Non-Fiction

Psychrophobia

28 May 2016

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

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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

Opening up scientific publishing for the Flickr generation

22 April 2016

From The Guardian:

For an aspiring scientist, being published in a creditable journal is a major step towards gaining respect in the field. But for Mark Hahnel, founder and CEO of Figshare, this old system was drastically in need of an update. “The internet was built for sharing academic data but the way scientific papers are published had hardly changed since the early days of the printing press,” he says.

In 2011, Hahnel was studying for a PhD in stem cell biology at Imperial College London, but grew frustrated when it came to getting his work published. In particular, there was no way to publish non-written formats.

“All my data was graphs, datasets and video, but when I went to publish this I realised that a lot of publications weren’t set up to handle anything but papers,” he says. “I was spending all weekend creating videos and frustrated that I couldn’t publish them.”

Hahnel saw an opportunity to both help aspiring scientists and improve the quality of debate in science. Using WordPress and “some basic Python” [computer code] he set up Figshare – initially to publish his own work. But he soon found there were others in the scientific community who saw it as advantageous.

“Academia is very cut-throat. People need to get published and receive citations in order to get jobs and funding,” he says. “But also I think a lot of younger students get it, as they’ve grown up with the internet and think things should be open and collaborative.”

. . . .

Hahnel says he was inspired by sites such as Github and Flickr and wanted to create something comparable for research science. However, there have been some technical hurdles to overcome. For instance, academic papers require footnotes that link to other sources, but this can be difficult to do online as URLs are often reorganised and this can lead to broken links. The developers at Figshare created Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) that find the new address of a page if it is moved.

. . . .

But the most important aspect of Figshare is that it has created a model that disrupts the current method, where universities pay publishers to see the work that they have created. According to STM, the trade association for academic and professional publishers, its members’ revenues are worth roughly $10bn (£7bn) annually and the industry employs more than 100,000 people worldwide. And although well known journals such as Nature, Science and Cell are much sought after, there are more than 28,000 English-language science publications to choose from.

“I’ve published three papers but I don’t have access to them because I’m not a university,” Hahnel says. “The top ten publishers were paid over £430m by universities between 2010-14 so that they could access their own content.”

Figshare has two revenue streams: it provides universities with the means to publish online – universities are given mini Figshares which let students self-publish – and it provides cloud solutions for publishers to host and publish data.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Philodox

19 April 2016

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

philodox, n.

. . . .

A person who loves or vehemently propounds his or her own opinions; a dogmatic or argumentative person.

. . . .

1609 A. Craig Poet. Recreations sig. D2v, No greater fools then Philodoxes fond, And such as loue opinions of their own.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

A Quick Note

15 April 2016

PG was struck by what a compelling beginning this is. It definitely kept him reading.

From Medium:

Today is the most-important day of my life so far. The direction of the rest of my life rests with a single person and is almost completely beyond my control.

I’m not sure what to expect today. I anticipate I’ll have more to say on the outcome shortly afterward. I did want to post a quick note saying thank you to those who have supported me during this incredibly difficult time.

The past three years have been exceptionally challenging — for me personally and for my professional career as a journalist. Nonetheless, I’ve tried my best to commit acts of journalism every day while the legal process plays itself out.

Link to the rest at Medium

In a Perpetual Present

12 April 2016

Not exactly about books, but interesting. Maybe a writing prompt or something an evil wizard could do to others.

From Wired:

Like many American couples of modest but comfort­able means, Susie Mc­Kinnon and her husband, Eric Green, discovered the joys of cruise vacations in middle age. Their home in a quiet suburb of Olympia, Washington, is filled with souvenirs and trinkets from their travels. There’s a plastic lizard in the master bathroom with the words “Cayman Islands” painted on it. From Curaçao there’s a framed patchwork collage made of oilcloth hanging in the entrance hall. On the gray summer day when I visit them, we all sit comfortably in their living room, Green decked out in a bright shirt with “Bermuda Islands” emblazoned on it, from a cruise in 2013. As they regale me with talk of their younger selves and their trips to Jamaica, Aruba, Cozumel, and Mazatlán, they present the very picture of well-adjusted adulthood on the verge of retirement.

Except for one fairly major thing.

As we chat, McKinnon makes clear that she has no memories of all those cruises. No memories of buying the lizard or finding that oilcloth collage. She doesn’t remember any vacation she’s ever taken. In fact, she cannot recall a single moment in her marriage to Green or before it.

. . . .

She’s never been able to remember those experiences.

For decades, scientists suspected that someone like Susie McKinnon might exist. They figured she was probably out there, living an ordinary life—hard to tell apart from the next person in line at the grocery store, yet fundamentally different from the rest of us. And sure enough, they found her (or rather, she found them) in 2006.

