Non-Fiction

Finding a Forgotten Book on Surviving the Holocaust

30 September 2016

From Literary Hub:

In the attic of a suburban house outside London in the 2000s, my brother made a remarkable discovery: a folder containing 200 fragile pages, typed in German, dated 1945, and apparently placed in a suitcase and never touched since. Its first page bore the name Moriz Scheyer and the title Ein Überlebender (A Survivor).

We were clearing out the old family home: our father, Konrad Singer, needed to downsize. The attic—in the way of attics of family homes lived in for 40-plus years—had accumulated detritus gradually throughout that period (garden furniture, books, toys, bedlinen, kitchenware), without apparently ever jettisoning any.

In the midst of all that was this incredibly valuable, irreplaceable document. The written account of a family legend: my grandparents’ wartime flight through France, involving incarceration, hairsbreadth escape from deportation, and a final heroic rescue by a French family and improbable concealment in a rural convent. A story which had always been recounted to us as extraordinary, even miraculous—but in fragments, the details unclear or forgotten, the original protagonists silent.

As I turned the first page, and was transported back to the beginning of that story—to Vienna in February 1938, immediately before the Anschluss—I was also meeting a family member for the first time. Moriz Scheyer, my father’s stepfather, a well-respected literary figure of 1930s Vienna, and a friend of Stefan Zweig, who died long before I was born.

. . . .

But there was another issue—one connected with the reason that the find had been so unexpected. And that was that I knew the book to have been destroyed. And the reason I knew that was that my father had told me so: he had himself destroyed it (or thought he had).

At the time of that revelation—when, some 25 years before the discovery, as a teenager, I had begun to be intensely curious about this lost side of the family and the family history—I was incredulous, even angry. How could my father have been so uninterested in preserving this historical document, his own stepfather’s account of this extraordinary story?

He gave (at different times) two reasons: the “self-pity” he discerned in his stepfather’s account, and its uncompromising “anti-German” sentiment. Either judgment, in the context of what Moriz and his companions went through, may seem to us unbelievably harsh and unsympathetic. But that reaction does, I think, draw attention to something important—about the role of a generational dynamic in relation to family memory, and the conflicts of memory. First, there is the specific postwar context. My father was a young man in 1945, desperate to look forward, to create a new world—socialist, rationalist, free of racial and nationalist thinking—above all not to dwell on the catastrophes and terrible irrationalities of the immediate past. Moriz Scheyer, over 50 at the time of his enforced emigration, unable to build a new life, shattered in health and spirit, could do little but “dwell,” could only bear witness to that trauma.

. . . .

Because this is the uniqueness of the book. It is a time capsule. Unlike so many survivors’ accounts, written or produced through interviews decades later, this is a book where you cannot doubt that what you read is what someone experienced and thought at the time. That perspective, that reaction to the events, has been preserved unaltered for 70 years. It suffers no risk of false memory or suggestion, of distortion.

Sometimes the perspective is surprising, arresting, bringing the reader face to face with a different world view. How remarkable, from our 21st century, to read Scheyer’s view—leading him, doubtless, to despair of the book’s publication—that “no one will ever be interested in what happened to Jews.” Antisemitism, from his 1940s perspective, was so ingrained in European culture that an account of something that “only” affected Jews could never attract serious attention.

How poignant, too, not least now, to encounter in Scheyer’s writing the concept of the “good European.” A well-known phrase of the time, now long forgotten, it was bound up with the pan-European ideal (associated with another forgotten figure, Romain Rolland) of a culturally bonded brotherhood of nations. It was, arguably, despair at the fate of this ideal that drove Moriz’s friend Stefan Zweig to suicide in 1942.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

Here’s a link to Moriz Scheyer’s book.

The FTC Is Cracking Down on Predatory Science Journals

19 September 2016

From Wired:

When Paul Vaucher received an invitation to submit an article in a special issue of the Journal of Forensic Research, he gladly accepted. A University of Geneva neuroscience PhD student at the time, he was eager for the publishing credit and excited for the exposure. Vaucher studies how the aging brain affects people’s ability to drive, and ways to screen for performance behind the wheel in the elderly. He wasn’t super sure what his work had to do with forensics, but he assumed the special issue provided the tie-in.

He sent in the manuscript, and was surprised when a few days later he received an email, not from the editor of the journal, or a reviewer, but a title-less employee, sending him an author’s proof with instructions to fix any typographical errors and this message: “If you fail to send the corrections within 48 hours, we may assume that you agreed to publish without corrections.” It also said that he owed a $900 fee to the journal’s publisher, OMICS Group.

Within 24 hours Vaucher had sent in a long list of major mistakes that needed fixing. He received no reply, and the article showed up online a few days later without any corrections. Now Vaucher knew something was seriously wrong. Usually, peer-reviewed papers take months and many rounds of back-and-forth comments and corrections before publication. Vaucher had had no such contact with anyone at the Journal of Forensic Research. And his emails continued to go unanswered in the following weeks. This was not just a young, blundering journal struggling to work out its editorial kinks, Vaucher realized. This was malicious.

Vaucher’s story is not unique. In the last five years, open-access journals have cropped up all over the Internet, their websites looking like those of any typical scholarly publisher: editorial boards filled with bios of well-respected scientists, claims of rigorous peer review, indexing in the most influential databases. The looks of these publishers have deceived thousands of young and inexperienced researchers all over the world, costing them millions of dollars—and for many, their reputations.

So it is with good reason that the US Federal Trade Commission has taken an interest in these “predatory” publishers. Specifically, they’ve honed in on OMICS Group, a global conglomerate based in India and incorporated in Nevada that boasts more than 700 “leading-edge, peer reviewed” open access journals on its website. In a historic first for the FTC, the agency is suing the company, alleging that it misrepresented the legitimacy of its publications, deceived researchers, and obfuscated sizeable publication fees. The lawsuit, filed last month, will set a precedent for how the academic publishing industry is regulated, and how the body of scientific work that constitutes our collective understanding of the world is created and shared in the age of open access information.

