Books in General

Open Thread

24 September 2018

PG received a suggestion that he post an occasional open thread.

For any who are not familiar with the term, an open thread is one in which any visitor can post a comment or question that invites responses from other visitors. You do that by clicking the Comments link to this post and typing your question or comment.

PG requests that posts and replies on the Open Thread conform to the Comment standards of TPV as expressed on the Comments page. These include:

The rules on comments are simple. You can disagree with me or others, but be reasonably civil and non-abusive. I’m a bit old-fashioned on language, but if you want to use asterisks or a substitute word, that solves my problem. I use a plugin that catches some language and inserts its own asterisks.

As is obvious, The Passive Voice is generally about writing, publishing and the people who do it. I’m not going to be a Nazi about on-topic, etc., but if you want to talk about investing in gold coins, your bargain-basement SEO consulting fees or enhanced sexual prowess, please take those conversations elsewhere.

If you’re an author, publisher, agent, etc., a low-key commercial announcement is OK from time to time, but don’t go crazy. I don’t mind relevant links in comments, but will zap comments and commenters that link to spam.

My spam filter catches zillions of spam comments each day. If you’re a spammer and somehow get through, I’ll send your comments to the Delta Quadrant and sic all the Nigerian princesses on you.

PG expects an open thread may be more wide-ranging than the comments on a particular post PG makes and doesn’t have any problems with that.

If you haven’t made a prior comment on TPV, the comment spam filter will hold your first comment for moderation. Once it’s approved, your subsequent comments should appear as soon as you submit them.

If you have problems with comment moderation

24 September 2018

Like many blog proprietors, PG uses a spam filter to avoid a lot of irrelevant and annoying cluttering of the TPV comment stream.

When PG just checked the comment spam folder, he found a comment that began with, “Love the oil content on your site!”

Occasionally, legitimate comments end up on the spam folder. If you believe that has happened to you and you’re not trying to post oil content, contact PG through the Contact Page and he’ll attempt to remedy the problem.

TPV is set up to hold the first comment by a visitor for moderation by PG. Once a comment is approved, that user (identified by username and email) should be able to post comments without any moderation.

As PG has mentioned before, he believes the comments are the best part of TPV and he welcomes your ideas and observations.

The Haunted Site

24 September 2018

PG was running a troubleshooting routine on TPV this morning and accidentally activated a different theme for a few moments.

He apologizes if any visitors were confused and hopes the original appearance has returned.

Sleeping Secrets

24 September 2018

Mrs. PG has written another book.

When she goes quiet on PG, his suspicions are raised. Either she has gambled away the old homestead or she’s back in the drug trade. Or perhaps a holiday is approaching and she’s planning a surprise party. Or one of the PG offspring is pregnant or married to someone who’s pregnant.

PG becomes mystified. Bafflement confronts him on all sides.

Finally, it all comes clear, the reasons why the printer is low on toner for the second time in a week and he’s been finding twenty-pound boxes marked Georgia Pacific in the trunk with the groceries when he unloads the results of the latest Costco run.

Mrs. PG has written another book.

But PG repeats himself, himself.

What’s the book about?

Pickett’s Charge?

The Russo–Japanese War?

Athenian naval tactics in the Peloponnese?

An intimate history of the Federal Reserve System?

Wrong on all counts.

It’s about Sleeping Secrets, which explains the title, Sleeping Secrets.

One might think it is a book about cures for snoring.

One might think that, but one would be wrong. Besides Secrets don’t snore when they’re asleep.

Some secrets have been secrets so long and have been hidden so well, one might describe them as secrets that have dozed off.

Only certain secrets remain somnolent for a long time. Your mother’s recipe for fried chicken is not such a secret. Nor is the name of your boyfriend when you were twelve.

These secrets originate in the Balkans, the world’s premier location for plotting, assassination, double-dealing and sedition. Cabals form in the Balkans with the ease that foursomes form in a golf course bar. There’s something in the Balkan air that promotes infinitely complex conspiracy in the same way that there’s something in South Bend’s air that promotes smashmouth football teams.

