Books in General

The Radical Argument of the New Oxford Shakespeare

19 February 2017

From The New Yorker:

In 1989, a young professor named Gary Taylor published “Reinventing Shakespeare,” in which he argued that Shakespeare’s unrivalled literary status derives less from the sheer greatness of his plays than from the cultural institutions that have mythologized the Bard, elevating him above equally talented Renaissance playwrights. “Shakespeare was a star, but never the only one in our galaxy,” Taylor wrote. The book was his second major attempt to counter the view of Shakespeare as a singular genius; a few years earlier, he had served as one of two general editors of the Oxford Shakespeare, which credited co-authors for five of Shakespeare’s plays. In “Reinventing Shakespeare,” Taylor wrote that the Oxford Shakespeare “repeatedly shocks its readers, and knows that it will.”

Late last year, Taylor shocked readers once again. The New Oxford Shakespeare, for which Taylor serves as lead general editor, is the first edition of the plays to credit Christopher Marlowe as a co-author of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI,” Parts 1, 2, and 3. It lists co-authors for fourteen other plays as well, ushering a host of playwrights—Thomas Nashe, George Peele, Thomas Heywood, Ben Jonson, George Wilkins, Thomas Middleton, and John Fletcher, along with Marlowe—into the big tent of the complete works. This past fall, headlines around the world trumpeted the Marlowe-Shakespeare connection, and spotlighted the editors’ methodology: computer-aided analysis of linguistic patterns across databases of early modern plays. “Shakespeare has now fully entered the era of Big Data,” Taylor announced in a press release.

It’s no longer controversial to give other authors a share in Shakespeare’s plays—not because he was a front for an aristocrat, as conspiracy theorists since the Victorian era have proposed, but because scholars have come to recognize that writing a play in the sixteenth century was a bit like writing a screenplay today, with many hands revising a company’s product. The New Oxford Shakespeare claims that its algorithms can tease out the work of individual hands—a possibility, although there are reasons to challenge its computational methods. But there is a deeper argument made by the edition that is both less definitive and more interesting. It’s not just that Shakespeare collaborated with other playwrights, and it’s not just that Shakespeare was one of a number of great Renaissance writers whose fame he outstripped in the ensuing centuries. It’s that the canonization of Shakespeare has made his way of telling stories—especially his monarch-centered view of history—seem like the norm to us, when there are other ways of telling stories, and other ways of staging history, that other playwrights did better. If Shakespeare worshippers have told one story in order to discredit his contemporary rivals, the New Oxford is telling a story that aims to give the credit back.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Against Fame: On Publishing, Popularity, and Ambition

17 February 2017

From Catapult:

Scratch

fame

“I want be recognized for beautiful work, for good work, for real work . . . Which is different than saying I want to be famous. If you want to be famous, don’t be a writer.”

. . . .

Babette’s Feast

Link to the rest at Catapult

Can Serialized Fiction Convert Binge Watchers Into Binge Readers?

16 February 2017

From National Public Radio:

As TV dramas get better and better, book publishers are hoping to convert binge TV watchers into binge readers.

Serialized books have a long history in publishing — Charles Dickens famously released many his novels in serial form. Sean McDonald, a publisher and editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, says, “We love to think about hearkening back to the way Dickens was published and people waiting anxiously at the dock for the new installments to arrive.”

FSG is known for its serious, award winning novels, not so much for serialized fiction, but McDonald says that not long ago, they tried an experiment. They published three books, the Southern Reach Trilogy, on a much faster timetable than usual. All three were released in less than a year — a year that coincided with another cultural phenomenon.

Television, McDonald says, was “getting taken much more seriously as an art form.” There was a renewed focus on episodic storytelling and “it felt like this was a way for us to engage with that and not to have books be left out,” he explains.

. . . .

“I don’t think that people really consume books in the same way that they consume TV shows,” says Jane Friedman, who teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Friedman agrees that people’s reading habits are changing, but she doesn’t think binge reading is anything like binge watching.

