Books in General

Here’s How Many Books You Can Expect to Read Before You Die

27 March 2017

From Mental Floss:

Life is too short to suffer through a book you just don’t like. For proof of that, Literary Hub has done some (slightly morbid) calculations regarding how many books you’ll be able to squeeze in during your remaining years on Earth.

The table below breaks down the number of books you’ll have time for if you maintain your current reading habits. Twenty-five-year-old women, for example, have 61 years left to live according to the Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator. Assuming they live that long, average readers in that group have 732 more books to read in their lifetimes. “Average” in this case means people who read 12 books per year.

. . . .

25 and female (61 years left)
Average reader: 732
Voracious reader: 3050
Super reader: 4880

25 and male (57 years left)
Average reader: 684
Voracious reader: 2850
Super reader: 4560

. . . .

60 and female: 86 (26 years left)
Average reader: 312
Voracious reader: 1300
Super reader: 2080

60 and male (23 years left)
Average reader: 276
Voracious reader: 1150
Super reader: 1840

Link to the rest at Mental Floss and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Why Literature and Pop Culture Still Can’t Get the Midwest Right

27 March 2017

From Literary Hub:

When they ask, I tell people that I’m from the Midwest. Indiana, I’ll say with a playful, nasal intonation if badgered further, though I don’t typically expect a follow-up question. Only on the rare occasions when explicitly asked “but what city?” will I offer up my hometown: Fort Wayne, which I describe as a small place where “there’s not too much,” despite it being the second largest city in the state. I’ll say I’ve seen Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but that I don’t love the teasing nature of their implication; I’ll say Fargo is one of my favorite movies, though Indiana and Minnesota aren’t totally the same.

. . . .

But the script is always the same—when people find out that I come from a place known as the Heartland, I know I can expect one of two responses: That I’m so lucky to have escaped such a conservative place, or that people from the Midwest are so nice. Neither of these statements are necessarily false, though neither convince me that the speaker has a nuanced understanding of the region: something that mainstream pop culture and literature have done little to subvert.

. . . .

Oversimplifying any part of the United States can be irresponsible and, in some cases, discriminatory, though most regions have come to be defined by certain broad traits: New England is steeped in Puritanism, the Southwest has Spanish-Catholic and Indigenous traditions, and the South is bound by its Confederate past. But then there’s the Midwest, where not even those born and raised in the area can offer up a consistent response as to which states belong and which ones do not. The region is overwhelmingly white, though ethnically heterogeneous; early settlers came not only from surrounding domestic regions, but also Germany, Scandinavia, Ireland, and Poland. There are the major cities likes Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis, but as Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib writes in The Baffler, “the divide between its rural and urban constituencies is . . . sharp, [and] ten miles outside of a city there’s often a rural area that feels like an entirely different world.” There is no defining Midwestern accent; the phrase “Midwestern music” is meaningless.

. . . .

Though not the sole factor, the dearth of nuanced understanding of the Midwest results from its failure to arrive at wholly truthful or enduring cultural distinction. In a 1998 essay titled “The Heartland’s Role in US Culture: It’s Main Street,” University of Kansas professor James R. Shortridge traces the region’s relative undefinability, starting with the first geographical reference of the “Middle West” in the 1880s. at the time, the phrase referred only to Kansas and Nebraska, and by nature of its small scope, the cultural tropes and mannerisms associated with the region were more universal: the people there were kind and moral, idealists; they were pragmatic and hard-working, but also humble. It was very Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series based on her childhood in the Midwest during the 1870s and 1880s—happiness is a piece of maple candy, manual labor is an integral part of your character.

. . . .

But by the turn of the century, “the Midwest was America,” Shortridge writes, as multiple industries in the region (notably Detroit’s automobile industry) were proof of industrialization’s success, and immigrants were finding opportunities in states that were thought to know the meaning of hard work. However, it was this very industrialization that would cause the heart of the country to suffer its first crisis of identity. The urbanization of cities like Chicago and Detroit did not coincide with the area’s reputation for Christian morality, pastoralism, and agriculture. And, at least colloquially, many people within the region attempted to disassociate themselves from what they saw as centers of depravity, which is reflected in what we today consider “Midwestern.” As Athitakis said, “We change both the borders and the definition of Midwest to accommodate the visions most close to religion and the nuclear family.”