If you thought, “three yards and a cloud of dust” originated in the Balkans, you would be a soccer fan.

On the other hand, PG wonders if some types of secrets might occasionally snore while they’re asleep. Certitude on that point may be taking existing knowledge further than is warranted by the scientific literature.

But he digresses.

The PG’s would be most appreciative if you would consider a commercial transaction involving Mrs. PG’s latest book, Sleeping Secrets.

How to write the perfect sentence

21 September 2018

From The Guardian:

Every writer, of school age and older, is in the sentences game. The sentence is our writing commons, the shared ground where all writers walk. A poet writes in sentences, and so does the unsung author who came up with “Items trapped in doors cause delays”. The sentence is the Ur-unit, the core material, the granular element that must be got right or nothing will be right. For James Baldwin, the only goal was “to write a sentence as clean as a bone”.

What can celebrated writers teach the rest of us about the art of writing a great sentence? A common piece of writing advice is to make your sentences plain, unadorned and invisible. George Orwell gave this piece of advice its epigram: “Good prose is like a windowpane.” A reader should notice the words no more than someone looking through glass notices the glass.

. . . .

Behind Orwell’s windowpane theory of prose lies a puritan pride, a sense that the writer will be purified by a clean, sinewy style as by an early morning run and a cold shower. “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity,” he wrote. Insincere writing spat out tired idioms “like a cuttlefish spurting out ink”. Bad ideas were the bedfellows of bad prose. Fake thoughts made fake sentences.

Some of this is true but none of it is a good way of learning how to write a sentence. More ethical demand than useful advice, it forces writers back to their own reserves of wisdom and authenticity. It blames bad writing on laziness and dishonesty, when a likelier culprit is lack of skill. If you ordered me to make a blancmange, all I could come up with would be a gloopy, inedible mess – not because I am lazy or dishonest, but because, although I have some vague idea that it needs sugar, cornflour and boiled milk, I don’t know how to make a blancmange.

Orwell saw the plain English sentence as the sword of existential truth, a cure-all for the bad faith of modern life. But much of the time he didn’t even follow his own advice. “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out,” he ordered. Perhaps he should have written: “If you can cut a word, do.”

. . . .

A good sentence imposes a logic on the world’s weirdness. It gets its power from the tension between the ease of its phrasing and the shock of its thought slid cleanly into the mind. A sentence, as it proceeds, is a paring away of options. Each added word, because of the English language’s dependence on word order, reduces the writer’s alternatives and narrows the reader’s expectations. But even up to the last word the writer has choices and can throw in a curveball. A sentence can begin in one place and end in another galaxy, without breaking a single syntactic rule. The poet Wayne Koestenbaum calls it “organising lava”, this pleasure to be got from “pushing a sentence in a wrong direction without altering its sweet grammatical composure”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG’s least favorite sentences (or sentence fragments) have been found in the portion of a contract generally called the Recitals. Recitals are completely antithetical to good sentences.

Recitals come at the beginning of a contract (right after the Preamble – “This Agreement is made on the 21st day of September, 2018, by and between XXX and YYY) and can set the scene for the meat of the contract.

Ofttimes, the Recitals begin with one of the more lawyerly words (traditional and unnecessary), “Whereas”. You can optionally choose, “WHEREAS” or skip the word altogether if you’re in a Bolshevik frame of mind.

Here is an example:

Whereas, Seller manufactures overpriced and useless widgets; and

Whereas, Buyer has run out of overpriced and useless widgets; and

Whereas, Buyer believes it needs a regularly replenished stock of overpriced and useless widgets sitting around the warehouse; and

Whereas, Seller and Buyer agreed on the price and quantity of widgets to be purchased prior to involving their attorneys; and

Whereas, both Seller and Buyer deny being the first one to suggest attorneys be involved in this transaction; and

Whereas, counsel for Seller and Buyer have spent a lot of time crossing every T and dotting every i in this contract, and pretty much agree that they dread seeing an email from one another show up in their inbox; and

Whereas, the Parties have finally reigned in their respective attorneys.

