Books in General

Mary Bennet sequels? Jane Austen’s minor characters are neglected for a reason

21 August 2016

From The Guardian:

Great marketing sense or mawkish sensibility? Take your pick: Orion has just announced a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, to be published next summer to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. Perception by Terri Fleming will be set a few years after the events set forth in the original novel and follows Mary and Kitty, the two sisters left unmarried by Austen. That book will be followed, in 2018, by The Other Bennet Girl by Janice Hadlow, which similarly promises to show a hidden side to Mary.

Austen re-imaginings are nothing new: in the last couple of years alone we’ve had Jo Baker’s Longbourn and the execrable Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, not to mention Bridget Jones’s Diary and Death Comes to Pemberley. Now it seems There’s Something About Mary, to cite another spinoff by Sebastian Di Mattia. How many books are there already out there about Mary Bennet? I must admit I stopped counting. The Forgotten Sister, The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, Becoming Mary, Mary Bennet’s Chance, The Pursuit of Mary Bennet (subtitled “A Pride and Prejudice Novel”, which slightly wrongfooted me: isn’t Pride and Prejudice already a novel, not a franchise?) … Mary Bennett and the Bloomsbury Coven promises much excitement but anyone expecting a time-travelling sorcery mashup with Virginia Woolf and company will be disappointed.

To recap, in case you now know more about the Mary Bennet industry than the character herself, Mary is the plain, bookish, subdued sister to Elizabeth, Jane, Lydia and Kitty. Here’s Austen pulling no punches on her pianoforte skills:

Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached.

Austen does not even grant her the intelligence or ambition that redeems the novel’s other unprepossessing spinster, Charlotte Lucas. Mary’s high (or low, depending on your point of view) moment comes at the Netherfield ball, when she takes centre stage and embarrasses the family by playing and singing appallingly badly. Mary is, then, very much the “forgotten” sister, while everyone else goes off and gets married.

. . . .

But this interest in fleshing out the stories of minor characters – thinking about “what happens next” as though they are real people unfairly sidelined – raises an interesting point about the processes of characterisation. How do novels make us accept the differences between major and minor characters? How do authors make their heroes and heroines complex and credible while relying on a cast of supporting characters who lack interiority? It’s an asymmetry on which the realist novel, in particular, relies – what Alex Woloch calls the conundrum of “The One v the Many”.

The singularity of Elizabeth Bennett, after all – the reason she so often features in lists of our favourite literary characters – relies solely upon the relief cast by her dull sisters. Lizzie only has space in the book for a remarkable interior life because her sisters do not. Even beautiful Jane is a bit insipid – a fact Austen knowingly plays with, as her eventual engagement to Bingley is briefly threatened by Jane’s reticence.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Against Borrowing Books

20 August 2016

From Read it Forward:

There is a certain tyranny to borrowing books.

For me, the reading of books—and not just books in the general sense but very specific ones—is a vital activity, one that, yes, stumbles and stutters and loses its way, but it is my progress nonetheless. Now, the choosing of my next read is, most of the time, a wonderfully open task, as I am able to pick from all the books I’ve yet to read, which is literally most books that have ever existed. Faced with such bewildering numbers and such endless choice, I rely wholly on my literary whim—that is, whichever author or genre or style or subject is doing it for me at that moment, that is what I ought to pursue, because the passion that results from inarticulate interest is how I will get through even the tiniest portion of literature’s outrageous multiplicity.

So when someone shoves some book into that precarious and improvised path, it disrupts the whole pattern by arbitrarily inserting a book that didn’t fit in with the tenuous chain forming from selection to selection—a chaining forming and informing its own development. If I’m, say, on a kick of Spanish-language novels by women, and a friend of mine just insists that I borrow and read a contemporary American writer, either one of two things will happen: either I will stick the book into my mercurial list and thus disrupt it irrevocably, or I will not read the book, it will sit dusty languishing on my shelf, pulsating and pounding like the tell-tale heart.