. . . .

Over the past 20 years, Atihtakis argues, a good handful of writers have sought to drill into the “hearty, churchy, white-bread vision” of the region that’s been projected through literature popular culture. But a specific region or issue must first become newly relevant for it to merit such a meditation. Athitakis brings up Detroit, a city crippled by decades of white flight, falling home prices, and the collapse of the automobile industry, which left it in an exceptionally poor state after the Great Recession. In 2013, Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy case in US history and quickly became the national media’s favorite example of economic collapse and urban struggle. It was only after this, Athitakis says, that people outside of the region were ready to read about the Motor City.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

Although he doesn’t live there any more, PG has spent quite a lot of time in the Midwest. For him, it doesn’t really seem to be one region culturally.

For example, Chicago and Minneapolis are much different cities. PG has lived in and enjoyed both cities and, for him, they are more distinct than Boston and New York.

Chicago was largely settled by Poles, Irish, Germans and Italians while Minneapolis was settled by Swedes, Norwegians and a smaller number of Germans. At the turn of the 20th century, Chicago was the third largest Czech city in the world after Prague and Vienna.

During the first half of the twentieth century, large numbers of African-Americans migrated north to settle in Chicago, where there were lots of jobs, but few traveled further north to Minneapolis. During the 1920’s and 30’s, Chicago had blues, jazz, nightclubs and Al Capone. Minneapolis had General Mills and Pillsbury.

Even within Midwestern states, generally much larger geographically than Eastern states, there are significant differences. Northern Missouri is a different place than southern Missouri. Western Nebraska is not much like eastern Nebraska geographically or culturally.

As PG thought about the OP, it occurred to him that it might be useful to think of the Midwest the same way he thinks about Western Europe.

Obviously, the Midwest doesn’t have different languages (although Minneapolis and Chicago had distinctly different accents when PG lived there), but no one seems to worry about the defining characteristics of the Western European arts as opposed to German, French, British, etc., arts.

PG says let Iowa be Iowa. Don’t try to shoehorn it into the Midwest.

Making Friends in a New City Via Our Little Free Library

26 March 2017

From BookRiot:

Even though books have been subversive and political at many critical points in history, people still tend to think of them as an uncomplicated good in modern cities and towns. I know this because when my husband and I built a Little Free Library and stuck it in our front yard, we became known as “the Little Free Library couple” among the circle of community-engaged citizens that we were getting to know.

As in many towns and cities, our town has two dozen or so people that you see at every meeting, in every neighborhood event, at every charity fundraiser. These people didn’t have a way to place us: not that many people move to this city, and we are new to town. We’re nice enough, but even I understand when someone doesn’t really remember those nice but kind of quiet people who show up for a lot of meetings. When we had the Little Free Library to talk about, things changed.

A local elementary school principal looped us in on a new childhood literacy program just because we’d put a box in our front yard full of our old books; people grinned with recognition whenever we were describing where we lived and resorted to using the LFL as a landmark. I was stunned: there is a group of people out there that see the idea of promoting books to kids as great!

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG has posted about Little Free Libraries before, but not recently. Following are a couple of photos of little free libraries.


Here’s a link to the Little Free Library website

Male crime writers eclipsed by golden age of female authors brought back into print

26 March 2017

From The Telegraph:

The British Library is working to bring forgotten male crime writers back into print, after they were eclipsed in their own Golden Age by women who were simply better.

The British Library’s classic crime project, which sees long-lost novels rediscovered and published for a new generation, features a disproportionate amount of men, the managing editor behind it said.

But the discrepancy is not down to modern day sexism, but a rare quirk of publishing history which made 1930s Britain arguably the only time and genre where women firmly ruled the roost.

As such, the best-selling and most-acclaimed writers of the day were women, leaving their male rivals swiftly falling out of print and the public consciousness.

