Non-Fiction

National Adult Coloring Book Day

22 July 2016

From GalleyCat:

Taking advantage of the popularity of adult coloring books, 12 indie bookstores across the country are throwing “coloring book parties for adults” on Tuesday, August 2.

. . . .

The publisher is donating coloring kits to these stores to support the events. Kits include free coloring book samples, colored pencils, event-themed magnets and signage. The publisher is promoting the events through a social media campaign.

Link to the rest at GalleyCat

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Why Most Academics Will Always Be Bad Writers

18 July 2016

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Academic writing is bad, and academics should feel bad for writing it. So said Steven Pinker in The Chronicle a couple of years back, but he’s hardly alone. Academics have been kicking — or, if you prefer, virtually dialectically deconstructing — academic writing for more than a decade.

Many “academics (and especially younger ones) tend to confuse incomprehensibility with profundity,” Stephen Walt declared in 2013. “Call me simple-minded, call me anti-intellectual, but I believe that most poor scholarly writing is a result of bad habits, of learning tricks of the academic trade as a way to try to fit in,” Rachel Toor argued in 2010. “Obscurity creates an aura of importance,” said Martha Nussbaum as part of a lengthy takedown of the feminist theorist Judith Butler in 1999. You can go back further to find people making the same case if you’re so inclined.

For at least a generation, academics have elaborately and publicly denounced the ponderous pedantry of academic prose. So why haven’t these ponderous pedants improved, already?

The critics would say the ponderous pedants are doing it on purpose. Academics supposedly indulge in pettifogging to obscure their own muddled thinking. Or, in a more generous reading, professors write obscurely because they know obscurity is expected of them, and they fear for their jobs if they phrase their insights with populist clarity. In either case, these critics say, a clotted style is a sign of a clotted soul. Didn’t Orwell link “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision” to cultural decadence and Communism? Likewise, Pinker warns of “relativist academic ideologies such as postmodernism, poststructuralism, and literary Marxism” that reject, with convoluted fervor, both objective truth and beautiful prose.

. . . .

Bad prose is ugly, but it’s not necessarily a sign of spiritual ugliness. Often it’s just a sign of incapacity. If I tried to build a chair, the chair would be lopsided, unstable, and an embarrassment to carpenters everywhere. But the badness of my chair wouldn’t be a sign of elitism or creeping socialism. Nor would it be a sign that I had rejected scientific truth. My chair would simply be bad because I’m bad at building things. And also because I don’t know how to make a chair.

Writing is a skill, and — as any editor will tell you — it’s not one that everyone possesses. Academics are primarily researchers and teachers; there’s no reason those talents should necessarily overlap with writing. To my mind, the real surprise isn’t that so much academic writing is bad, but that so much of it is comparatively well written and entertaining.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

PG always thought the product of academic research was papers, articles, books, etc. He doesn’t understand how one could be good with research and terrible at producing the expected end product.

For him that’s like a chef who is skilled at combining ingredients properly, but inept at cooking the result.

But PG is not an academic and will never be one, so what does he know?

Author Gay Talese disavows his latest book amid credibility questions

1 July 2016

From The Washington Post:

In his forthcoming book, “The Voyeur’s Motel,” acclaimed journalist and nonfiction author Gay Talese chronicles the bizarre story of Gerald Foos, who allegedly spied on guests at his Colorado motel from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s.

But Talese overlooked a key fact in his book: Foos sold the motel, located in Aurora, Colo., in 1980 and didn’t reacquire it until eight years later, according to local property records. His absence from the motel raises doubt about some of the things Foos told Talese he saw — enough that the author himself now has deep reservations about the truth of some material he presents.

“I should not have believed a word he said,” the 84-year-old author said after The Washington Post informed him of property records that showed Foos did not own the motel from 1980 to 1988.

“I’m not going to promote this book,” the writer said. “How dare I promote it when its credibility is down the toilet?”

. . . .

The source of my book, Gerald Foos, is certifiably unreliable,” Talese said. “He’s a dishonorable man, totally dishonorable. . . . I know that. . . . I did the best I could on this book, but maybe it wasn’t good enough.”

. . . .

Morgan Entrekin, chief executive of Talese’s publisher, Grove/Atlantic books, said the majority of events described in “The Voyeur’s Motel” occurred before Foos sold the motel in 1980. But he said the company would consider appending an author’s note or footnotes in subsequent printings to account for errors or missing information.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Barb for the tip.

When You Write a Memoir, Readers Think They Know You Better Than They Do

29 June 2016

From The New York Times:

I once knew a woman who had been famously kidnapped as a child. She confessed to me that she longed to talk about her kidnapping, but no one ever brought it up. “Why?” she wondered. The story had been in print, after all, the subject of national headlines; it preceded her into every room. She was left with an acute sense of apartness, her unspoken story roiling inside her. “What am I supposed to do?” she asked me. “Pick up the phone and call Patty Hearst?”

