Books in General

Comments Subscription – Working?

8 March 2018

For a long time, PG has been using a Comment Subscription plugin (Subscribe to Comments Reloaded) for the purpose of permitting visitors to TPV  who make a comment on a blog post to sign up for e-mail notification when others make comments to that same post.

He has received notices that some visitors are not receiving the link this plugin should provide so they can choose to receive such email notifications.

Peering into the dim innards of TPV, PG sees what appear to be people who are successfully subscribing to and receiving these notifications.

PG would appreciate it if those who have used or wish to use this comment subscription function are having problems or if the service is operating properly.

He has looked at alternatives but would like to know if this is a general or specific problem so he can make a wise decision about which way to go.

Marian Blue, the Color of Angels, Virgins, and Other Untouchable Things

8 March 2018

From The Paris Review:

In a strip mall, next to a CVS Pharmacy, and tucked behind a Burger King, I learned about my angel. While I waited for a prescription to be filled, I wandered into the only New Age store in this small northeastern city. A woman with long gray hair led me into a back room—I suspect it was a repurposed broom closet—for a fifteen-minute psychic reading. The walls were covered with Turkey-red-calico fabric and faded yellow-ditsy floral tablecloths hanging from a constellation of multicolored thumbtacks. We sat together on a set of metal folding chairs, and she held my cold hands in her warm wrinkled ones. She told me in hushed tones that I had an angel, a ball of light that beamed out from behind my left shoulder. My angel, she said, was with me always, glowing steadily like a frosty star, invisible to everyone but her. She had always been able to see angels, she explained, and they were always the lightest, purest, sweetest baby blue.

. . . .

Whether it’s glacier pale or Mediterranean bright, blue is a color with long-standing mystical associations. Perhaps this is because blue is the color of the sky, something we can always see but never reach, or perhaps it’s because, as chemist Heinz Berke points out, early humans “had no access to blue because blue is not what you call an earth color … You don’t find it in the soil.” Blue was elusive, and this made it valuable. The earliest stable blue was made from lapis lazuli, the mining of which began in Afghanistan around six thousand years ago. Egyptians loved this bold cobalt blue and would pulverize lapis lazuli stones and mix the resulting powder with animal fat or vegetable gum to create a thick blue paste, which they used to adorn the dead bodies of royalty. (Lapis lazuli was used for the inlaid eyebrows and kohl on Tutankhamen’s funeral mask. The living wore blue too: Cleopatra reportedly wore on her eyelids to a brilliant and sparkling effect a fine dust made of lapis lazuli, which, I imagine, was nothing like the wan powdery-blue eye shadows so popular in the 1980s.) For millennia, blue has been a sacred and costly hue, more valuable even than gold. And in the Christian world, the most valuable color was reserved for the most elevated of virgins. Enter Marian blue.

. . . .

Marian blue became the official color of Jesus’s mother in the early fifth century. This color, unlike my supposed angel, is bright and vivid. It’s a Mediterranean blue, a stony-jewel blue. During the first few centuries after Christ, worshipful painters typically depicted Mary in a red gown or wrapped in a pink mantle. But slowly, blue began to replace red as the color of choice. The shift happened in tandem with the rise of Mariology and the cult of the Virgin.

. . . .

This tradition continued into the Renaissance, when the Madonna enthroned and the adoring Madonna became two major modes of art. A particularly vivid example of Marian blue comes from the Italian Baroque painter Sassoferrato, whose The Virgin in Prayer is draped in rich, sumptuous color—rose pink, deep blue, and folds of creamy white.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review


Jungfrun i bön, The Virgin in Prayer
Artist: Sassoferrato
Date made: 1640-50

The Death and Life of a Great American Building

7 March 2018

Not precisely about authors and the business of writing, but a lovely piece about an old building full of psychotherapists.

Who can resist that?