The British Library project is now helping to correct that imbalance, bringing lesser-known works back to readers’ bookshelves.

The works, which are designed with vintage covers and have been bestsellers, are sold by the library, with profits ploughed back into its archival and exhibition work.

. . . .

The current catalogue shows just three out of 38 books written by a woman, and all of those from one author, Mavis Doriel Hay.

But, he said, the reason was simple: those male writers were “next tier” in their own day, overshadowed by the so-called “crime queens” including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, and Gladys Mitchell.

“It’s something I’ve been challenged about in the past, that so many of the writers we publish are men,” he said.

“That’s not because of sexism, that’s because the women’s writers were often still in print and retained their popularity.

“It was actually their male contemporaries who dropped out of view.

“It might be unique in this genre, that the women writers are the ones who survived.”

Link to the rest at The Telegraph

To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters

25 March 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘To Walk Invisible” presents the Brontë sisters as they’ve never quite been seen before. Nor is it likely that devotees of Charlotte’s (Finn Atkins) “Jane Eyre, ” or Emily’s (Chloe Pirrie) “Wuthering Heights” or Anne’s (Charlie Murphy) “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” ever paused long to consider the circumstances in which all three of these writers lived together, or rather, survived together, as sisters.

. . . .

In this darkly acerbic, and riveting, Masterpiece drama, written and directed by Sally Wainwright (writer of the wonderful “Last Tango in Halifax”), it is the struggle to survive, not literary ambition—though that ambition is a strong one—that takes precedence in the lives of these sisters.

. . . .

A flamboyant sort, Branwell continues to harbor dreams of literary achievement, with no hope of fulfilling them. He’s a drinker and can’t stop, the chief cause of the somberness that sits heavily on life at the Yorkshire parsonage where the Brontës lived.

He’s not, however the only cause of the gloom and tension that hang in the atmosphere, that seems to touch every conversation between the sisters, each with literary ambitions, each secretly—at least at first—trying her hand at writing. Their ultimate triumph arrives with the emergence of their actual identities after writing wildly successful works, all under male-sounding pseudonyms.

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

Use these empathy techniques to make stuff your readers want

22 March 2017

From The Bookseller:

As publishers, we’re all striving for the next bestseller, the big word of mouth success, the must-read title. But, being told to “make the stuff your readers want” is an obvious – and unhelpful – thing to say. Who would want the opposite?

To design books, apps and related products that people will buy, love and recommend, we need to understand customers’ needs. Market research techniques are well established and many publishers interrogate data to make decisions, but it’s easy to skim through reports and numbers without trying to look for what you don’t know, rather than what you do. This is where user research can add value, working with smaller sample sizes to understand specific behaviours, needs and motivations.

One way to do this involved practising empathy. I don’t mean that we should sit around and imagine what it’s like to be someone else, otherwise, we’ll end up in a scene from Mad Men with a bunch of middle aged, middle class, white men discussing what women want. So far, so patriarchal.

Instead, you need to get close to your customers; listen and learn from their direct experience. One of my favourite techniques for this is empathy maps. They’re like user research on steroids.

. . . .

An empathy map is divided into sections:

  • Think and feel: What really matters to her? What occupies her thinking? What worries and aspirations might she have?
  • See: What things in her environment influence her? What does she see friends, family, colleagues, and people around her do?
  • Hear: What are friends, family, colleagues and other people saying that impacts her thinking?
  • Say and do: What kind of attitude does she have? What does she talk about? What does she do in her spare time? What does her day look like?
  • Pain: What fears, frustrations or obstacles is she facing?
  • Gains: What is she hoping to get? What does success look like?

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Six Dots: The Remarkable Life and Legacy of Child Inventor Louis Braille, Illustrated

21 March 2017

From BrainPickings:

“Communication is health; communication is truth; communication is happiness,” Virginia Woolf wrote in contemplating the elemental human need for communication. Indeed, a life deprived of that essential sustenance of the soul, whatever form it may take, is a life of unthinkable tragedy.