. . . .

And while we’re on the subject, No, you can’t borrow my books either. Why? Because you won’t return it. That’s why. Oh, what’s that? Oh, you’re really responsible? And super good at getting borrowed things back to their owners? Well, let me tell you a story, one that regularly (and woefully) recurs in my life: I will be working on an essay or a review, and some passage from a novel I’d read years before pops into my head, a perfect addendum to the piece, but when I go to my shelves to search among more than a thousand volumes, the book in question is missing. Missing? No, I know I own that book.

. . . .

Now maybe you’re sitting there thinking that I’m taking all this a little too sensitively, that probably my best course is to accept the loss of a handful of books as the necessary flotsam and jetsam of a life lived with friends and acquaintances around to borrow my books in the first place. To this, I have a few responses. First, of course, I don’t persist in harboring resentment or annoyance for the person I’d lent the books to—that part of it dissipated long ago. Secondly, this isn’t merely a “handful” of titles; it’s probably more like a hundred. And third and last: I’m broke now and have been broke for many years, so buying replacement copies becomes not only financially untenable but also aesthetically, by which I mean that it’s very difficult to spend what little money I have purchasing books I’ve already read just so I can find a particular section to quote for an essay.

And if you’re thinking that I should take advantage of a library, I’m forced to admit that I don’t like libraries.

Link to the rest at Read it Forward

Utah boy reading junk mail gets thousands of books after mailman’s plea goes viral

20 August 2016

From ABC7-New York:

Mathew Flores is a typical 12-year-old boy. He love LEGOs, and he also loves to read.

“I just usually read the newspapers,” he said.

Mathew can also get lost in what most of us consider junk mail. That’s what he was doing when Ron Lynch saw him last week as he delivered mail for the Sandy Post Office in Utah.

“A young man was standing here reading junk mail,” he said. “Asked me if I had any extra.”

Lynch found out Mathew reads newspapers because he doesn’t have any books.

“I asked him about going to the library, and he said he couldn’t afford the bus pass,” Lynch said.

Mathew’s situation tugged at Lynch’s heartstrings.

“You know, I started reading at a very, very early age,” he said. “My mother instilled reading books in me…at 12 years old, he didn’t want electronics. He didn’t want to sit in front of the TV playing games all day. This kid just wanted to read.”

So Lynch posted a picture of Mathew on Facebook, asking his friends to send the boy some books.

. . . .

“I was given many books as a child, and it’s time to help someone else,” Lynch wrote. “Please share and let’s get him tons of reading material! Most kids his age want electronics! It’s great to see his desire, and you should have seen him beam when I said I could help!”

“You know, 10, 20, 30 of my friend’s might give him some books,” he said. “He might end up with 50 or 60 books.”

But his plea went viral.

“It’s gone from there,” he said. “I’ve heard from the UK, from Australia, from India.”

. . . .

Mathew says he wants to read every book.

Link to the rest at ABC7-New York

PG apologizes for the commercial that appears at the beginning of the video below.

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A Puzzle Book with Locked Pages

18 August 2016

From Slate:

Beautifully produced books have become coveted objects in a digital world. But young industrial designer Brady Whitney has taken the idea of book as object a step further with Codex Silenda—an intriguing wooden book whose pages you can turn, and story you can unlock, only after solving a different mechanical puzzle on each of its thick, laser-cut, hand-assembled pages.

Whitney came up with the puzzle book hybrid idea for his senior thesis research project at Iowa State University and has turned his inspired idea into an intriguing Kickstarter project that has already surpassed its original funding goal of $30,000 many times over.

The Codex requires readers to solve a puzzle to unlock the bolt that leads to the next page of a story about an apprentice in Da Vinci’s workshop, but the book can also be personalized with your own story (attention puzzle and book nerd couples with milestone anniversaries looming or engagement proposals to plan)

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

PG says this is a different twist on self-publishing.

