 July 2018

From Medium:

Reading is telepathy, and a book is the most powerful technology invented.

Homer, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Woolf, Hemingway — these are names without a living body. We can’t talk to them, nor touch them, but their thoughts are immortalized through the written word.

Aristotle’s logic, Kepler’s astronomy, Newton’s physics, Darwin’s biology, Wittgenstein’s philosophy — these are memes without living originators. They no longer champion their ideas, and yet, we still talk about them.

Without books, humans would never have escaped the boundaries of space and time. Each new generation would have had to learn the realities of life for themselves rather than having the luxury to build on the past; knowledge accumulation would have quickly dimmed towards an asymptote.

Everything that we value in the modern world has its root in invention of writing. Everything that we have accomplished has come from reading.

Even on an individual level, one of the most effective ways to learn about the world is to dip your toes into the wisdom of the past. Instead of spending your life figuring out how the mind works, you can just seek out the experience of someone who already knows. Rather deducing the laws of nature yourself, you can simply refer to an existing body of work.

Even beyond that, reading is a joy. It’s a touch of growth, it’s a beacon of inspiration, and it’s source of connection. We are how we spend our time, and we become what we consume. It only makes sense, then, that what we read informs how we see the world.

That said, there is more to reading than just whispering words in our mind. It’s about mindset, too. The way you read plays a major role in what you take away. It shapes what you pay attention to and how you evolve.

Unfortunately, I think this part of the equation is often neglected.

. . . .

You might be reading a modern-day comedy, or a Russian classic. You could be going through the latest pop-psychology volume, or an old Roman emperor’s notebook. Either way, you’re trying to put yourself in a different mode of reality so that you can absorb some of what the writing is telling you.

In this case, the only filter worth having is the one that distinguishes between what is relevant and what is not; what matters and what doesn’t.

When you filter by right or wrong, not only are you trying to paint a whole with the smaller component of its parts, but you’re also limiting what you understand. Who is to say that there isn’t a lesson in what is wrong? Or more importantly, who is to say that what you assume to be right or wrong is just a current bias that, one day, you will come to readjust?

Any time I reread a book that has been important to me in the past, I always come back with new lessons. Most books contain more than one idea, and they say different things in different places.

Link to the rest at Medium

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