Books in General

Probably Lighter Blogging Than Normal Today

24 February 2018

PG has a variety of tasks to perform today that may result in fewer posts than usual.

He apologizes to any and all who are disappointed, irritated, etc.

For those who wish PG would just shut up and go away, this is not the beginning of a long-term trend.

Ratings – Can They Be Removed?

23 February 2018

From IPKat:

Germans like to rate things online. We have rating sites for hotels, restaurants, playgrounds and of course – doctors. Jameda is one (of about 10) such websites that focusses on user-generated, anonymous reviews of doctors. 

It has been around for over 10 years, lists around 250.000 German doctors and attracts more than 10m visitors each month. These numbers show how important it is for doctors who appear on the website to be described in a positive light by their patients in order to remain competitive.

Jameda offered two types of listings for doctors. The first, ‘basic’, option included the name, academic title, specialization (if any), address and opening hours. This ‘basic’ option was free, and in fact doctors did not even have to sign up. Instead Jameda has always tried to (proactively) list every doctor in Germany on its website. Next to each listing, the average of the available user ratings was presented in the form of a grade, similar to (German) school grades that range from 1 (best) to 6 (worst). Users could also leave feedback in the form of written reviews in addition to the grading system.

A ‘premium’ option was also available for doctors. This package had the following benefits: doctors could add a profile picture and additional information about their practice. The most notable feature however was that when viewing a ‘basic’ profile, Jameda would show (marked as ‘advertisement’) profiles of ‘premium’ users in the surrounding area that had higher user ratings than the ‘basic’ profile that was being viewed. When ‘premium’ profiles were viewed, no such advertisements were shown.

Obviously, doctors that were subjected to negative reviews either tried to have those reviews deleted or went a step further and asked for their whole profile to be deleted from the website.

. . . .

Two years after the first Jameda verdict, another doctor took offence not only at some negative reviews (she had an average grade of 4.7), but also at her being included in the database at all. She also highlighted and criticized that other doctors’ profiles (those of ‘premium’ users) were shown next to her entry in the database, and initiated court proceedings in 2016.

While both the Court of first instance and the Court of appeal rejected the plaintiff’s claims, the FCJ sided with her and granted the request for removal of her profile. To this date, only the press release of the FCJ is available. It will be a couple of months before the written reasons are published.

For now, we can confirm that indeed the distinction between ‘basic’ and ‘premium’ profiles was the decisive factor. The judges stress that by providing different information about doctors, depending on whether they are paying customers or not, Jameda had left its position as a ‘neutral’ information facilitator. This became especially visible (or rather ‘invisible’) when viewing the profile of a ‘premium’ doctor, whose profile was presented without showing any nearby alternatives, as opposed to ‘basic’ profiles, that were shown alongside other doctors who had better reviews. This shift in Jameda’s function resulted in a lower weight of the right to freedom of expression on behalf of Jameda, the court found. When balanced against the interests and rights of the plaintiff, the latter came out on top, resulting in the opposite outcome compared to the earlier case.

Link to the rest at IPKat

10 of Literature’s Best (Or Worst) Liars

23 February 2018

From Electric Lit:

Fiction abounds with memorable liars. Tom Ripley, Jay Gatsby, and, moving further back in time, Odysseus, all come to mind as prime examples of memorable figures who understand truth and deceit as flexible concepts. Lies in fiction can fulfill a number of roles: they can spur conflict, illustrate a character’s own reliability or lack thereof, or alter the very fabric of a narrative, thoroughly messing with the reader’s head.

Somewhere there’s a Venn diagram that maps the overlap between fictional liars—the spies, forgers, official spokespeople, and anyone else whose livelihood depends on abundant alterations of the truth—and unreliable narrators.

. . . .

Atlantic Hotel by João Gilberto Noll

In both their creation and their discovery, lies can reconfigure entire narratives. The protagonist of João Gilberto Noll’s meticulously arranged novel Atlantic Hotel tells nearly everyone that he meets a different story of his life. They can’t all be accurate…right? But as the novel becomes more and more labyrinthine in its construction, it’s increasingly unclear as to whether this mysterious figure is lying to the people around him or, on some deeper level, himself.

. . . .

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Some of Graham Greene’s tales of espionage are genuinely chilling; others venture towards the absurd. Our Man in Havana encompasses both. It’s the story of a spy working for the British government in Havana, whose bogus reports begin to reflect reality–an ominous and unexpected turn for all involved. Greene’s novel also served as inspiration for another memorable literary tale of lying: John Le Carré’s The Tailor of Panama, later adapted for film.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Author Barbara Taylor Bradford: From Typing Pool to Park Avenue

22 February 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Barbara Taylor Bradford, 84, is the author of 36 novels, including “A Woman of Substance.” 