Here’s the Kickstarter video:

The Mysterious History of the Ellipsis, From Medieval Subpuncting to Irrational Numbers

17 August 2016

From Slate:

The punctuation mark of the ellipsis is perhaps the most unusual mark in the English language, for punctuation marks are designed to convey meaning by indicating relationships between ideas, but the ellipsis does the exact opposite. It simply indicates that something has been omitted. Sometimes, this omission is poignant, as in J. Alfred Prufrock’s lament “I grow old…I grow old…” which invites the reader to imagine what has happened to the him in the spaces between him growing old. Sometimes, it is simply a placeholder, as happens when a fellow messager is typing on the other end of the line. (Personally, my favorite example of the ellipsis is Seinfeld’s infamous “yada yada yada,” but I digress.)

. . . .

[T]he dot dot dot of an ellipsis was no stranger to English texts before the plays of Shakespeare and Jonson. It might have just been serving a slightly different function.

In medieval manuscripts, we find a mark—sometimes called subpuncting or underdotting—that is used to indicate the omission of a word or phrase, usually when that word or phrase has been copied erroneously. This omission mark involves placing a series of dots under the word that is to be omitted.

. . . .

A scholar of medieval manuscripts, David Wakelin, conducted a study on how popular various methods of omission and correction were based on a sample of 9,000 manuscripts at the Huntington Library. He found that “crossing out, subpuncting, or erasure” accounted for 25% of the corrections he found. He does not provide a percentage of subpuncting alone, but it does occur in a variety of manuscripts, particularly those in the 14th and 15th centuries. Wakelin notes that subpuncting begins to die out in the early 16th century, and Toner picks up on the rise of the ellipsis in the late 16th century.

Could the two be related?

It is possible that the omission mark of subpuncting and the modern ellipsis stem from two different sources, with them serendipitously looking similar and subpuncting coincidentally fading away in manuscripts around the same time that the ellipsis is introduced in print. But it is also possible that the medieval practice of subpuncting provided a ready-made punctuation mark for new printers.

. . . .

The word’s origins in the Greek ἔλλειψις mean “falling short, defect,” but the ellipsis also becomes associated with omission fairly early in its history. For instance, Quintillian, with the linguistic confidence only a Roman could exude, says that an ellipsis marks “the omission of words that can be recovered verbatim by means of contextual information.” Quintillian envisions the ellipsis more as an abbreviation than a defect. However, the Oxford English Dictionary’s more modern definition highlights the mark’s inherent instability: An ellipsis implies “the omission of one or more words in a sentence, which would be needed to complete the grammatical construction or fully to express the sense.” In this sense, the ellipsis is defective, or falls short, because it inherently brings a gap in meaning.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

I dreamed of being Hemingway​,​ but ended up a pulp fiction writer

17 August 2016

From author Christopher Farnsworth via The New York Post:

The book sat on the shelf of the third-grade classroom. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was a second-grader, and I’d been herded into the room along with the rest of my class for some reason I don’t remember anymore.

But I still remember the book. The title was “The Freckled Shark.” There was a huge man in a torn shirt holding what could only be described as a ray-gun, against the background of some kind of animal skin.

I was always ready to read about another superhero or spaceman. But the man on the cover didn’t exactly look like a good guy. And his name, in big letters above his head, didn’t sound like a good guy’s name either: Doc Savage.

“To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange, mysterious figure . . . he is a man of superhuman strength and protean genius . . . In his most exotic adventure, the Man of Bronze encounters the insane money lust of Señor Steel, president-dictator of Blanca Grande (a very unfortunate South American republic); decodes the awful secret of Matacumbe; and sinks — for what may be the last time — into the muddy horror of the primitive jungle.”

For a brief moment, I didn’t know if this Doc Savage was an actual person or not. (In my defense, I was 7 years old.)

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. . . .