“We always have a mobile device with us and so we are reading in short bursts of five to ten minutes …” she says, “but that’s a very different dynamic than say, the binge watching a TV series. In fact, reading in five to ten minute bursts is distinctly not binge reading.”

Link to the rest at NPR

Binge reading is pretty much what PG and Mrs. PG have always done when they discover an author they like and haven’t read before.

Initially, binge reading involved the library or a physical bookstore, but, as with many things bookish, Amazon has made the process wonderfully easy, particularly when PG finishes a great book at 10:00 PM and isn’t the least bit sleepy.

And long before Farrar, Straus and Giroux figured out its “much faster timetable,” lots of indie authors published multiple books each year.

How Has Streaming Affected our Identities as Music Collectors?

14 February 2017

From Medium:

Music rarely exists in a vacuum. From classical concert programs and 12-track albums to DIY mixtapes and personal record shelves, we imbue songs with new meaning by connecting them to each other, by treating them as elements of a wider, self-constructed narrative.

We are music collectors by design and by necessity—an identity threatened by the rise of streaming.

In previous decades, physical formats like CDs, vinyl, cassettes and 8-tracks required us to limit our music consumption, if only to keep our wallets in shape. We didn’t just throw money and time at music left and right, but rather invested more wisely in a handful of albums and artists, with whom we developed intimate relationships through repeated listens and colorful liner notes. Filling our binders and shelves with these records also facilitated a more positive, aspirational side of our aesthetic identities: we set tangible, attainable goals for our collections, and could show off these works in progress to our friends and family whenever they visited for dinner.

The three recent stages of digital disruption in music — which can be bookmarked by Napster, iTunes and Spotify — have made our collections more public, more granular and more abstract, respectively.

. . . .

iTunes unbundled the standard album into its individual tracks, enabling users to handpick their favorite songs and assemble a wider-reaching collection with a higher concentration of artists over the same amount of [virtual] surface area. Spotify not only has made musical shelf space infinite, but has also made the term “shelf space” irrelevant: its users own nothing. Instead, they pay for access, shelling out the rough cost equivalent of 12 CDs per year ($9.99 a month) to peruse millions of songs at their fingertips.

. . . .

Any effort on our part to seize control of our music collecting habits away from these streaming services ultimately feels burdensome and futile.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG was interested the the similarities and differences between streaming services and ebooks. He notes that music embodied in some physical form that is sold to listeners has become mostly irrelevant to the music business.

Thieves steal £2m of rare books by abseiling into warehouse

14 February 2017

From The Guardian:

Antiquarian books worth more than £2m have been stolen by a gang who avoided a security system by abseiling into a west London warehouse.

The three thieves made off with more than 160 publications after raiding the storage facility near Heathrow in what has been labelled a Mission: Impossible-style break-in.

The gang are reported to have climbed on to the building’s roof and bored holes through the reinforced glass-fibre skylights before rappelling down 40ft of rope while avoiding motion-sensor alarms.

Scotland Yard confirmed that “a number of valuable books”, many from the 15th and 16th centuries, were stolen during the burglary in Feltham between 29 and 30 January.

. . . .

One source familiar with the case said: “They would be impossible to sell to any reputable dealer or auction house. We’re not talking Picassos or Rembrandts or even gold bars – these books would be impossible to fence. It must be for some one specialist. There must be a collector behind it. The books belong to three different dealers working at the very top of the market and altogether they form a fantastic collection.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to MKS for the tip.

PG learned that abseil is another word for rappel.

The 7 Habits that Books and Reading Help You Build

10 February 2017

From Medium:

The most useful definition of technology I’ve heard is simply, “the ability to do more with less.”

I think of books and reading as technologies.

We only live one life, but through books, we can gain the wisdom from thousands. When an author writes, re-writes, and edits, they are turning their words into a more perfect version of themselves. When you read, you get to spend time in a meditative state with a wise person’s more perfect self.

Books are the most under-valued and under-appreciated technology in the world.

How do we know they’re so valuable? We need only to examine how the best and the worst people throughout history have viewed books.

The worst seek to downplay, ban, or burn them. The fact that books have haters who are willing to destroy them confirms their power.