. . . .

I saw my name in print for the first time when I was 10. My mother sent one of the little stories I had been writing to the Children’s Magazine in London.

Six weeks passed when an envelope addressed to me arrived. I opened it and something fell out. The letter was from the editor, who liked the story—“The Girl Who Wanted a Pony”— and wanted to publish it. On the floor was a postal order for $25 in today’s dollars. From that moment on, I wanted to be a writer.

. . . .

During the Blitz in 1940 and ’41, we spent nights in an air-raid shelter at the bottom of our garden. My father, Winston, had an artificial leg, so he had an odd step.

Some evenings, he’d spend time in the pub with his mates. By the time he came home, my mother, Freda, and I were in the shelter waiting for him. I’d listen for his uneven step.

Inside our house, there was a tiny sitting room off the kitchen that had a small antique desk and chair. That’s where I wrote. After my first story was published, my father bought me a typewriter.

. . . .

Growing up, I didn’t think of writing as glamorous. I just had a compulsion to sit down and tell stories. At 15, I left school, which was fairly common then. College wasn’t considered a necessity.

I wanted to be a reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Post, so I went off to private school to learn shorthand and typing. Women then always started in the typing pool, and that was true of me.

One of my responsibilities was to type up copy dictated to me over the phone by reporters in the field. I soon grew accustomed to the writing style for publication.

A female reporter at another newspaper befriended me and took me out on assignments. One day I told her about this strange woman who lived near my parents. She looked poverty-stricken, and people called her a witch. She also happened to be the sister of one of the richest men in Leeds.

 The reporter suggested I write a story about her. I did and dropped it off on the sub-editor’s desk. It ran in the paper. The editor was impressed. He said, “So, you want to be a journalist?” I said, “I don’t want to be, sir, I’m going to be.”

He eventually put me in the reporter’s room. I was 16.

. . . .

Robert Bradford took me to lunch and we fell in love. We were married on Christmas Eve in 1963, and I joined Bob in America. I soon began writing for several magazines in the States.

During the 1970s, when I was in my 30s, I decided to write a novel. I started four of them but stopped. Then at 39, I wrote my first, “A Woman of Substance.” It was published in 1979.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Here’s a link to A Woman of Substance.


The Middle of Nowhere

22 February 2018

Not really about books, but in earlier years, PG lived in some isolated locations and has remained interested in that topic.

From Mental Floss:

The place to go when you want to get away from it all, The Washington Postreports, is Glasgow, Montana. About 4.5 hours from the nearest city, it’s about as close as you can get to “the middle of nowhere” in the contiguous U.S. while still being in a decently-sized town.

Glasgow’s isolated status was determined in a study from Oxford University published in the journal Nature [PDF]. Scientists at the Malaria Atlas Project, a part of Oxford’s Big Data Institute, wanted to use geography and demographic data to see which towns qualify as truly being in the middle of nowhere. For the study, a town was defined as having a population of at least 1000, and a metropolitan area as having 75,000 residents or more.

After crunching the numbers on the elevation levels, transportation options, and terrain types around America, they were able to say roughly how long it would take for someone to traverse any given square kilometer of land in the country. If you’re one of the 3363 people living in Glasgow, which is nestled in northeastern Montana, it would take you between 4 and 5 hours to drive to the nearest metro area. That entire corner of the state lays claim to the title of Middle of Nowhere, U.S.A. Scobey, Montana, less than 100 miles from Glasgow, is the second most isolated small town in the country, and Wolf Point, less than 50 miles away, takes third place.

Link to the rest at Mental Floss

Here’s a link to show you where the Glasgow located in Montana is.

Glasgow is a railroad town where two trains stop each day. It is reported that the train station is closed at all times other than when the trains arrive and depart.

Here’s a photo:

By Royalbroil – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


PG says Glasgow may be a long way from any city of 75,000, but this photo would have represented rush hour in some of the little towns in which he has lived.

The latest mystery in publishing? That pulp is not dead.

22 February 2018

From The Washington Post:

Print books are back. I think.

“People thought physical books were goners,” said Jed Lyons, chief executive of Lanham, Md.-based Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

He should know. Lyons, 66, ships about 41,000 books a day across the United States and to Europe. He has been in the publishing business since the 1970s.

. . . .

Digital books peaked three years ago, at about 20 percent of sales, compared with about 80 percent for print and audible, he said. Digital’s share has since declined to about 15 percent of sales.

“The industry is trying to figure it out,” Lyons said. His best guess is that the print revival has to do with touch. “People like the smell, the texture, durability. You can hold it in your hand and keep them and surround yourself with books.”