All I knew was that it sounded much more interesting — more alive, more vital, more real — than anything else I’d read up to that point. I begged the teacher to let me take the book home.

She agreed, as long as I returned it first thing in the morning. So I read the entire novel that night. And I decided, deep down, that was the world I wanted to live in: a life filled with adventurers, mad scientists, strange creatures, weird plagues and mysterious plots.

That was the beginning of my life in pulp fiction.

Today, I write my own lurid, sensational stories.

Link to the rest at New York Post and thanks to Andrew for the tip.

Here’s a link to Christopher Farnsworth’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

The Freckled Shark is available as a used paperback.

This is how old languages add new words

17 August 2016

From The Week:

How do you say “laptop” in Lakota? What about “Guinea pig”?

Lakota is one of the Sioux family of languages, spoken in North Dakota and South Dakota. Guinea pigs are not an indigenous species in the Dakotas, so Lakota didn’t always have a name for these creatures. And obviously it hasn’t always had a name for laptop computers. But it has both now.

We may think that things from elsewhere should just come with names from elsewhere. That’s how we so often do it in English these days: Someone brings something from somewhere and uses the name it came with — or comes up with a more saleable version of the name. Whatever their origins, words emerge on the common market of the English language and are taken up or ignored like new products in the store. But not all languages do it that way. Not all languages even can do it that way.

Consider Chinese, for example. Any word borrowed into Chinese has to fit into the syllables represented by Chinese characters — even if the individual sounds occur in Chinese, if they don’t occur in the desired combination, you just can’t do it. And, for added complication, each character has meaning attached to it. When Coca-Cola first came to China, shopkeepers came up with approximations that sometimes had unfortunate literal meanings, such as “female horse fastened with wax” and “bite the wax tadpole.”

The Coca-Cola company then came up with an official branding that meant “permit the mouth to be able to rejoice” and sounded close enough: Ke Kou Ke Le (sounds sort of like “cuh coe cuh luh”).

. . . .

Icelanders have a strong preference for keeping their language as “pure” as possible. They also want their words to work properly with Icelandic grammar, which has several forms for each word to suit different grammatical functions. When a new Icelandic word is needed, there is often a sort of national conversation led by experts, and an official institute gets to make the final decision about new words. The words most often make use of Icelandic roots. “Laptop” is fartölva, from far “travel” plus tölva“computer”; tölva in turn is a blend of tala “number” with völva, an old word for a female soothsayer. And “Guinea pig”? Naggrís, from naga“gnaw” and grís “pig.”

. . . .

There are four basic ways a gap in Lakota can be filled. Speakers can just swap in the non-Lakota word — but that’s what preservationists want to avoid. Speakers could just avoid the term because it’s a non-Lakota concept — but that’s not always possible. They can adapt the borrowed word, much as Chinese often does. Or they can come up with a new word using their own vocabulary roots, much as Icelandic usually does.

The last option was historically popular. Back when the first automobiles were introduced, they got the name iyéčhiŋka íŋyaŋke, which means “by itself it runs” (which translates auto “self” and mobile “moving”).

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

Breaking up with books is so very hard to do for those who are avid readers

16 August 2016

From The Miami Herald:

I’ve run out of space for my books. And no, that is not the first line of a comedy routine.

I truly have no more shelf space left for additions to my addiction. It’s quite the predicament, for me. What to do, what to do?

This isn’t the first time I’m faced with difficult choices, with culling friends and teachers from my life, and I know it to be a long arduous process rife with regrets and reservations. When we downsized after the last of my five children went off to college, I sorted through a collection of hundreds of books, a painstaking progression that took weeks and required such emotional stamina that it sapped me.

. . . .

If you’re not a book lover, you’re probably scratching your head unable to understand the pain of divorce, the anguish of separation. How to explain that each book has brought a special light into my life and sending one or many away is like extinguishing a small but inspiring flame?

