Books in General

Amazon.com Announces the Most Well-Read Cities in America

24 May 2016

From the Amazon Media Room:

Amazon.com revealed their annual list of the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities across the U.S., just in time for summer reading season. The ranking is determined by a compilation of sales data from cities with more than 500,000 residents on a per capita basis and includes purchases of all books, magazines and newspapers in both Kindle and print format from April 2015 to April 2016.

The Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities are:

1. Seattle, Wash.

2. Portland, Ore.

3. Washington, D.C.

4. San Francisco, Calif.

5. Austin, Texas

6. Las Vegas, Nev.

7. Tucson, Ariz.

8. Denver, Colo.

9. Albuquerque, N.M.

10. San Diego, Calif.

11. Baltimore, Md.

12. Charlotte, N.C.

13. Louisville, Ky.

14. San Jose, Calif.

15. Houston, Texas

16. Nashville, Tenn.

17. Chicago, Ill.

18. Indianapolis, Ind.

19. Dallas, Texas

20. San Antonio, Texas

. . . .

  • Seattle, Wash., the home of Amazon’s headquarters, kept its title as the Most Well-Read City for the second year in a row with the most purchases of all books, magazines and newspapers in both Kindle and print formats.
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was the top-selling Kindle and print title in five of the top 10 cities: Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.;Albuquerque, N.M.; San Diego, Calif.
  • Readers in four of the top 10 cities cleaned up their act this year, with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing as the most sold print title in Seattle, Wash.; San Francisco, Calif.; Tucson, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M.

. . . .

  •  Denver, Colo., Las Vegas, Nev., San Diego, Calif., and Albuquerque, N.M. all channeled their inner child this year, with adult coloring books being among the top-selling print titles in each of the cities.

Link to the rest at Amazon Media Room

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Loving Roxie

23 May 2016

For new visitors to The Passive Voice, this isn’t a book blog. Many fine book blogs that discuss the merits of newly-released books exist and attract a wide readership.

TPV is different and PG politely declines to review or publicize books regardless of their merit.

The lone exception to this rule is books written by Mrs. PG.

As you may have gathered, Mrs. PG has just published a new romance, Loving Roxie.

Per his usual practice, PG will provide visitors with his own incisive analysis of the book’s contents.

A woman named Roxie lives in Dayton, Ohio. Despite the fact that Dayton is a short distance from Columbus, Ohio, home of The Ohio State University and its fighting Buckeyes, there is no evidence Roxie has any interest in Ohio State.

Roxie is interested in Italy, however, so she travels to Florence. You hardly ever see an Ohio State sweatshirt in Florence.

In Florence, Roxie meets Stefano. Stefano is Italian. That’s a plus for Roxie. Good hair and nice eyes are also a plus for Roxie. A great smile . . . well, you get the idea.

Evidently, Stefano thinks Roxie is cute because he hangs around and talks to her a lot. PG isn’t certain if he shakes his hair in the Tuscan breeze or not, but he might. Or maybe that’s what Roxie does.

Florence being Florence, one thing leads to another.

As they become more intimate, you might expect Roxie to start telling Stefano about Ohio State, but apparently that doesn’t happen. Which is probably good, because if she did, Mrs. PG would have to change the name of the book to Loving Ohio State and list it under football romances.

In order to find out what does happen, you’ll have to acquire the book, Loving Roxie.

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RoxieUPDATED.
Looking at the cover, you have to admit that Stefano looks like a typical Ohio State quarterback.

Here’s my secret weapon: I read

23 May 2016

From Jon Westenberg via Medium:

There’s only one thing, one constant thing that I believe keeps me moving closer to my goals, and keeps me fixed on what I want to do. It’s got nothing to do with being close to the universe or attracting things to me with positive energy.

. . . .

Running a business, being a writer, living a full life — these things depend on the knowledge that we can gain and use. What we call following our gut, is really us being subconsciously guided by every piece of information we’ve ever consumed, shaping our instincts and ideas and forming us.

I read constantly, throughout every single day. I read obsessively, consuming new books and revisiting old at an alarming rate. I read because I want to see the world through new sets of eyes. My bookshelves strain under the weight of comics, graphic novels, the complete works of Shakespeare, the Harry Potter series, books about Steve Jobs and Wall Street and Walmart and business and histories of the Holocaust.

I read books on my iPhone when I’m on the treadmill at the gym, every morning. When I first started working out, every minute felt like an eternity, watching TV shows or listening to music or podcasts never helped me get through a session. But a book, that’s something else. I can lose myself in a book and suddenly find that 45 minutes have slipped away while I run and read.