We have about a hundred books that look nice on our shelves at home. I prefer reading books on my iPad because I can download any one of thousands of books from the cloud without lugging the print version.

. . . .

Rowman & Littlefield is where you go when you want the standard textbook on how to speak Swahili, a “steady Eddy” bestseller in the Rowman & Littlefield trove.

You want the “Statistical Abstract of the United States” (affectionately known as Stat Abs)? You can get all 1,032 pages from Lyons for $199. “Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park” is hotter than avocado toast.

“We are in the niche business,” Lyons said.

. . . .

But the real heart of the business lies in its list of textbook titles and its recurring revenue.

“Our most important customer is the college student,” he said. “They buy the books.”

Textbooks sell year after year after year after year. “The Use of Force: Military Power and International Politics,” a must-have textbook for the international relations crowd, is in its eighth edition.

“It’s like the insurance business — an annuity,” Lyons said. “We aren’t reinventing widgets.”

. . . .

Each print book shipped brings in an average of about $12. Authors get $1.20 of that, and another $3.60 or so covers the cost of actually printing the book.

“We paid $5 million in royalties to authors last year,” Lyons said. “That’s a load of money. That’s keeping a lot of authors paying their bills.”

. . . .

Lyons loves the digital business, even though it appears to be in decline. Those sales are highly profitable, with margins of 90 percent. “The only cost of goods is the author,” Lyons said. “We love that.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG notes that the OP has a link at the top of the article that allows you to email the author if you would like to explain about publishing statistics that only include information from traditional publishers and ignore Amazon’s sales of huge numbers of ebooks from its own imprints, small publishers and indie authors.

A long time ago

21 February 2018

A long time ago when I was writing for pulps, I put into a story a line like ‘he got out of the car and walked across the sun drenched sidewalk until the shadow of the awning over the entrance fell across his face like the touch of cool water.’ They took it out when they published the story. Their readers didn’t appreciate this sort of thing: it just held up the action. And I set out to prove them wrong. My theory was they just thoughtthey cared nothing about anything but the action; that really, although they didn’t know it, they cared very little about the action. The things they really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description; the things they remembered, that haunted them, were not for example that a man got killed, but that in the moment of his death he was trying to pick a paper clip up off the polished surface of a desk, and it kept slipping away from him, so that there was a look of strain on his face and his mouth was half open in a kind of tormented grin, and the last thing in the world he thought about was death. He didn’t even hear death knock on the door. That damn little paper clip kept slipping away from his fingers and he just couldn’t push it to the edge of the desk and catch it as it fell.

Raymond Chandler

Thanks to Karen for the tip.

Michigan prisoner turned celebrated author may face incarceration bill

20 February 2018

From The Guardian:

Curtis Dawkins, a Michigan prisoner and publishing sensation, could be forced to repay the costs of his incarceration from the proceeds of his literary work.

The convicted murderer is serving a life sentence for a 2004 crime spree on Halloween night that left one man dead. His debut collection of short stories, The Graybar Hotel, was written in a Michigan penitentiary and published in July.

But now the Michigan department of treasury is seeking 90% of Dawkins’s assets, including “proceeds from publications, future payments, royalties” from the book. Michigan puts the cost of his incarceration at $72,000; Dawkins, 49, received a $150,000 advance from Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

The state claims that Dawkins, who is representing himself at a hearing next week in Kalamazoo, has no right to pass his literary earnings to his family.

But Dawkins, who has expressed deep remorse for the murder and described writing as his “lifeboat”, claims his family is being unfairly punished and state law contains a provision stating that the court must take into account “any legal and moral obligation” he has to support his kids.

. . . .

Last year, Michigan collected $3.7m from 294 prisoners. The state counts 40,000 inmates of the 2.2 million adults in US jails. According to the Brennan center, roughly 10 million people owe $50bn in fees stemming from their arrest or imprisonment.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Food Explorer

20 February 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Decades before M.F.K. Fisher wrote about the marvelous meals she enjoyed at three small inns in Switzerland, before Julia Child had her legendary epiphany over a platter of sole meunière, and before financial straits forced a failed actor named James Beard to open a catering company, David Fairchild (1869-1954), a little-known young man from Kansas, literally planted the seeds of the culinary revolution that would sweep the United States during the latter half of the 20th century.

Today, Fairchild’s legacy can be found in the produce department of any supermarket. The next time you put avocados, kale, mangoes, zucchinis, dates, nectarines, seedless grapes, cashews, pistachios or lemons into your grocery cart, pay homage to Fairchild, who first introduced these foods to the United States. During the waning years of the 19th century, when he was in his early 20s, Fairchild began a series of expeditions that would take him three times around the world—to more than 50 countries and every continent except Antarctica—in search of novel crops to send back to American farmers and orchardists. As a roving botanist for the nascent U.S. Department of Agriculture, he shipped home more than 4,000 plant varieties, either new to the country or improvements on crops grown here.