Though I have never been the victim of a famous kidnapping or any kidnapping at all, for most of my adult life, I have been preceded by my own stories — not so much ones that have been written about me, but ones I have written. I am the author of three, going on four, memoirs. I have captured my 20s, my early midlife, my years as a writer and now my long marriage between hard covers like insects trapped forever in amber. Those of us who have written multiple memoirs feel surprisingly alone. (What am I supposed to do? Pick up the phone and call St. Augustine?)

People who have read my work feel as if they know me. And while certainly there is a powerful intimacy inherent in the experience of reading memoir, readers who meet me seem a bit embarrassed by this intimacy, as if, rather than having read my books, they have seen me naked without my consent. They seem to think of memoirs as more personal than any other literary form, as if the word “memoir” necessarily signals confession, testimony, diary and strip tease all in one.

At a dinner party in Connecticut, I watched as a woman turned to Frank McCourt, who was seated next to her. “You must feel like I know everything about you!” Her tone was challenging, slightly accusatory, as if it was his fault for making her uncomfortable. “Darling,” he responded dryly. “It’s just a book.”

. . . .

 In “Essays After Eighty,” the poet Donald Hall writes, “For 70-odd years I have been writing about myself, which has led to a familiar scene: I meet someone, we chat, something stirs my memory, I begin to tell an anecdote — and the head in front of me nods up and down and smiles. She knows this story because I have put it in print, possibly three times.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Copyright-free material edging out Canadian educational texts

20 June 2016

From CBC News:

Are Canadian students being forced to learn from foreign textbooks?

That’s the concern of John Degen, executive director of the Writers’ Union of Canada.

“I hear again and again from professors and from teachers saying that they simply don’t feel they have access to enough Canadian works right now,” he told CBC News.

“And they have to go elsewhere. Their institutions are insisting that they use only free material, and a lot of free material is coming from outside of Canada.”

. . . .

The reason, according to Degen, is the recent changes made to Canada’s copyright laws that exempt educational institutions from paying certain fees they used to pay.

Those changes may have been great for shrinking school-board budgets, but they’re hurting Canadian writers and publishers, some of which are getting out of the business altogether or vastly reducing what they print.

As authors gathered this week for the first-ever Canadian Writers’ Summit in Toronto, getting paid for their work was on their minds. It was standing room only at one panel highlighting that, in the age of the internet, the pressure to loosen copyright laws is growing worldwide.

. . . .

[W]riters in Canada are making less than ever, with 80 per cent earning an income (from their writing) below the poverty line, according to a 2015 Writers’ Union survey of its members and other writers’ incomes.

. . . .

The effect is not just being felt by writers. A few years ago, Emond Publishing sold more than $1 million worth of books to high schools annually. Now, said president Paul Emond, it’s dropped to about $100,000.

“That’s what falling off a cliff in the publishing business looks like,” he said.

. . . .

Schools that formerly bought a class set of 20 to 30 books — for use by perhaps hundreds of kids — started buying just a single copy of the same book, Emond explained. They then scanned or photocopied portions to distribute to students.

. . . .

The issue dates back to 2012, when Canada’s Copyright Act was updated and education was added to the list of fair dealing exemptions from paying copyright royalties. A Supreme Court ruling the same year specified that “short excerpts” for educational purposes could be copied without payment.

That allowed schools and universities to stop paying fees to copy and use excerpts of authors’ works. Educational associations have defined “short” to include up to 10 per cent of a work, a chapter of a book or an article from a periodical.

Link to the rest at CBC News and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Anythingarianism

2 June 2016

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

anythingarianism, n.

. . . .

The fact or phenomenon of not holding any fixed or established beliefs; (also) the rejection of all fixed or established beliefs, regarded (often humorously) as a creed or philosophy.

. . . .

1797 C. Nisbet Let. 31 Oct. in Bull. N.Y. Public Libr. 2 (1898) 285 Mr. Whitfield was a great Promoter of Anythingarianism in this Country, but he was not aware that he was advancing the Nothingarian Interest by his Preaching.

. . . .

2006 A. Errishi in J. Kultgen & M. Lenzi Probl. for Democracy iii. xiii. 217 Political realities do not allow for philosophical anythingarianism.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Psychrophobia

28 May 2016
Comments Off on Psychrophobia

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

psychrophobia, n. 

. . . .

Fear or hatred of cold, esp. of cold water.

. . . .

1863 Harper’s Mag. Aug. 401/2 One bright, icy afternoon..little Philly was suffering in the hands of his nurse, under a severe attack of Psychrophobia.

1958 Morgantown (W. Virginia) Post 10 Feb. 6/6 February, in the Northern states anyway, is no month for victims of psychrophobia.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

How the Textbook Industry Tries to Hook Your Prof

28 May 2016

From Wired:

In the academic world, professors and faculty often meet with representatives of textbook publishers. These book reps like to stop by, or send an email, every so often to ask what my colleagues and I are using. My university uses a textbook rental system, which locks us into a particular book for a few years. When a book comes up for new adoption, you will surely see a book rep encouraging you to pick one of their textbooks.

Let me be up front and say I like these book reps. They are nice people and I enjoy talking to them. Even after adopting a publisher’s textbook, book reps often help out with extra material (like online supplemental material or instructor resources).