Recitals are proof that the run-on sentence will never die, regardless of what your middle-school English teacher told you. PG is a little hazy about how semicolons are supposed to be used anywhere except in a recital.

The Recitals are then followed by another boilerplate clause indicating the parties have (finally) come to an agreement. In case there is doubt in anyone’s mind, this boilerplate clause demonstrates that this contract is a contract instead of a press release and erases all doubts that the parties have agreed on something and, for the moment, everything about the anticipated contractual relationship is sunshine and lollipops:

NOW, THEREFORE in consideration of the mutual covenants and agreements herein and other good and valuable consideration, the receipt, adequacy and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged by the parties, the parties agree as follows:

PG has never heard any reason why NOW, THEREFORE is always emphasized. Perhaps it’s designed to catch the attention of the reader who has started to nod off while reviewing the recitals.

PG is also not certain why adequacy and sufficiency are both frequently found in this clause. If consideration (whatever each party is getting out of the contract – widgets in the case of the Buyer and money in the case of the Seller) is adequate, isn’t it also sufficient? He has similar questions about good and valuable consideration.

Among their other useless characteristics, the Recitals are not supposed to be part of the binding contract itself. They’re sort of like the time before a concert actually begins when all the musicians are tuning and messing about with their instruments. You’re going to hear something important soon but what you’re hearing right now isn’t that something.

If a recital says one thing and a provision in the contract says another, the contract provision wins. If a recital says one thing and the contract fails to mention anything about that topic, the recital is supposed to have just about the same legal effect as a comment on the weather.

However, like so many other things, a random recital can always be a reason to argue about something in the contract itself. “Why would the parties have inserted this recital about tree frogs if they didn’t have any intention of the contract actually doing something with tree frogs?”

The response is that recitals are the ultimate boilerplate contract clause – long and pretty much useless. Trees long departed for the pulping mill would still be growing with birds nesting in their branches if it were not for recitals.

PG is not aware of any real benefit that recitals provide. If a recital is a basis for a dispute, it probably proves nothing except that the attorney or paralegal or secretary who cut and pasted the recitals from another agreement into the one people are arguing over (the almost universal method for creating recitals) was listening to iTunes when the first draft was created.

10 Successful Writers Who Dropped Out (Or Were Kicked Out) of School

21 September 2018

From The Literary Hub:

 For some of you, school is officially in full swing. The newness has worn off a bit, and the dreaded homework has set in. Perhaps you’re already tired of it all. Officially, I am here to tell you: stay in school. School is worthwhile and our dismal public education system is what is going to destroy/has already destroyed this country. But it’s true that there are lots of notable visionaries, literary and otherwise, who dropped out of school—or were kicked out—for one reason or another. You probably already know about some of these: Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, Jack London, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc. But things are a bit different now, so I’ve tried to keep this list a bit closer to contemporary. Below, a list of successful writers who quit school, took a break, got expelled, and became intellectual superstars anyway.

. . . .

Shirly Jackson matriculated at the University of Rochester . . . and would have been part of the class of 1938 had she not dropped out after her sophomore year. Or, I suppose “dropped out” isn’t exactly the right term—her grades were so bad that year that at the end of it she was asked to leave. In her biography of Jackson, Ruth Franklin notes that the writer later commented that she had been kicked out “because I refused to go to any classes because I hated them.” She spent the next year writing, forcing herself to produce at least a thousand words a day, and when she applied to Syracuse University she did so with the goal of making writing her career. She matriculated there in September 1937, quickly found her feet, began publishing her work, and graduated in 1940.

. . . .