Friends and family insist I invest in an e-reader, insinuating that something is not quite right with my allegiance to tradition. I’m accustomed to their condescending tone. As the only one in my family attached to the written word, I’ve always been regarded as a teensy bit eccentric by relatives who prefer the perfect symmetry of numbers. That peculiarity has only grown with age and now my avid reading — fiction mostly, though I indulge in investment and business tomes as well — has become as much solace as entertainment.

. . . .

Finally I pile the books on the floor in groups: the forever-loves separated from the call-you-maybes and the I-probably-won’t-miss-yous. There they remain in capitulation.

Link to the rest at The Miami Herald and thanks to Dave for the tip.

8 Reasons Why People Buy Books

16 August 2016

From Digital Book World:

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been reporting on observations that Jellybooks has made about readers after collecting data about when, where and how they read. Do readers rant or rave about books? Do they read fast or slow? Do they even finish the books they begin reading?

One of the more interesting phenomena we observed was that there are books that sell well but are not read, or at least they appear not to be read by many of the people who buy or otherwise acquire them. Our first reaction was to ask, “Can we trust the data?” But we then came to the conclusion that, indeed, we could (more on data integrity, sampling bias and statistical validity in a future post). Having convinced ourselves that the observations were genuine, we started wondering as to the reasons and started thinking in more depth about the question, “What motivations do readers have for buying specific books?” Below, we outline some of our thinking on this topic, which is also a manifesto of sorts for future research.

1. Entertain Me Now
2. Entertain Me in the Future
3. Inform Me
4. Obligation to Read
5. Social Pressure to Read
6. Makes Me Look Smart
7. Need for a Gift
8. Impulse

Reason 1 – Entertain Me Now

This is the most obvious reason. We buy books, especially works of fiction, and to some extent also non-fiction titles, to be entertained. This represents several hours worth of light or deep entertainment. We escape into an imaginary world in our minds. These are books we buy and start reading within days, if not hours. If we like these books, we finish them, and if we really like them, we recommend them to our friends and acquaintances.

Books in this category have high completion rates, a high recommendation factor (Net Promoter Score) and high velocity.

However, some of these books are what many might call ”guilty pleasures”—books we don’t want to admit reading and which, as result, we are less likely to recommend to strangers or friends we are not close to. The latter are books with high completion rates and velocity, but comparatively low recommendation factors. Some, but not all, genre fiction falls into this category. Andy Weir’s The Martian, for example, certainly did not suffer from a lack of recommendations; it was not so much a “guilty pleasure” as a “you must read this book, I was smitten by it” title.

Reason 2 – Entertain Me in the Future

There exists a surprisingly large number of books that are bought not for instant gratification, but as options for future entertainment. Books, in other words, have high optionality. Our hoarding instincts comes into play, especially when it involves a Kindle countdown deal, Bookbub deal or special price promotion.

Books in this category often show huge sales spikes but are left unread. This is particularly noticeable for ebooks that can quickly become “invisible” in the depths of our digital libraries (out of sight, out of mind), collecting electronic dust and perhaps never being read.

These books create revenue for authors and publishers, but their completion rates are low, their velocity (the time it takes the median reader to finish the book after opening it) approaches infinity, and as a result, their recommendation factor is often negative, as books that aren’t read are not recommended.

. . . .

Reason 5 – Social Pressure to Read

Sometimes we feel social pressure to read a book, if for no other reason than everybody at the office, at the bridge round or the country club is talking about it. Whether it’s 50 Shades of Grey, The Lost Symbol, The Name of The Rose or something similar, we feel compelled to buy these books because the rest of the world is reading them. Sometimes we finish them, but sometimes we don’t really get into them.

These are the books for which we at Jellybooks see a lot of page and chapter flipping, as readers fast forward but don’t give up outright on the book and abandon it, as they feel pressure to read the book and be “knowledgeable” about it. These books are veritable gold mines for authors and publishers, but in terms of completion rates they are not the top performers.