. . . .

Textbook adoptions are a weird business. The physics faculty selects the textbook, but the students are the ones responsible for buying (or renting) it. I’m not really the consumer, but I am making the buying decisions.

The biggest problem in this three-party system (publisher-student-faculty) is that it’s difficult for the faculty to consider textbook cost. If you haven’t noticed, textbooks can be quite expensive. If I was buying a book for myself, I absolutely would consider the price—and many faculty do take this into consideration. But you could see how students could end up with a pricier textbook because that’s what the instructor picked.

Another crazy part of this textbook adoption is that the publishers must market to instructors. This means that they must include things that teachers like, not necessarily stuff that students want. Ideally, the instructor should be able to choose what’s best for the student—but clearly this doesn’t always work.

. . . .

They bring in a fancy new textbook and argue that I should use it because it’s better. I respond that textbook A and textbook B are nearly the same. “Oh no!” the rep will say. “Ours is different! We have life science applications built right into the book!” OK, that might be true. That might even be different than other books. However, the core of the textbook is the same as other textbooks.

Part of the problem might be that instructors choose textbooks, not students. Often, professors will use a line like, “Well, when I took physics we had sound and waves, so this textbook should have sound and waves.” Yes, sound and waves are great topics—but you can only do so much in a one-semester course. You could of course skip that part of the book, but it does add to “book bloat.”

. . . .

Yes, book rep, your book is different. Your book has:

  • Real world applications and examples in the sidebar.
  • Connections to other courses and preparation for the MCAT.
  • Worked out examples in the sidebar.
  • Summaries at the end of each chapter.
  • Great online material students can interact with.

I’m still waiting for a pre-highlighted textbook (perhaps it already exists) so students won’t have to waste time finding the best parts to highlight.

. . . .

A textbook isn’t the answer to understanding physics, it’s simply a tool for learning. Students still need to do physics in order to learn physics. Could you imagine if publishers offered textbooks about riding a bike? Students would just open the book to memorize the bike-riding formula, but wouldn’t actually ride a bike. That’s occasionally how a classroom feels.

Link to the rest at Wired

When PG was in college, he bought used textbooks whenever possible. He always looked for books that appeared to be well-underlined. And not just for the first couple of chapters. He often wished the previous owner had written the grade he/she received inside the front cover.

If PG ever ran a university bookstore, he would group the used texts according to the grades their previous owners received. He thinks students would pay more for a used textbook than a new one if they knew the prior owner got an A.

mondegreen

10 May 2016

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

mondegreen n.

. . . .

A misunderstood or misinterpreted word or phrase resulting from a mishearing, esp. of the lyrics to a song.

. . . .

1954   S. Wright in Harper’s Mag. Nov. 49/1   The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original.

. . . .

1994   S. Pinker Lang. Instinct vi. 186   The interesting thing about mondegreens is that the mis-hearings are generally less plausible than the intended lyrics.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Long-Form Reading Shows Signs of Life in Our Mobile News World

6 May 2016

From The Pew Research Center:

In recent years, the news media have followed their audience’s lead and gone mobile, working to make their reporting accessible to the roughly seven-in-ten American adults who own a smartphone. With both a smaller screen size and an audience more apt to be dipping in and out of news, many question what kind of news content will prevail.

One particular area of uncertainty has been the fate of long, in-depth news reports that have been a staple of the mainstream print media in its previous forms. These articles – enabled by the substantial space allotted them – allow consumers to engage with complex subjects in more detail and allow journalists to bring in more sources, consider more points of view, add historical context and cover events too complex to tell in limited words.

. . . .

[I]n a news environment so dramatically different from past forms, the question is worth exploring: Will people engage with lengthy news content on their phones?

A unique, new study of online reader behavior by Pew Research Center, conducted in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, addresses this question from the angle of time spent with long- versus short-form news. It suggests the answer is yes: When it comes to the relative time consumers spend with this content, long-form journalism does have a place in today’s mobile-centric society.

. . . .

The analysis finds that despite the small screen space and multitasking often associated with cellphones, consumers do spend more time on average with long-form news articles than with short-form. Indeed, the total engaged time with articles 1,000 words or longer averages about twice that of the engaged time with short-form stories: 123 seconds compared with 57.

. . . .

While 123 seconds – or just over two minutes – may not seem long, and a far cry from the idealized vision of citizens settling in with the morning newspaper, two minutes is far longer than most local television news stories today. And that print newspaper over which people linger contains many separate stories, not just one.

. . . .

There are some noteworthy differences in the nature of the visits coming from two of the larger social networking sites – Facebook and Twitter. While Facebook drives more traffic, Twitter tends to bring in people who spend more time with content. For longer content, users that arrive from Facebook spend an average of 107 seconds, compared with 133 seconds when they come from Twitter. The same pattern emerges with shorter content: Those arriving from Twitter spend more time with that content (58 seconds) compared with those coming from Facebook (51 seconds). Yet, for both short- and long-form content, Facebook referrals drive about eight-in-ten initial visits from social media sources, while Twitter drives about 15%.

Link to the rest at Pew Research Center

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