From The New York Review of Books:

I am one of the last tenants of the St. Denis, a 165-year-old building on the corner of Broadway and East 11th Street, just south of Union Square in New York City, that is in the process of being emptied and readied for gutting. It is quiet in my office, early morning before my psychotherapy patients arrive. My four large windows overlook a courtyard and the angled backsides of three buildings, their walls a geometric patchwork of brick. Pigeons purr on a sill. In the NYU dormitory across the way, a student has decorated her window with paper snowflakes. It is winter and I hope to see a real snowfall one more time before I go. The St. Denis is desolate. Only two dozen tenants are left. There used to be hundreds.

For decades, the St. Denis has been a haven for psychotherapists of every sort: classical Freudian analysts and new-age Zen psychologists, existential counselors and gender specialists, therapists who use art, dance, and neurofeedback. We’ve shared the building’s six floors (plus one semi-secret half-floor on the un-seventh) with other small businesses, mostly providers of wellness—Rolfers, Reiki healers, craniosacral balancers, Feldenkrais practitioners, acupuncturists, Pilates instructors, and at least one psychic who does past-life regressions.

“The building should be levitating with the amount of healing that goes on,” says psychologist Jessica Arenella. In her office on the second floor, she worries about what the loss of the building means for the changing city. “This building was a holdout. It’s not corporate. Tearing it down is part of the death of the Village. Everything’s become so capitalistic and market-driven. There used to be diners around here. Now it’s all just places to get an $8 juice.”

There also used to be more psychotherapists, clustered together in buildings on the streets around Union Square, but a seismic shift is taking place and the therapist buildings are getting squeezed. There was 88 University Place and its northern wing, 24 East 12th Street, both bought by a fashion designer in 2015 for $70 million, emptied, and installed with WeWork co-working spaces. There is 817 Broadway, sold in 2016 to Taconic Investment Partners, who’ve begun to reposition the property for the tech industry, wrapping it in a glossy banner that declares it “The address of innovation.” A colleague there tells me that floors of psychotherapists, put on month-to-month leases, are clearing out. In his words, “They are giving all the therapists and psychiatrists the boot.”

Put your ear to the ground and you’ll hear about therapists being pushed out of Union Square and nearby Greenwich Village, either by non-renewal of leases or skyrocketing rents. Affordable office space has become nearly impossible to find. Not long ago, the therapists of Manhattan stayed put for decades, secured to spaces where rents never spiked. Now we’re forced to move every few years, uprooting our patients, keeping our offices minimal, easy to pack, nomadic.

. . . .

In the summer of 2017, tenants discovered architectural renderings on the Internet proposing to replace the St. Denis with a seventeen-story glass tower sheathed in white glass, as sterile as an operating table. On their website, the CetraRuddy firm claimed that their design will create “an office environment that addresses mental and physical well-being.”

. . . .

Every old building in New York has its stories, but if the building is lucky, it acquires a personality, a complicated character that evolves over the years and embeds itself in the walls, right down to the bones. The St. Denis was lucky. From the outside, you wouldn’t know it. Walking up Broadway, you might not notice this plain box, blushing a shade of pink that could be called dusty rose. To come into contact with the character of the St. Denis, you have to go inside.

Originally a grand hotel, the St. Denis was completed in 1853. It was designed by James Renwick Jr., the architect who built Grace Church on the same land, a former cherry orchard owned by his uncle Henry Brevoort and bisected by Broadway when the avenue was dirt and wagon tracks. Renwick trimmed the hotel’s windows with decorative terracotta, a first in New York City, and topped the roof with crenellated cornices.