No cultural hero has delivered more people of that tragedy than Louis Braille (January 4, 1809–January 6, 1852), who lost his eyesight at the age of three due to an infection following an accident at his father’s workshop, then went on to invent the braille reading and writing system, which forever changed the lives of the blind and the visually impaired. (After his groundbreaking invention, he continued to work tirelessly, developing implementations of braille in mathematics and music, co-creating a precursor of the dot-matrix printing machine, and mastering the cello and the organ, which he played professionally at Parisian churches even as tuberculosis slowly siphoned away his vitality and finally claimed his life at the age of forty-three.)

Helen Keller rightfully compared Braille to Gutenberg, for no other invention since the printing press had transformed the lives of more people who would’ve otherwise lived bereft of the joy and liberation of reading and learning, their basic human need for communication unmet. But although Braille belongs alongside inventors like Tesla and Edison in impact and legacy, one crucial element sets him apart from and perhaps even above them: He was only a child when he developed his revolutionary invention — which means he had no training, no funding, no public or institutional support, no commercial motive or business plan, and only the vision for something life-changing and redemptive born out of the necessity of a disability that had forever changed his own short life.

Link to the rest at BrainPickings

100 Must-Read Books with Unlikable Women

20 March 2017

From BookRiot:

Nothing makes me reach faster for a book than seeing people complain about an unlikable character. I already know it’s going to be a woman–or girl. While literature has been steeped with unlikable men since the beginning, they get to be part of literature because they’re complicated and compelling. The male anti-hero is actually cheered for and loved. Women on the other hand get labeled annoying, unlikable, and not someone to be friends with. Sometimes it honestly feels like a woman is unlikable just for breathing, which is why I welcome with open arms all the unlikable women flooding into publishing.

. . . .

Most of these unlikable women are the main character(s) while some are not but are important characters. Some are intentionally written by authors as unlikable characters with the purpose of pushing back against sexism, while others are on this list because reviews about how unlikable they are crossed my path enough times to make me scratch my head as a reader but left me unsurprised as a woman.

. . . .

Always Happy Hour: Stories by Mary Miller: Claustrophobic and lonesome, acerbic and magnetic, the women in Always Happy Hour seek understanding in the most unlikely places—a dilapidated foster home where love is a liability, a trailer park laden with a history of bad decisions, and the empty corners of a dream home bought after a bitter divorce.

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis: A sharp, funny, delightfully unhinged collection of stories set in the dark world of domesticity, American Housewife features murderous ladies who lunch, celebrity treasure hunters, and the best bra fitter south of the Mason Dixon line.

. . . .

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark: Samantha Brinkman, an ambitious, hard-charging Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, is struggling to make a name for herself and to drag her fledgling practice into the big leagues. Sam lands a high-profile double-murder case in which one of the victims is a beloved TV star—and the defendant is a decorated veteran LAPD detective. It promises to be exactly the kind of media sensation that would establish her as a heavy hitter in the world of criminal law.

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina: Award-winning author Meg Medina transports us to a time when New York seemed balanced on a knife-edge, with tempers and temperatures running high, to share the story of a young woman who discovers that the greatest dangers are often closer than we like to admit — and the hardest to accept.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Cory Doctorow Launches a Bookstore Where Authors Sell on Behalf of Publishers – Wait, What?

20 March 2017

From The Digital Reader:

Cory Doctorow just announced his support for an ebookstore platform that has me scratching my head.

. . . .

It’s not just that he has apparently abandoned his support for free Creative Commons-licensed ebooks in favor of selling ebooks (welcomes to 2007, Cory!) but also that he believes that authors should be sales staff for publishers.

From PW:

Walkaway has traditional publishers, and it will have a traditional e-book edition. But I’m going to sell that e-book in a nontraditional way. I’m launching an e-book store with the book, a store that I’ve privately developed for the past three years, code named “Shut Up and Take My Money” (SUATMM). SUATMM is what I like to call a fair trade e-book store, in which the writer also serves as a retailer.