Before Fairchild’s discoveries, the nation’s diet was drab, limited primarily to eating habits brought from Britain by colonists. Fairchild set out to change that. “The government enterprise of Plant Introduction [is] to introduce and establish in America as many of the valuable crops of the world as can be grown here,” he said. He considered his work to be “one of the most powerful means [to increase] the agricultural wealth of the country.” Less formally, he described his work as that of a “food spy.”

. . . .

Fairchild’s first venture, undertaken in 1894, might well have been his last. A senior scientist at the Department of Agriculture dispatched him on a secret mission to Corsica. The young researcher’s instructions were to acquire citrons, one of the progenitors of modern oranges, lemons and grapefruits. A Corsican policeman mistook him for a political spy and tossed him in a jail that, according to Fairchild (who also had a fondness for metaphors), “would rival in filthiness any that the Inquisition ever had.” Once he convinced the jailer of his innocence, Fairchild retreated to a waiting ship on the back of a donkey, dismounting just long enough to surreptitiously snip four buds from a trailside citron tree and pocket three of the lumpy yellow fruits. This material would boost California’s citrus production for the next two decades.

While searching for undiscovered wild palm species, Fairchild visited Fiji at a time when cannibalism was still practiced by some elders. To Fairchild’s relief, they believed that the meat of white people carried diseases and, besides, had a rank flavor.

. . . .

Beer lovers, too, might want to raise a mug to Fairchild. A boozy night in a village inn buying rounds for Bohemian farmers resulted in Fairchild procuring the finest German hops, which he smuggled out of the country, allowing American brewers to vastly improve their sour, inferior beers.

. . . .

Detouring briefly from his quest for new crops, Fairchild cajoled the mayor of Tokyo into giving him Japanese cherry trees that bore no fruit but produced clouds of delicate pink flowers. The shipment that arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1908, became the rootstock for the capital’s iconic springtime burst of cherry blossoms.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

How I beat anorexia by savouring the lavish meals of literature

19 February 2018

From The Guardian:

Laura Freeman was first diagnosed with anorexia aged 14. A decade later she had begun to rebuild her life but still struggled with her attitude to food, eating small portions of the same thing for months on end. “At 24, I’d got to the point where I was recovered enough that I could eat, but only in a very formulaic way,” she says. “I had a pretty boring diet. It was more about getting through each day.”

Then one day she read a passage in Siegfried Sassoon’s 1928 Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man describing “a breakfast of boiled eggs eaten in winter”. It changed everything.

. . . .

“At that time I’d established that I was all right to eat Weetabix or happy to eat pasta and tomato sauce, so I would just eat small portions of those things over and over,” Freeman, now 30, explains. “I would take cereal bars on holiday to eat in my hotel room because I was so worried about not being able to eat new types of food.”

Freeman was always a voracious reader and had, even during the worst of her anorexia, used books as an escape – “there was comfort in being able to think: I’m not in my sick room in London in February, I’m in Paris with Nancy Mitford”.

Sassoon’s vivid descriptions of eggs on buttered toast, and hot chocolate, made her think that there was “a different way of eating … one that was less mean and more adventurous”. Encouraged by this notion, she began to hunt down other authors who wrote vividly about food.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG does not minimize the problems of those suffering from anorexia, but he does not remember reading any wonderful descriptions of meals in the books he has read. (He also sometimes forgets where he put his keys, too.)

So he searched for a lovely description of a meal.

Of course, The Guardian stands ever ready to improve PG’s literary education:

3. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by by Joan Aiken

“Mr Wilderness’s porridge was very different from that served in Mrs Brisket’s school. It was eaten with brown sugar from a big blue bag, and with dollops of thick yellow cream provided by Mr Wilderness’s two cows.”

. . . .

7. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Grandma stood by the brass kettle and with the big wooden spoon she poured hot syrup on each plate of snow. It cooled into soft candy, and as fast as it cooled they ate it. They could eat all they wanted, for maple sugar never hurt anybody.”

. . . .

10. All the picnics in Enid Blyton

“The high tea that awaited them was truly magnificent. A huge ham gleaming as pink as Timmy’s tongue; a salad fit for a king. In fact, as Dick said, fit for several kings, it was so enormous…. ‘Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, radishes, mustard and cress, carrot grated up – that is carrot, isn’t it, Mrs. Penruthlan?’ said Dick. ‘And lashings of hard-boiled eggs.'”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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