Abraham Lincoln is said to have slept here; and after his assassination, his casket paraded past the hotel. Then his widow stayed, traveling to New York incognito and in debt, desperate to sell off jewelry and clothing, including fur boas, a diamond ring, and a pair of opera cloaks. In parlor room 208, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the “speaking telephone” to New Yorkers for the first time. Sarah Bernhardt wrote her letters in the Ladies’ Writing Room. Ulysses S. Grant wrote his memoirs here—and when he was struck by writer’s block, Mark Twain moved in to assist him. Buffalo Bill Cody and P.T. Barnum stayed, too. The Walt Whitman Fellowship met here, delivering lectures on topics such as: “Walt Whitman and Woman” and “Whitman and Physique.” When Susan B. Anthony spoke to the local women’s Suffrage Association at the hotel, “She began,” reported the Times, “by stating that she never had paid the income tax and she never would. If men wanted to put Susan B. in jail she would go.” These people, and many others, climbed the grand spiral staircase, its balustrade entwined with wrought-iron dragons, smoothing the mahogany railing with their hands, adding their footfalls to the indentations still in the marble steps today.

Several people died in the St. Denis Hotel, many were robbed, and some were driven crazy by bells. When Grace Church changed its bell-ringing system to an electrical apparatus in 1892, hotel resident and insomnia sufferer L.F. Monsell complained to the Times. “I wanted to get a slap at those confounded chimes across the way—they are a beastly nuisance,” he said. “Enough to drive one wild.”

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

Why Do Writers Keep Multiple Copies of Books Around?

6 March 2018

From The Literary Hub:

I own multiple copies of books—Stoner, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Catcher in the Rye. There are personal reasons I will cherish each of them for the rest of my life.

One friend called the books she has in multiples “a little family of weirdos who all sit on the shelves together.” Another keeps out-of-print multiples and updated copies of the same books. Many people buy multiples because they travel and want to have copies on the road; others buy multiples of books they adore because they intend to give them away, although they often end up holding on to them for reasons they don’t understand. Certain books are collectibles. Different translations of the same books, signed editions, and several artful covers are reasons to double and quadruple up.

But probably my favorite explanation for multiples comes from a man who “rescued” a hardcover of a book he already owned from a pool hall to rectify the “great injustice that such a good book was just sitting there in a billiard parlor having been bought by the yard with hundreds of other books as wall decor.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Has dopamine got us hooked on tech?

5 March 2018

From The Guardian:

In an unprecedented attack of candour, Sean Parker, the 38-year-old founding president of Facebook, recently admitted that the social network was founded not to unite us, but to distract us. “The thought process was: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’” he said at an event in Philadelphia in November. To achieve this goal, Facebook’s architects exploited a “vulnerability in human psychology”, explained Parker, who resigned from the company in 2005. Whenever someone likes or comments on a post or photograph, he said, “we… give you a little dopamine hit”. Facebook is an empire of empires, then, built upon a molecule.

Dopamine, discovered in 1957, is one of 20 or so major neurotransmitters, a fleet of chemicals that, like bicycle couriers weaving through traffic, carry urgent messages between neurons, nerves and other cells in the body. These neurotransmitters ensure our hearts keep beating, our lungs keep breathing and, in dopamine’s case, that we know to get a glass of water when we feel thirsty, or attempt to procreate so that our genes may survive our death.

In the 1950s, dopamine was thought to be largely associated with physical movement after a study showed that Parkinsonism (a group of neurological disorders whose symptoms include tremors, slow movement and stiffness) was caused by dopamine deficiency. In the 1980s, that assumption changed following a series of experiments on rats by Wolfram Schultz, now a professor of neuroscience at Cambridge University, which showed that, inside the midbrain, dopamine relates to the reward we receive for an action. Dopamine, it seemed, was to do with desire, ambition, addiction and sex drive.

Schultz and his fellow researchers placed pieces of apple behind a screen and immediately saw a major dopamine response when the rat bit into the food. This dopamine process, which is common in all insects and mammals, is, Schultz tells me, at the basis of learning: it anticipates a reward to an action and, if the reward is met, enables the behaviour to become a habit, or, if there’s a discrepancy, to be adapted. (That dishwasher tablet might look like a delicious sweet, but the first fizzing bite will also be the last.) Whether dopamine produces a pleasurable sensation is unclear, says Schultz. But this has not dented its reputation as the miracle bestower of happiness.