Link to the rest at Medium

Admit it. You don’t know what ‘epistemological’ means either.

20 May 2016

From The Washington Post:

I have a confession to make. By all rights, it should get me fired.

For the last 25 years, in my writing, I have been using the adjectives “epistemological” and “ontological” interchangeably and without actually knowing what either means. Sure, I have looked them up, but their definitions are so gauzy and academic that they are meaningless to me, and forgettable. So I forget them. I don’t even go back to check anymore.

But here is the amazing thing: Not once in 25 years has anyone called me out on this. There has been not one phone call or online comment or letter to the editor pointing out that, philosophically, I have my head up my arse, which I obviously do. There is only one conclusion I can reach: No one else has any idea what these words mean, either.

. . . .

Ontologically speaking, then, are they even words, from an epistemological standpoint?

I use ontology and epistemology, and their derivative forms, whenever the subject involves an abstract idea and I want to convey a sense that I have given deeper thought to it than I really have. I have made these words my own. My Twitter profile identifies me as an “epistemologist.”

. . . .

Until now, I’ve kept this to myself as a shameful secret, a form of journalistic malpractice. It’s like a surgeon transplanting a goose’s heart into a human because it’s what he had lying around and it looked interesting. Then waiting to see if anyone notices.

. . . .

My growing suspicion is that philosophers invented these terms for the same reason I use them: To make them seem smarter than they are, and to make the reader feel smarter than she is. Can it be that these words are of value not for their meaning — for they have no meaning — but for the sensations they impart? Maybe they are the literary equivalent of monosodium glutamate — having no substance of their own, but enhancing what is around them? The comparison is compelling: Among connoisseurs, their use is considered a sin. And can give you headaches.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

UPDATE: One of the ways to cement the meaning of words like these in your mind is to use them in a sentence.

As Jean Piaget once said, “Logical positivists have never taken psychology into account in their epistemology, but they affirm that logical beings and mathematical beings are nothing but linguistic structures.”

And, from Paul Watzlawick, “Radical constructivism, thus, is radical because it breaks with convention and develops a theory of knowledge in which knowledge does not reflect an ‘objective’ ontological reality.”

Dartmouth contest shows computers aren’t such good poets

20 May 2016

From the Associated Press:

Scientists in a Dartmouth College competition reached that conclusion after designing artificial intelligence algorithms that could produce sonnets. Judges compared the results with poems written by humans to see if they could tell the difference.

In every instance, the judges were able to find the sonnet produced by a computer program.

The yearlong competition was a variation of the “Turing Test,” named for British computer scientist Alan Turing, who in 1950 proposed an experiment to determine if computers could have humanlike intelligence. Results were announced Wednesday night.

A three-judge panel that included Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Menand was asked to read 10 submissions — six produced by humans and four by two different algorithms. The machines were given nouns — including “wave,” ”tourist” and “floor”— and programmed to produce a sonnet. The software packages didn’t have the flow or narrative of a good poem.

Some also had “idiosyncrasies of syntax and diction, uses of language that were just a little off,” Menand said in an email interview.

. . . .

“All the nuance of a story, all the form and precision in a poem, can that be replicated by algorithm? Maybe,” Casey said. “By doing this once, we may be able to encourage whoever is out there working on this kind of thing to take part and maybe we will get better algorithms.”

Link to the rest at Associated Press

German Publishers Whine Because They Must Pay To Authors Misappropriated Copyright Levies

17 May 2016

From TechDirt:

Techdirt has been writing for some years about the illogical mess that is the European copyright levy system — effectively a tax on blank media that is supposed to compensate copyright holders for an alleged “loss” from copies made for personal use. Last November, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), Europe’s highest court, issued an important judgment in this area. It said that Belgium’s levies on multifunctional printer sales were incompatible with EU law because they failed to distinguish between private use and commercial use, and between legal and illegal copying. Along the way, the CJEU said that copyright levies must be paid to authors only, and not go to publishers.

. . . .

An organization set up in 1958, called Wort (literally “word” in German), receives a portion of the German copyright levies that are collected, which it has been sharing between both authors and publishers in roughly equal amounts. The CJEU’s decision last November ruled that was illegal, and Germany’s top court, the Bundesgerichtshof, has confirmed that position in a recent judgment (original in German). As a result, German publishers now find themselves obliged to pay their authors the copyright levies the industry received over the last few years — more than €100 million according to the German site Übermedien.