McKinnon is the first person ever identified with a condition called severely deficient autobiographical memory. She knows plenty of facts about her life, but she lacks the ability to mentally relive any of it, the way you or I might meander back in our minds and evoke a particular afternoon. She has no episodic memories—none of those impressionistic recollections that feel a bit like scenes from a movie, always filmed from your perspective. To switch metaphors: Think of memory as a favorite book with pages that you return to again and again. Now imagine having access only to the index. Or the Wikipedia entry.

. . . .

As it happens, McKinnon shares Green’s love of music. She even performs with a choral ensemble. Lyrics, melodies, and harmonies stick with her, thanks to her intact semantic memory. Similarly, she can tell you for a fact that three months ago, she sang a rendition of an old English folk song onstage—a solo. But only Green can supply the scene: how she strolled onto the stage alone and took her place in front of a piano. Green says her performance brought him close to tears. McKinnon thinks she must have felt a mixture of confidence and fear, but really she hasn’t the faintest idea.

. . . .

McKinnon first began to realize that her memory was not the same as everyone else’s back in 1977, when a friend from high school, who was studying to be a physician’s assistant, asked if she would participate in a memory test as part of a school assignment. When her friend asked basic questions about her childhood as part of the test, McKinnon would reply, “Why are you asking stuff like this? No one remembers that!” She knew that other people claimed to have detailed memories, but she always thought they embellished and made stuff up—just like she did.

. . . .

One of Tulving’s arguments struck a particular chord. A profile of the psychologist reported his belief “that some perfectly intelligent and healthy people also lack the ability to remember personal experiences. These people have no episodic memory; they know but do not remember. Such people have not yet been identified, but Tulving predicts they soon will be.”

. . . .

Spend enough time with McKinnon and it’s hard to escape the creeping sense that she’s not just different—she’s lucky. Memories that would be searing to anyone else leave little impression on her. Like the time in 1986 when the couple was living in Arizona and Green was jumped by a group of white men while out fishing. When he came home, his head was covered with welts. “She went to get ice and she started crying,” Green says. He began to cry too. They felt terrorized.

Once again, McKinnon knows the salient facts of the story, but the details and the painful associations all reside with Green. ForMcKinnon, the memory doesn’t trigger the trauma and fear associated with it. “I can imagine being upset and scared, but I don’t remember that at all,” she says. “I can’t put myself back there. I can only imagine what it would have been like.”

McKinnon also quickly forgets arguments, which might be the reason she and Green have stayed together so long, she jokes. She cannot hold a grudge. She is unfamiliar with the feeling of regret and oblivious to the diminishments of aging. A 1972 yearbook photo shows that she was once a petite brunette with a delicate face framed by a pixie cut. (“Dorky little innocent thing,” she says, looking at the picture.) On an intellectual level, McKinnon knows that this is her; but put the picture away and, in her mind, she has always been the 60-year-old woman she is now, broad-­shouldered and fair, her face pinkish and time-lined, her closely cropped hair white and gray. She doesn’t know what it’s like to linger in a memory, to long for the past, to dwell in it.

. . . .

I’m surprised to find out that, even though she doesn’t experience her own life as a narrative, McKinnon loves stories. Especially fantasy and sci-fi: Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games. She’s read all the books, seen all the movies and episodes. She can’t remember what they were about, but that just makes it better. Each time she rereads or rewatches something, it’s like experiencing it for the first time. (Here’s another thing to envy about her: She is impervious to spoilers.)

But she cannot for the life of her make up a story. She does not daydream. Her mind does not wander.

Link to the rest at Wired

The Queens of Nonfiction: 56 Women Journalists Everyone Should Read

12 April 2016

From New York Magazine:

I went hunting for one good piece of nonfiction by a different woman writer published in every year since 1960, the year Esquire first published Talese. It was difficult. Most of this stuff just isn’t well archived digitally. And yes, far fewer women were working as magazine journalists in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

But they were there.

I found them — one for each of the past 56 years. And I was ashamed. Despite the fact that I graduated from journalism school, own several nonfiction anthologies, and am an avid reader of magazines, this was the first time I read much of their work. It was the first time I’d even seen many of their names. The male bylines I scrolled past in decades-old tables of contents were familiar, either because those men are still working their prestigious jobs today, or because they have been anthologized. Most of the women nonfiction writers of previous eras, I discovered after some Googling, had short-lived journalistic careers. And the excellent work they did produce has escaped every curator of the past several decades. We simply haven’t remembered them. And it’s time we start.

. . . .

Jan Morris, The World of Venice, 1960.

Martha Gellhorn, “The Arabs of Palestine,” The Atlantic Monthly, 1961.

Rachel Carson, “Silent Spring,” The New Yorker, 1962.

Gloria Steinem, “A Bunny’s Tale,” Show Magazine, 1963.

Lillian Ross, “Dancers in May,” The New Yorker, 1964.

Elaine Dundy, “Can a Simple Welsh Lass of Thirty-Six Find Happiness?Esquire, 1965.