The best adore books… and aren’t afraid to celebrate them.

. . . .

2. Books and reading upgrade your mental operating system.

The best books are written when the author is in a flow state. The author transmits their wisdom, muse, or insights with minimal ego. When a reader seeking wisdom moves through these words and enters their own flow state… magic happens.

I don’t know how it works, but after enough time of reading, my mind always feels upgraded. Programming our minds by moving consciously into the flow state of another wise person is powerful. When we upgrade our mental OS, our main apps (speaking, writing, and communicating) all begin to run faster and more smoothly.

. . . .

5. Books and reading force a meditative practice where you’re forced to listen to the thoughts of a wise person.

The more we read and spend time with books, the more we practice mindfulness and meditation. Reading helps teach us patience, calmness, and builds our ability to focus deeply on a single thing for an extended period of time.

Link to the rest at Medium

When Your Hometown is Crammed with Aspiring Writers

10 February 2017

From The Literary Hub:

 In most family pictures, I am standing with my two sisters, the middle daughter, the dark-haired one between two blondes. But in the Polaroid taken on my eighth birthday, October 27, 1980, I’m alone on the front porch of our house on Avenue J and East 32nd Street in Brooklyn, New York. In the picture, I’m wearing my new striped sweater and corduroy pants and my bangs are in my eyes. A crooked construction paper pumpkin is scotch-taped to the window. It’s the last photo taken of me before I became a writer.

Two weeks later, on a gold and blue November afternoon, I stood in our kitchen reaching for an apple and wondering what I should be when I grew up because my third-grade teacher at Our Lady Help of Christians had recently posed the question. She’d gotten angry when nobody said priest or nun.

Nurse, I’d lied. My mother worked in the ICU of the fortress-like Kings County Hospital, but I could not imagine doing so. Though my father and four uncles were firefighters, I could not have considered this, even if I’d been so inclined. Girls were not allowed in the FDNY (yet).

Then I thought, I’ll be an author. I’d always loved books. I would write them.

For a long time, I’d had a story in my head with a title and characters and a plot in perpetual revision. I could not believe I had never before thought of writing it down.

I dashed upstairs and found the Muppet stationery that I’d gotten for my birthday and had tossed aside as though it were a pair of socks. I took up a fresh pencil and began. A week later, I nearly quit in confusion because I could not translate the images in my head onto the page. But somehow, it did not matter that it had proved difficult. I’d already made up my mind: I would be a writer.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

How To Get Published

8 February 2017

From The Writing Cooperative:

“Sorry we don’t publish unpublished authors.”

This is the conundrum I found myself in when I finished writing Hellbound. I had sent submission letters to as many agents and publishers as I could find on the Internet. Their responses were largely saying the same thing; unless you have a successful body of recognised work behind you, we won’t even read your manuscript.

Somewhat disheartened, I turned to my contacts to see what I could do, or whom I could approach to at least get an unbiased opinion on the story. My search led me to Michael Williams, a man connected with a radio station I was doing the weekly surf report on Friday mornings. Michael had previously worked for one of Australia’s largest independent publishing houses, Text Publishing. He ever so kindly accepted my request to take a look, and offer some advice.

 We met for a beer one night in Melbourne near his home, I having emailed him the manuscript a month prior. I’ll never forget what he said. “I’m glad I don’t have to give you the ‘stick to your day-job’ talk. But, you need to know, getting any kind of novel published is incredibly tough and this one will be near impossible. The genre isn’t huge in Australia. It has big, and maybe too many, original ideas. It is the kind of manuscript every publisher dreams of taking a chance on but never, ever does.” So what do I do? I asked. “Firstly you need to edit it. It’s really only about fifty percent complete, there are some plot holes you need to fill, and you need to build the main character more. But more importantly you need to get the right people to read it, without them thinking they need to make a yes or no decision on it.”

Link to the rest at The Writing Cooperative

8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year

8 February 2017

From the Harvard Business Review:

How much do you read?

For most of my adult life I read maybe five books a year — if I was lucky. I’d read a couple on vacation and I’d always have a few slow burners hanging around the bedside table for months.