There are many small, niche-oriented e-book stores serving highly specific markets, but SUATMM is different. It’s a retail platform that lets authors with traditional publishers serve as retailers for their those publishers, on the same terms as Amazon, Kobo, Google,, Apple, and other giants. Those stores have resources no individual author (save, perhaps, the delightfully DRM-free J.K. Rowling) can muster. In particular, they can manage a seamless experience that no indie bookstore can hope to match.

. . . .

While it is easy to buy ebooks in the Kindle Store, it’s difficult to find much less buy ebooks in niche 3rd-party ebookstores (hence why Harry Potter ebooks are available everywhere, why Baen Books moved into the Kindle Store – not away, and why Hachette never launched its Kindle Store competitor).

. . . .

Instead, I want to point out Doctorow’s blind spot: the unwarranted assumption that authors need or even should be doing business with publishers.

. . . .

It’s 2017, and publishers now expect authors to do their own marketing, blog regularly, be active on social media, and ideally already have their audience built before the contract is signed.

And now Doctorow wants authors to also

Sell ebooks for publishers,
And handle payments,
And remit the money to publishers in several countries?
Okay, but if authors are going to do all this work then why sign with a publisher in the first place?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Meryl and othes for the tip.

PG delayed posting about Doctorow’s plan because he was waiting for someone to propose a theory about why an intelligent trad-pubbed author would try to sell books directly from some strange organization for side-loading onto a Kindle. What kind of service is that for an author’s readers? Who do those readers call for tech support when the ebook file won’t load?

Certainly, having an affiliate account with Amazon and embedding links to an author’s books on the author’s website might bring in a bit of money, but that’s a set-and-forget job that takes a few minutes. Some cobbled-together spit and baling wire book-purchasing system does the readers no favors.

The shortest and easiest route from an author’s website to a rewarding book purchasing experience runs through Seattle.

Amazon Derangement Syndrome takes on many different forms, but this may be the most extreme.

Let PG be perfectly clear – if Jeff Bezos woke up one morning, decided that Amazon was indeed evil for shaking up the sclerotic book business and ordered his Amazon minions to immediately stop selling books, the traditional publishing industry would collapse.

PG suspects that if Big Publishing really examined its accounts, it would discover that ebooks offered through Amazon generate virtually all of the meager profits that inure to the publishing business these days.

Anton Chekhov: How to Become a Cultured Person

19 March 2017

From Medium:

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote to his daughter:

“Get a collection of the short stories of Chekhov and read every one. […] I’m not suggesting that you do these things. I am ordering you to do them.”

Chekhov was a master of short fiction, and no great writer has not been touched in some way by his stories.

But what about the man behind the work? What kind of person was he? How did he see the world?

A glimpse at the man behind the stories can be found in Letters of Anton Chekhov to His Family and Friends. In particular, let’s take a look at an excerpt from a letter Chekhov (age 26) wrote to his older brother (age 28).

. . . .

In order to feel comfortable among educated people, to be at home and happy with them, one must be cultured to a certain extent. Talent has brought you into such a circle, you belong to it, but … you are drawn away from it, and you vacillate between cultured people and the lodgers vis-a-vis.

Cultured people must, in my opinion, satisfy the following conditions:

1. They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. They do not make a row because of a hammer or a lost piece of india-rubber; if they live with anyone they do not regard it as a favour and, going away, they do not say “nobody can live with you.” They forgive noise and cold and dried-up meat and witticisms and the presence of strangers in their homes.

. . . .

5. They do not disparage themselves to rouse compassion. They do not play on the strings of other people’s hearts so that they may sigh and make much of them. They do not say “I am misunderstood,” or “I have become second-rate,” because all this is striving after cheap effect, is vulgar, stale, false …

6. They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as knowing celebrities, shaking hands with the drunken P. [Translator’s Note: Probably Palmin, a minor poet.], listening to the raptures of a stray spectator in a picture show, being renowned in the taverns … If they do a pennyworth they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred roubles’ worth, and do not brag of having the entry where others are not admitted. The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd, as far as possible from advertisement … Even Krylov has said that an empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one.

Link to the rest at Medium

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