As you’ll know doubt know if you’ve ever read one of his novels, Cormac McCarthy doesn’t do things by halves—he’s more likely to do them double. So you may not be shocked to learn that he didn’t drop out of the University of Tennessee once, but twice. The first time was in 1953, to join the Air Force. He was discharged in 1957, and shortly thereafter re-enrolled, studying physics and engineering, before dropping out again after another two years, withdrawing in 1959. According to Willard P. Greenwood’s Reading Cormac McCarthy, it was during this second stint at college that McCarthy developed his distinctive punctuation style (read: very sparse punctuation). An English professor hired him to edit a book of eighteenth century essays, and in the process, McCarthy “developed his distaste for the semicolon and . . . came to the realization that punctuation is not essential to clear writing.” Well, I suppose he got something worthwhile out of college, even if he didn’t get a degree.

. . . .

Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing barely even started high school: she attended an all-girls Roman Catholic convent school in what is now Harare. She hated it, and eventually was allowed to come home at age thirteen—only to be sent away again to a boarding school. It was better, but she still hated it, and after coming down with a debilitating case of pinkeye, she refused to go on with her education. At the age of fourteen, she quit forever. In The Golden Notebook, she wrote:

Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself—educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.

More robust and individual indeed.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Jack Kerouac letter to mother recounts ‘On the Road’ adventures

20 September 2018

From The Guardian:

He may have been the godfather of the Beat Generation, a self-styled crazy hobo mystic who hit the US’s highways looking for himself, but Jack Kerouacwasn’t above asking his mother for money to tide him over on the epic journey he immortalised in On The Road.

In a letter from 1947, written at the height of the travels that would form the basis of his classic roman a clef published 10 years later, Kerouac begs his mother, Gabrielle, for $25 to help him get from Denver to California.

The handwritten note, dated 29 July, was written when Kerouac was 25, and is being sold through online bookseller Abebooks by Pasadena-based rare book dealers Whitmore for $22,500 (£17,000).

The letter betrays a vulnerability in the young Kerouac perhaps overlooked by those who only know him as the free-wheelin’ author of counterculture classics. Opening the note, written in pencil, he begins “Dear Ma”, and gives Gabrielle instructions on how to wire the money to him from a Western Union branch near where she works in Brooklyn.

However, despite saying he needs it because “hitchhiking is impossible across the desert and mountains”, Kerouac isn’t exactly living in squalor in Denver, writing: “I’m staying in a swanky apartment with showers and food and everything. But I want to get going so I can make a lot of money sailing in the Pacific and come home in the Fall and finish my book.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

That popular ‘book exchange’ on Facebook is terrible, deceptive, and probably illegal

19 September 2018

From Business Insider:

Have you seen a post from a Facebook friend asking you to participate in a book exchange? The system is basically an old-school fraudulent chain letter. It won’t work the way you probably expect, and it might be illegal.Here’s the text from a typical post:

Hello all! Calling out to all of you who are bookworms, book lovers, and bibliophiles (like myself) from all walks of life. We need at least 6 people to participate in a book exchange (but can be more). You can be anywhere in the world. The further we get, the better! All you have to do is buy one of your favorite books and send it to one person. You will receive approximately 36 books back! If you are interested like this status so I can fill you in on all the details!

Sounds harmless, right?

Here’s the problem.

Chains like this — with every new member sending books or gifts or money backward to the last people on the chain— are basically efficient systems for enriching a small group of people at the expense of a much larger group. In fact, no matter how big the chain grows, it’s mathematically impossible for more people to get free stuff than people who spend money without getting anything at all.

. . . .

But because each link on the chain has to include more people than the last one for the chain to work, there will always be this massive, expanding group of people who have bought books and sent them up the chain that far outweighs the group of people who have received books. Eventually, the chain will run out of steam with a small group of people at the middle who’ve managed to hoard lots of books and a giant group of people who eagerly signed up but ultimately spent money they’ll never get back.

Link to the rest at Business Insider and thanks to DM for the tip.

If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.

~ Paul Newman

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