Dopamine inspires us to take actions to meet our needs and desires – anything from turning up the heating to satisfying a craving to spin a roulette wheel – by anticipating how we will feel after they’re met. Pinterest, the online scrapbook where users upload inspirational pictures, contains endless galleries of dopamine tattoos (the chemical symbol contains two outstretched arms of hydroxide, and a three-segmented tail), while Amazon’s virtual shelves sag under the weight of diet books intended to increase dopamine levels and improve mental health.

“We found a signal in the brain that explains our most profound behaviours, in which every one of us is engaged constantly,” says Shultz. “I can see why the public has become interested.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Do we really need to read books anymore?

4 March 2018

From Medium:

The other day, I was talking to one of my younger cousins about his aspiration to become a writer in film. A friend of his parents, who has become something of a non-blood related uncle, had apparently told him that in order to succeed in the screenwriting industry, it’s important to get into the habit of writing regularly — becoming prolific from an early age can be beneficial in the same way that starting to save money from a young age can produce a large pool of savings in the future.

I totally agree with this sentiment; although I’m certainly not the best example of a prolific aspiring writer working towards her future, I’ve certainly been made well aware of the importance of writing every day in order to improve.

But what I found interesting in following up with my cousin about his aspirations to be a writer was his insistence that reading as frequently as he writes is not really important in helping him develop in his writing.

. . . .

But hearing a seventeen-year-old’s idea that watching film is more important to developing as a screenwriter made me stop and think for a second — my cousin kind of had a point. It probably does feel more beneficial for him to watch films if he aspires to write them than to engage with the exhausting tirade of classic literature thrown at him in his high school English classes.

. . . .

So to hear my cousin’s distaste for reading books struck me as strange — why would someone who feels inspired to write, like me, not feel the same pull toward reading? How else other than reading can you familiarize yourself with the tiny nuances of grammar, the fragility and importance of dialogue and scene description?

. . . .

Obviously, as someone who loves reading books, I would argue, very important. But as sad as it makes me to admit this, I can see the point of those who claim there isn’t time or they don’t have energy to devote their time to reading anything longer than a New York Times article.

Link to the rest at Medium


3 March 2018

From Aeon:

Every month or so, I see a patient called Fraser in my primary care clinic, a soldier who was deployed in Afghanistan. Fifteen years after coming home, he is still haunted by flashbacks of burning buildings and sniper fire. He doesn’t work, rarely goes out, sleeps poorly, and to relieve his emotional anguish he sometimes slices at his own forearms. Since leaving the army, he has never had a girlfriend. Fraser was once thickly muscled, but weight has fallen off him: self-neglect has robbed him of strength and self-confidence. Prescription drugs fail to fully quieten the terror that trembles in his mind. Whenever I used to see him in clinic, he’d sit on the edge of his seat, shakily mopping sweat from his forehead and temples. I’d listen to his stories, tweak his medications, and tentatively offer advice.

When Fraser began coming to see me, I was reading Redeployment (2014) by Phil Klay – short stories about US military operations, not in Afghanistan, but in Iraq. No book can substitute for direct experience, but Klay’s stories gave me a way to start talking about what Fraser was going through; when I finished the book, I offered it to him. He found reassurance in what I’d found illuminating; our conversations took new directions as we discussed aspects of the book. His road will be a long one, but I’m convinced those stories have played a part, however modest, in his recovery.

It’s said that literature helps us to explore ways of being human, grants glimpses of lives beyond our own, aids empathy with others, alleviates distress, and widens our circle of awareness. The same could be said of clinical practice in all of its manifestations: nursing to surgery, psychotherapy to physiotherapy. An awareness of literature can aid the practice of medicine, just as clinical experience certainly helps me in the writing of my books. I’ve come to see the two disciplines as having more parallels than differences, and I’d like to argue they share a kind of synergy.