That same article notes the cries of despair in the wake of this decision, as German publishers claim that they are doomed, and that the end is nigh for books in Germany, etc. etc. What’s extraordinary is that there is no sense of regret that for years they have been depriving authors of considerable sums of money. That omission is made worse by the fact that publishers have been happy to use the difficulties that authors face in scraping together enough to live on as an excuse for demanding longer and stronger copyright.

Link to the rest at TechDirt and thanks to BS for the tip.

The Man Who Made the Novel

17 May 2016

From The New Yorker:

It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely novelist than Samuel Richardson. The son of a carpenter, he attended school only intermittently until he was seventeen, when his formal education ended and he was apprenticed to a printer. He didn’t publish his first novel until after he turned fifty. The undertaking was almost accidental. He had become the proprietor of a printing press when, in 1739, two London booksellers asked him to put together a “letter-writer,” an etiquette manual consisting of letters that “country readers” might use as models for their own correspondence.

Richardson quickly expanded the project’s scope. A diligent worker who had risen from tradesman to middle-class property owner, he longed to impart what he had learned. He wanted, he wrote in the book’s introduction, to teach readers not only how to write elegant letters but “how to think and act justly and prudently in the common concerns of life.” Recollecting a true story he’d heard years earlier, he composed several letters to and from a pious servant girl whose boss was making lewd advances, in order to warn young women of “snares that might be laid against their virtue.”

In the fall of 1739, Richardson began to absent himself from his wife in the evenings, after work at the printing press. Instead of proceeding as planned on the letter-writer, he was quietly adding to the stock of letters by the servant girl, bringing her story to a happy conclusion. It took him just two months to produce “Pamela,” a book many consider the first modern English novel.

Not that Richardson made this claim. He associated novels with improbable romances, or mere entertainments; “Pamela” was intended to be instructive. But a novel it was. More than the adventure stories of Daniel Defoe or Jonathan Swift, “Pamela” was concerned with the representation of interior life. It is also organized around a single, unified plot, which distinguished it from Defoe’s more episodic “Moll Flanders” (1722), a pseudo-memoir that recounts its protagonist’s varied and largely illicit pursuits, from her inauspicious beginnings through her late years in the colonies. Flanders’s story is told from the complacent perspective of a woman who has achieved wealth and security, and generally adopts the matter-of-fact tone of a case history. Pamela’s letters, in contrast, are lively and conversational, their language a reflection of both her native cleverness and her inexperience. Richardson was fond of saying that his characters’ letters are written “to the moment”; that is, as the characters experience the events they describe. This lends “Pamela” a palpable sense of immediacy. In its first letter, our fifteen-year-old heroine describes to her parents the attention she has begun to receive from her young, unmarried employer—who “gave me with his own hand four golden guineas, and some silver.” Her parents urge Pamela to keep her distance. “We had rather see you all covered with rags, and even follow you to the churchyard, than have it said, a child of ours preferred any worldly conveniences to her virtue,” they write—to which Pamela responds, “I will die a thousand deaths, rather than be dishonest in any way.”

. . . .

Richardson has a knack for psychological realism and an ability to craft characters whose clamorous inner lives continue, almost three centuries later, to feel real to us. He possesses a sometimes dizzying rhetorical intelligence—his characters argue with the agility of top litigators—and seemingly boundless imaginative sympathy: the figures who populate the most winning of eighteenth-century picaresques are cardboard cutouts compared with Richardson’s principals.

. . . .

Richardson’s wit and ability to conceive characters who feel “natural”—as he rather immodestly put it in the book’s original introduction—enable the novel to outpace his own didactic intentions, to become something far more lifelike and original than a morality tale.

. . . .

It’s surprising enough that this touchy, straitlaced, and rather narrow man wrote a novel like “Pamela,” in which he deftly inhabited the turbulent emotional life of a teen-age girl. Even more surprising is the fact that he went on to write “Clarissa.” “Pamela” is, for the first half, a crisp, shrewd delight of a romantic comedy. But “Clarissa” is of a different order. Johnson called it “the first book in the world for the knowledge it displays of the human heart.” Even Fielding admired it.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

The Coming Horror of Virtual Reality

16 May 2016

From The New Yorker:

If  Kitchen, a five-minute virtual-reality demo created by the Japanese studio Capcom, were a short film, few viewers would be moved to panic by its misery of horror-movie clichés. In the demo, which has been making the rounds at tech conferences in recent months, you begin strapped to a chair in a kitchen, the floor around you lumpy with cadavers. After a few beats, one body groans unexpectedly to its feet and, with an ungainly lunge, attempts to free you from your restraints. Then a lank-haired woman of the kind that, if Japanese cinema is to be believed, routinely climb out of dark wells and staticky television screens steps into view behind your oblivious helper. He promptly rejoins his compatriots on the floor. The woman draws close and, with a whipping motion, stabs a knife deep into your thigh. At the movie theatre, such an attack might draw, at best, a swift wince. In V.R., the terror is more palpable: a phantom pain shoots up your leg.