. . . .

When Vaucher tried to find out who exactly had reviewed his article, he was contacted by an anonymous editorial assistant who wrote to him saying that his article had been “strongly recommended for the publication in the peer review process by one of the reviewer [sic] who is expert in this field. So, the manuscript got acceptance to publish with the initial submitted file.”

Now Vaucher knew something was up. One anonymous reviewer does not a peer-review make. He wrote to the journal’s editor in chief, Jaiprakash Shewale, asking him to investigate his case further. When nothing happened, he wrote again, and again, threatening to take legal action to have his paper withdrawn if evidence of a thorough peer-review could not be provided. Finally, he wrote a third time, this time to OMICS director and founder Srinubabu Gedela, informing him OMICS had 30 days to remove his paper before he would initiate legal action. Later that night he got an email from Shewale. He had submitted his resignation to the journal.

. . . .

Jeff Beall coined the term “predatory publisher” back in 2010, and in the years since, he’s watched his inbox balloon with pleas from thousands of scientists around the globe asking for his help. Beall, a longtime academic librarian at the University of Colorado’s Auraria Library in Denver, keeps a blacklist of open access publishers with sketchy track records. It’s made him the go-to guy for researchers who realize they’ve been had. “Sometimes I get 200 emails a day,” he said. “I get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to answer all the emails to Asia before I go to work.”

OMICS victims are mostly young researchers, new to the scholarly publishing world. They’re also concentrated in developing countries in the global south where the pressure to publish is high and career training lacking. For these scientists, surprise publishing fees can be a huge burden.

Link to the rest at Wired and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Nachlass

11 August 2016

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

Nachlass, n.

. . . .

Writings remaining unpublished at an author’s death.

. . . .

1842 J. S. Mill Let. Apr. in Wks. (1963) XIII. 515 She bids me..to ask what you think of Otfried Müller’s Nachlass as a subject for translation.

Link to the rest at Oxford English Dictionary

Booksellers Await Megyn Kelly Memoir ‘Settle for More’

6 August 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Booksellers have high hopes for Fox News star Megyn Kelly’s coming memoir, “Settle for More,” which promises the behind-the-scenes scoop on her public feud with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

While the memoir was expected to be of interest because of the Trump material, booksellers say any revelations related to her former Fox News boss Roger Ailes would make it a more sought-after read. Mr. Ailes resigned last month in the wake of sexual harassment allegations after 20 years with the network.

“If this book is her memoir, it will be hard not to have Roger Ailes in the book,” said Cindy Dach, co-owner and general manager of Changing Hands Bookstore, which has ordered the book for both of its stores in Tempe, Ariz., and Phoenix.

A person familiar with the matter said Ms. Kelly was paid an advance for the book in the ballpark of $6 million.

. . . .

Barnes & Noble predicts it will be “one of the biggest books of the year,” said Daisy Kline, the retailer’s vice president of books. Terry Finley, chief executive of Books-A-Million Inc., which has a heavy concentration of stores in Republican-leaning states where readers devour conservative titles, calls it a sure national best-seller.

A summary on the HarperCollins website promises “never-before-heard details” of the Republican debate Ms. Kelly moderated that set off a monthslong conflict with Mr. Trump, as well as a discussion of “how she approaches gender in the workplace.”

. . . .

“Reviewers tend to ask if there is a revelation here or not when it comes to a celebrity memoir,” said Mark LaFramboise, buyer for the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. “The hope is that there will be.”

. . . .

Ms. Kelly’s “Settle for More” has announced a first printing of two million copies, a large number by today’s standards and 500,000 more copies than HarperCollins initially printed of Sarah Palin’s 2009 best-seller “Going Rogue.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Can Mel Gibson Pull Off a Portrayal of OED Editor James Murray?

4 August 2016

From Slate:

The news came as something of a shock to the dictionary world: As announced in the Hollywood Reporter, Mel Gibson is set to star as James Augustus Henry Murray, the first principal editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, in an adaptation of Simon Winchester’s entertaining book, The Professor and the Madman, based on a true (but unbelievable) story.

Sean Penn is expected to play the titular madman, William Chester Minor, an American army surgeon who supplied Murray with countless citations for the OED from his cell in the Broadmoor insane asylum, where he was incarcerated after killing a man on the streets of London in 1872.

Penn as Minor is a reasonable bit of casting. But can Gibson pull off a portrayal of Murray, one of the patron saints of lexicography? Given his off-screen history of hateful comments, run-ins with the law, and alcohol abuse, he might strike moviegoers as more of a madman than a professor.

It turns out Gibson cast himself in the role, as he was the one to option Winchester’s book after it was first published in 1998.

. . . .

Gibson, an Americanized Australian, is difficult to picture as Murray, a mild-mannered Scottish philologist. In old photos, Murray grins wryly, framed by his academic cap and long white beard, typically surrounded by rows and rows of OED quotation slips in his Scriptorium.

Of course, when Gibson got the rights to The Professor and the Madman back in 1998, he was coming off a portrayal of another Scotsman, William Wallace in Braveheart. But Murray is no Wallace. You can’t imagine him bellowing, Braveheart style, “I am James Murray, and I see a whole army of my countrymen here in the service of lexicography. They make take our lives, but they’ll never take our headwords!”

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

The OP has a lovely photo of Professor Murray. Here’s another:

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National Adult Coloring Book Day

22 July 2016
Comments Off on National Adult Coloring Book Day

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

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.

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