Patients spend more time with a writer than they can ever spend with their physician, and the hours it takes someone to read and reflect on a book can be time well-spent. Redeployment might have eased some of Fraser’s bewilderment and isolation, but by breaking down a boundary of experience it also helped me to understand a little more of what he had been through. There are numberless other books that do the same. William Styron’s Darkness Visible (1990) offers an eloquent testimony of how it feels to suffer severe depression, and I’ve seen it give sufferers a promise and an encouragement that they, like Styron, might find a way back to the light. The list of books I’ve discussed with patients over the years is as plural as the humanity that pours through the clinic: Ray Robinson’s Electricity (2006) when talking about life with severe epilepsy; Annie Dillard’s The Abundance(2016) while exploring the place of wonder in sustaining our lives; Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree (2014) on the challenges of caring for a disabled child; Ben Okri’s poem ‘To an English Friend in Africa’ (1992) in a discussion of the trials and rewards of NGO work.

Link to the rest at Aeon

I have forgotten how to read

2 March 2018

From The Globe and Mail:

Turning, one evening, from my phone to a book, I set myself the task of reading a single chapter in one sitting. Simple. But I couldn’t. There was nothing wrong with my eyes. No stroke or disease clouded my way. Yet – if I’m being honest – the failure was also not a surprise.

Paragraphs swirled; sentences snapped like twigs; and sentiments bled out. The usual, these days. I drag my vision across the page and process little. Half an hour later, I throw down the book and watch some Netflix.

Out for dinner with another writer, I said, “I think I’ve forgotten how to read.”

“Yes!” he replied, pointing his knife. “Everybody has.”

“No, really,” I said. “I mean I actually can’t do it any more.”

He nodded: “Nobody can read like they used to. But nobody wants to talk about it.”

For good reason. It’s embarrassing. Especially for someone like me. I’m supposed to be an author – words are kind of my job. Without reading, I’m not sure who I am. So, it’s been unnerving to realize: I have forgotten how to read – really read – and I’ve been refusing to talk about it out of pride.

Books were once my refuge. To be in bed with a Highsmith novel was a salve. To read was to disappear, become enrobed in something beyond my own jittery ego. To read was to shutter myself and, in so doing, discover a larger experience. I do think old, book-oriented styles of reading opened the world to me – by closing it. And new, screen-oriented styles of reading seem to have the opposite effect: They close the world to me, by opening it.

In a very real way, to lose old styles of reading is to lose a part of ourselves.

 For most of modern life, printed matter was, as the media critic Neil Postman put it, “the model, the metaphor, and the measure of all discourse.” The resonance of printed books – their lineal structure, the demands they make on our attention – touches every corner of the world we’ve inherited. But online life makes me into a different kind of reader – a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention – and thus my experience – fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.

Author Nicholas Carr ( The Shallows) writes that, “digital technologies are training us to be more conscious of and more antagonistic toward delays of all sorts.” We become, “more intolerant of moments of time that pass without the arrival of new stimuli.” So, I throw down the old book, craving mental Tabasco sauce. And yet not every emotion can be reduced to an emoji, and not every thought can be conveyed via tweet.

. . . .

For a long time, I convinced myself that a childhood spent immersed in old-fashioned books would insulate me somehow from our new media climate – that I could keep on reading and writing in the old way because my mind was formed in pre-internet days. But the mind is plastic – and I have changed. I’m not the reader I was.

. . . .

The suggestion that, in a few generations, our experience of media will be reinvented shouldn’t surprise us. We should, instead, marvel at the fact we ever read books at all. Great researchers such as Maryanne Wolf and Alison Gopnik remind us that the human brain was never designed to read. Rather, elements of the visual cortex – which evolved for other purposes – were hijacked in order to pull off the trick. The deep reading that a novel demands doesn’t come easy and it was never “natural.” Our default state is, if anything, one of distractedness. The gaze shifts, the attention flits; we scour the environment for clues. (Otherwise, that predator in the shadows might eat us.)

. . . .

Literacy has only been common (outside the elite) since the 19th century. And it’s hardly been crystallized since then. Our habits of reading could easily become antiquated.

Link to the rest at The Globe and Mail

Fox News v. TVEyes Opinon

2 March 2018

PG received a request for the citation to the Fox News v. TVEyes decision. The decision was just handed down on February 28, 2018, so it’s not widely available yet.