In the past several years, as the nascent medium of virtual reality has come into its own, scientists and creators have begun to explore its potential effects on the human mind. Some are undoubtedly positive—as, for instance, when the technology is used to help war veterans overcome P.T.S.D., or as a means to expand a person’s capacity for compassion. But the immediacy of V.R. has a dark side, too. Several months ago, Michael Madary and Thomas K. Metzinger, researchers from the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, in Germany, published a series of recommendations on the ethical design and implementation of virtual reality. Their appraisal of the medium’s psychological force is both studious and foreboding. “The power of V.R. to induce particular kinds of emotions could be used deliberately to cause suffering,” they write. “Conceivably, the suffering could be so extreme as to be considered torture.” In filmmaking, the director must perform a kind of seduction of dread, leading viewers through an escalating series of psychological states. In the immersive world of V.R., no such dance is required.

“I’m neither a neurologist nor an anthropologist, but that kind of—I don’t know—that, like, deep-lizard stuff in our brains comes alive in virtual reality,” Scott Stephan, a designer at Wevr, a V.R. studio in Los Angeles, told me recently. In Stephan’s game Anamnesis, you play as a fema agent helping to relocate people after a super flu has devastated the city. “The gap between ‘things that happen to my character’ and ‘things that happen to me’ is bridged,” Stephan said. This distinction can transform an experience from merely flinch-inducing to sincerely frightening. “The way I process these scares is not through the eyes of a person using their critical media-viewing faculty but through the eyes of I, the self, with all of the very human, systems-level, subconscious voodoo that comes along with that.” If traditional media—novels, films, radio, even video games—offer the thrill of the roller coaster, the mimicry of peril, V.R. removes the sturdy track and the shoulder restraints. “A book can be put down,” Stephan said. “It’s always clear that the experience is voluntary.” In V.R., he added, there is not even the comforting abstraction of the video-game controller. “Your body becomes profoundly integral. Your body becomes the interface.” In this way, mundane tasks like picking up a cup of coffee or opening a desk drawer—two of the actions on offer in Job Simulator, launched earlier this year—become fascinating. Likewise, fear takes on a new texture. Capcom reports that, after a few minutes with Kitchen, many players tear off their headsets in an attempt to flee the scene.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to Julia and others for the tip.

How Novels Came to Be Written in the Voice of Coins, Stuffed Animals and Other Random Objects

15 May 2016

From Atlas Obscura:

The most popular novel of 1760 England was an episodic narrative of the observations of a mind-reading coin imbued with the very spirit of gold itself.

Largely forgotten today, Chrysal, or the Adventures of a Guinea thrilled contemporary readers with “Views of several striking Scenes”, an insider’s account of the scandalous doings of the “most Noted Persons in every Rank of Life”, and tales from the gold mines of Peru, the streets of London, the canals of Amsterdam, the ports of the Caribbean, and the front lines of the Great War. Despite Chrysal’s tendency to lapse into somewhat exhaustingly florid language, readers loved it—the book went through five print runs in just three years, 20 before the century was out. In 1765, author Charles Johnstone, a failed barrister who would later forge a career as a journalist in Calcutta, produced an expanded four-volume edition, also a best seller.

. . . .

These kinds of stories—secret histories and fictional memoirs—gripped the English reading public’s imagination. Chrysal was still the gold standard, so to speak, in it-narratives, but it was a bit like the first detective novel or the first bodice-ripping romance novel: the beginning of a genre. With a market proven, writers for hire began churning them out with variable quality. By 1781, a bored reviewer in The Critical Review complained, “This mode of making up a book, and styling it the Adventures of a Cat, a Dog, a Monkey, a Hackney-coach, a Louse, a Shilling, a Rupee, or — any thing else, is grown so fashionable now, that few months pass which do not bring one of them under our inspection.” The reviewer wasn’t entirely immune to the charms of The Adventures of a Ruppee, declaring it “well imagined and not ill-told” and “better entertainment than cards and dice during the long evenings of the Christmas holydays.” The Adventures of a Hackney-coach, reviewed in the same issue, fared much worse: “This is as execrable a hack as any private gentleman would wish to be drove in; being nothing but a heap of uninteresting, ill-written adventures, in a pompous and turgid style.”