A book that is purchased due to social pressure is not the same kind of book that is a word-of-mouth hit that people have recommended to us, as a title we will really enjoy. The latter shows incredibly high completion rates and a very high recommendation factor, which these “social pressure” books do not exhibit. A 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James is not the same kind of book as The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, which is a genuine word-of-mouth blockbuster.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

My thoughts on trigger warnings

16 August 2016

From author Colleen Hoover:

I want to discuss trigger warnings.

A lot of books have them. If the book deals with a sensitive subject that might be a trigger to a traumatic past event, a lot of readers like to know beforehand. However, what if that trigger is part of the plot?

What if the writer doesn’t want you to know that the book deals with rape? Or murder? Or extramarital affairs? Or domestic violence? Or cancer? Or the death of a child? What if the reading experience would be ruined if one of these issues was not meant to be revealed before reading the book?

I’ve received a lot of feedback, not only for It Ends With Us, but for every novel I’ve written. Many readers are thankful they know nothing about the book, or the experiences the characters have, before reading. However, some readers have stated they wish they were aware beforehand.

As a fellow reader with my fair share of past experiences, I understand that there are issues some people do not want to read about. But as a writer, there are many things I don’t want revealed in the blurbs of my books.

. . . .

I’ve killed infants. I’ve given characters cancer. I’ve written about molestation, rape, abuse, death, affairs, etc. And most of the time, these things are a part of the plot. As a writer, I feel if I were to put in the blurb of a book that it specifically deals with cancer, or infant death, or abuse, then the reader will be waiting for that to happen as they read the book. The majority of readers don’t want to know a single thing about books before going into it, so is it fair to lay out what might happen in the book before people read it?

Yes, there are readers who want to know specifics before going into a book and I truly hate that anyone relates to negative aspects in fiction. But as an author, I choose not to reveal in my blurbs which specific emotional traumas my characters will face.

If you are a reader who avoids certain subjects because they can be a trigger to your past (or present), I urge you to avoid my books, because they are extremely emotional and touch on a lot of sensitive or unpleasant things.  If you don’t want to avoid my books, feel free to email me beforehand and I’ll be happy to let you know what the book relates to. Or ask in my Facebook group and an admin will be happy to message you with regard to what the book deals with.

Link to the rest at Colleen Hoover and thanks to Toby for the tip.

Here’s a link to Colleen Hoover’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

PG is generally chary of the idea of trigger warnings, but, in the case of purchasing a book or borrowing it from the library, he thinks it’s the responsibility of the sensitive reader to investigate the content of the book before acquiring it.

PG has enough experience in life to know that the number of ideas or concepts that will upset someone somewhere approaches infinity. What was perfectly acceptable twenty years ago now triggers some people. Something which is socially down the middle today will offend groups of people twenty years from now.

Mark Twain was a highly-intelligent and socially conscious inhabitant of his time who wrote incisive commentary on the happenings of his day, including biting sarcasm directed toward the hypocrites and fools of that era. When Twain described the race of African Americans, he frequently used a term that was completely acceptable in his day and age. Today, despite its frequent and unremarkable use in Twain’s era, that word is deeply offensive, even triggering for some people.

When I speak to other people in 2016, I can exercise some awareness of topics which may upset some others and steer clear of such topics if I choose to do so. Written words may not, of course, be consumed during the period of time in which they were written, so an author should not be held to requirements he/she does not understand.

When ebooks can be distributed around the world within a few hours, it is almost certain that a writer in one culture is capable of disturbing a reader in another culture with no intent to do so. Indeed, it may be impossible to discuss some topics without upsetting readers somewhere in the world.

If a reader has a particular susceptibility to being distressed by a topic as a result of past trauma or otherwise, PG advises consultation with an appropriate professional to either address the trauma or develop coping mechanisms that will help avoid or control destructive response to depictions of triggering events.

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