However, here’s a pdf of the opinion from the website:

Download (PDF, Unknown)





Reading Horror Novels Helped Me Deal with OCD

28 February 2018
Comments Off on Reading Horror Novels Helped Me Deal with OCD

From Electric Lit:

When I was growing up, my mother’s worrying was a bit of a shared joke between the rest of the family. If, in the car on the way to the store, my mother turned and asked my father if he had turned the stove off, he would sigh and say, “Of course, dear,” before turning and smiling conspiratorially at me in the backseat. If my brother used a chair as a stepstool, I would joke that I was going to tell mom.

As I got older, her worrying got worse, and it stopped being funny. If she thought the stove was left on, we might turn around; if she caught us using a chair as a stepstool, she would shriek as though she had found us juggling knives. Her worrying was turning into fear, and her fear into panic. It made dealing with her more and more difficult. Still, she remained undiagnosed until I was nearly 18.

My own anxiety didn’t take form until my mid-twenties. As I got older, I started to see more and more of my mom in my thoughts and behavior. It became normal to triple-check the stove, stave off panic attacks at hibachi restaurants, and avoid crowds. I clung to established routines and rituals out of fear that to do otherwise was to invite terrible consequences.

. . . .

In January 2015, I fought past my fear of change and started my first semester in graduate school as an MLS candidate. It was a big step. It up-ended my life in many ways, and — as happened throughout my four years of undergrad almost a decade earlier — I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by both the upheaval of my routine, and the pressure to succeed.

By May 2015, my anxiety had spiraled out of control, manifesting as an uncontrollable fixation on bugs. Bed bugs, carpet beetles, termites, lice — in my mind, I was surrounded by insects. I spent my nights crawling on all fours with a lighted magnifying glass, examining carpet fibers and every nook and cranny of my bedroom. I poured over Internet forums and websites for information about the identification and eradication of my imagined enemies. I couldn’t sleep because I imagined my skin crawling with bugs. During the day, I was a zombie — exhausted, consumed with my fears, and sure that everybody who looked at me could sense that I was contaminated, and that I was a failure.

. . . .

In the interminable weeks between my initial spiral and the medications kicking in, reading saved me. Though I’ve always used books to help me deal with negative emotions, I had used them to escape into worlds that felt better and brighter than my own. They were fantasies of a life full of agency and joy, both of which seemed to elude me.

But at the peak of my anxiety and obsession, I didn’t reach for those fantasies. They would only make my life seem worse by comparison. I needed a different escape. And I found it in a genre I’d had little interest in through most of my life — horror.

As someone who was terrified of the dark till my mid-twenties, and who still sleeps with the TV on most nights, horror was something I’d avoided. But as my anxiety grew, it became a safe haven. It gave me something else — something besides my own obsessions — to channel my fear into. The generalized fear of an anxiety disorder creates a fight-or-flight response to an intangible threat, a threat that can’t be fought nor fled from. Reading horror allowed me to take all that adrenaline and pour it into something outside of myself, something that I could see resolved at the end of the story. It gave me the gift of catharsis.

It also gave me the gift of perspective. The characters in horror stories suffered from circumstances far worse than my own. I could tell myself that no matter how anxious I felt — or even if my anxieties proved to be true — it still wasn’t as bad as contracting a deadly virus, getting lost in a hostile wilderness, or having to choose between my own life and that of someone I love.

. . . .

With medication and therapy, my obsessive-compulsive behavior faded, and my anxiety became more controllable. But I still turn to horror. As I approached graduation, the stress once again triggered my anxiety. In addition to the pressure of completing large final projects in each of my classes, I felt unable to rise to the challenge of taking my next steps into adulthood, of beginning a career and all the new responsibilities that entailed — especially since I hoped to relocate, adding an extra layer of uncertainty to a future I was already apprehensive about. I combated these fears with book after book.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

« Previous PageNext Page »