And then last year I surprised myself by reading 50 books. This year I’m on pace for 100. I’ve never felt more creatively alive in all areas of my life. I feel more interesting, I feel like a better father, and my writing output has dramatically increased. Amplifying my reading rate has been the domino that’s tipped over a slew of others.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t do it sooner.

Why did I wait 20 years?

Well, our world today is designed for shallow skimming rather than deep diving, so it took me some time to identify the specific changes that skyrocketed my reading rate. None of them had to do with how fast I read. I’m actually a pretty slow reader.

. . . .

Centralize reading in your home. Back in 1998, psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues performed their famous “chocolate chip cookie and radish” experiment. They split test subjects into three groups and asked them not to eat anything for three hours before the experiment. Group 1 was given chocolate chip cookies and radishes, and were told they could eat only the radishes. Group 2 was given chocolate chip cookies and radishes, and were told they could eat anything they liked. Group 3 was given no food at all. Afterward, the researchers had all three groups attempt to solve an impossible puzzle, to see how long they would last. It’s not surprising that group 1, those who had spent all their willpower staying away from the cookies, caved the soonest.

What does this have to do with reading? I think of having a TV in your main living area as a plate of chocolate chip cookies. So many delicious TV shows tempt us, reducing our willpower to tackle the books.

Roald Dahl’s poem “Television” says it all: “So please, oh please, we beg, we pray / go throw your TV set away / and in its place, you can install / a lovely bookshelf on the wall.”

Last year my wife and I moved our sole TV into our dark, unfinished basement and got a bookshelf installed on the wall beside our front door. Now we see it, walk by it, and touch it dozens of times a day. And the TV sits dormant unless the Toronto Blue Jays are in the playoffs or Netflix drops a new season of House of Cards.

. . . .

Change your mindset about quitting. It’s one thing to quit reading a book and feel bad about it. It’s another to quit a book and feel proud of it. All you have to do is change your mindset. Just say, “Phew! Now I’ve finally ditched this brick to make room for that gem I’m about to read next.” An article that can help enable this mindset is “The Tail End,” by Tim Urban, which paints a striking picture of how many books you have left to read in your lifetime. Once you fully digest that number, you’ll want to hack the vines away to reveal the oases ahead.

I quit three or four books for every book I read to the end. I do the “first five pages test” before I buy any book (checking for tone, pace, and language) and then let myself off the hook if I need to stop halfway through.

Take a “news fast” and channel your reading dollars. I subscribed to the New York Times and five magazines for years. I rotated subscriptions to keep them fresh, and always loved getting a crisp new issue in the mail. After returning from a long vacation where I finally had some time to lose myself in books, I started realizing that this shorter, choppier nature of reading was preventing me from going deeper. So I canceled all my subscriptions.

Besides freeing up mindshare, what does canceling all news inputs do? For me, it saved more than $500 per year. That can pay for about 50 books per year. What would I rather have 10 or 20 years later — a prized book collection which I’ve read and learned from over the years…or a pile of old newspapers? And let’s not forget your local library. If you download Library Extension for your browser, you can see what books and e-books are available for free right around the corner.

. . . .

Read physical books. You may be wondering why I don’t just read e-books on a mobile device, saving myself all the time and effort required to bring books in and out of the house. In an era when our movie, film, and photography collections are all going digital, there is something grounding about having an organically growing collection of books in the home. If you want to get deep, perhaps it’s a nice physical representation of the evolution and changes in your mind while you’re reading. (Maybe this is why my wife refuses to allow my Far Side collections on her shelf.) And since many of us look at screens all day, it can be a welcome change of pace to hold an actual book in your hands.

Link to the rest at Harvard Business Review

Scrimption

7 February 2017

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

scrimption, n.

. . . .

A very small amount or degree, a bit. Cf. smidgen n.

. . . .

1867 P. Kennedy Banks of Boro xxvi. 208 You won’t get the least scrimshin of the nice hot cake.

1885 Arthur’s Home Mag. Dec. 759/2 He’s a scrimption better to-day.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

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