. . . .

But in the 17th and 18th century, the novel was increasingly becoming a vehicle for telling a story grounded in how real people would react to real situations. And as the it-narratives exemplify, there was a lot of experimentation in how that vehicle rolled.

. . . .

“They’re trying to figure out new ways of writing narratives,” says Blackwell, describing the it-narrative as a “narrative gimmick”. And it was useful: Like contemporary fictional accounts of humans, including Moll Flanders and Tom Jones, it-narratives offered writers a way of giving their readers access to stories from different social classes, or typically hidden professions, or other countries.

But crucially, unlike those human memoirs, it-narratives allowed writers to do that divorced from a potentially complicated human perspective. Satirical, snarky commentary on contemporary political or social situations ruled early versions of the form; some, against the backdrop of the abolitionist movement gaining ground in the 18th century, seemed to probe the ethics of treating humans as objects or animals.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

Why publish with MUFON Books?

14 May 2016

From MUFON, (Mutual UFO Network) “the world’s oldest and largest  UFO phenomenon investigative body”:

Writing about UFOs and related topics has often been relegated to the fringes of mainstream publishing. There are a few classic authors who were able to successfully break into the system, but for every one person who has, there are many more who never will. The ease of access through self-publishing changed all that. Many UFO authors have been able to carve out a niche for themselves by uploading to Create Space or going through what used to be a more arduous prospect of forming small publishing companies. These writers would do everything from writing to design to sales. Online retailers like Amazon make it look easy, but the results are far from what they could be.

Vanity Presses were another avenue for authors of non mainstream books.  This is where you pay a company to produce a book for you in limited quantity. At the end of the process the typical result is a box of books with nowhere to go. Now many vanity presses have been replaced with author services companies. These offer a higher level of do it yourself.

. . . .

MUFON Books is real publishing. It is an imprint (publishing speak for catalog of niche titles) and division of Micro Publishing Media, Inc. MPM was created to fill the gap between the ineffectual world of self-publishing, the inefficient and costly world of hybrid publishing and the often inaccessible world of traditional publishing.

. . . .

Aside from our mission of education and research, we are a non-profit always in need of funding. We are a brand partner with Micro Publishing Media, Inc and we receive a percentage of the proceeds per book sale. MPM is a for profit so we benefit from their economic incentive and marketing ingenuity.

Does this cost anything?

Yes. You would pay places like Create Space the same amount or more without the marketing support that is included in our publishing program. You are not on your own in a sea of other books. The base fee:

You pay $500 which covers your set up with the printer and distribution on all online retailers for both print on demand, print runs and Ebooks. These are market access costs. This also includes your copyright.

You will also be expected to pay for your book design. If you have a professionally designed and edited book we will consider it. However, our design team is highly skilled. A professional interior and cover design can be the difference between marginal success and a blockbuster. The design work is estimated on a per case basis.

If you have an important story or research but are not a writer we have editors available to help you with your book. We can coach you throughout the process so your thoughts and voice are captured with the extra help of a professional. We also have names of ghostwriters but it is not a service we provide.

. . . .

Senior Editing support is $2500 for a standard book.

Junior Editing support is $1500 for a standard book.

3-6 month coaching sessions are also available which includes marketing strategy.

. . . .

MUFON Books provides a royalty split with new authors of 30 percent above net. This means after the costs of printing the book. The remaining after net proceeds of 70% are divided as follows:

Half goes directly to the Mutual UFO Network MUFON. Our publisher Micro Publishing Media, Inc receives the rest.

. . . .

Will my book be available in bookstores?

We do not rely on bookstores. Our business model is niche publishing and micro marketing. We have the possibility of bookstore distribution for certain titles. However, we know that in today’s world people buy books on line. We rely on the most current online marketing techniques to drive readers to our store. They benefit from knowing that the MUFON brand means quality and you benefit from having your audience brought to you.

Link to the rest at MUFON and thanks to M. for the tip.

PG says (if you had any question about it), this is a classic vanity press pitch. It’s branded with MUFON, but separately located from the organization’s main website. Surely an “investigative body” should have discovered the true nature of their “brand partner”.

 

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