. . . .

Ellen Willis, “Up From Radicalism,” US Magazine, 1969

Nora Ephron, “Helen Gurley Brown Only Wants to Help,” Esquire, 1970.

Lucy Eisenberg, “The Politics of Cancer,” Harper’s, 1971.

Gail Sheehy, “Inside Grey Gardens,” New York, 1972.

. . . .

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “What Do Women Want? Feminism and Its Future,” Harper’s, 1981.

Shana Alexander, “The Patriot Game,” New York, 1982.

Debby Miller, “The Secret Life of Prince,” Rolling Stone, 1983.

. . . .

Jennifer Egan, “Uniforms in the Closet,” The New York Times Magazine, 1998.

Jennifer Gonnerman, “The Supermax Solution,” The Village Voice, 1999.

Pamela Colloff, “The Sins of the Father,” Texas Monthly, 2000.

. . . .

Rebecca Solnit, “Detroit Arcadia,” Harper’s, 2007.

Vanessa Grigoriadis, “The Autumn of the I-Banker,” New York, 2008.

Sheri Fink, “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,” The New York Times Magazine, 2009

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, “The Third Man,” The New Yorker, 2010.

Link to the rest at New York Magazine and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

In an indie-dominant world, what happens to the high-cost non-fiction?

7 April 2016

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

[Hugh] Howey’s observations are not particularly welcomed by publishers, but he has a deep interest in indie authors and, by his lights, is always trying to help them by encouraging them to indie-publish through Amazon rather than seeking a traditional deal through an agent. He has organized the AuthorEarnings website and data repository along with Data Guy, the games-business data analyst who has turned his analytical skills to the book business whom we featured at the most recent Digital Book World this past March.

Howey and I have had numerous private conversations over the years. He’s intelligent and sincere in his beliefs and truly devotes his energy to “industry education” motivated by his desire to help other authors. Yet there are holes in his analysis of the industry and where it is going that he doesn’t fill. Given his substantial following and obvious comfort level doing the marketing (such as it is, and it appears Howey’s success as an author hasn’t required much) for his own books as well as his commercial performance, it is easy to understand why he would never consider publishing any other way but as he has, as an indie author who is “all in” with Amazon. But he seems to think what worked well for him would work best for anybody.

In this interview, Howey says that any author would be better off self-publishing his or her first book than going the route of selling it to a publisher. And he actually dismisses the marketing effort required to do that. Howey says the best marketing is publishing your next book. He thinks the best strategy is for authors to write several books a year to gain success. In fact, he says taking time away from writing to do marketing is a bad choice. Expecting most writers, or even many writers, to do several books a year strikes me as a highly dubious proposition.

. . . .

Howey also has an unrealistically limited view of the output of big publishing. If you read this interview (and I would encourage anybody interested in the book business to do so), you see that he thinks almost exclusively about fiction or, as he puts it, “storytelling”. Books come, like his did, out of an author’s imagination and all the author needs is the time to write. Exposure through Amazon does the rest.

. . . .

The other is that Howey’s analysis totally leaves out one of the biggest categories of publishing: big non-fiction like history or biographies or industry analyses that take years of research and dedication to complete. Unlike a lot of fiction, those books not only take time, they require serious help and expense to research. In a imagined future world where all books are self-published, aspiring fiction writers give up very little (small advances) and successful fiction authors have the money to eat while they write the next book they can make even more money on doing it the Howey way (even though none have). But big non-fiction books like Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” (or anything by David McCullough) took years of research to put together. “Dark Money” was undoubtedly financed at a very high level by the Doubleday imprint at Penguin Random House. How books like that will be funded in the future is not covered by Howey’s analysis.

Now, that’s not to say they must be. Economic realities do rule. Howey’s thesis that things are shifting in Amazon’s direction and away from the ecosystem that has sustained big book publishers is correct.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Jan for the tip.

PG says that, because a successful fiction author like Hugh says fiction publishing is best done by indie authors and doesn’t say anything about non-fiction, Big Publishing must be the only way for big non-fiction to be published.

The fundamental economics of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing include an inherent financial bias for the author towards self-publishing. Amazon is just as willing to pay 70% royalties to an indie non-fiction author as it is to an indie fiction author.

Mike cites nonfiction unicorns (the nonfic equivalent of James Patterson and Lee Child) and says they need big publishing to finance their research expenses. Ergo, nonfiction authors need big publishing.

PG is happy to be corrected, but he bets that midlist nonfiction authors don’t get treated any better than midlist fiction authors. PG doubts that any publisher plans to fund years of research for anyone but a nonfiction superstar.

As far as attractive alternatives to tradpub funding, what about Kickstarter and GoFundMe? A far greater portion of the financial benefits of indiefunded and indiepublished nonfiction will go to the author than will the benefits of publisher-funded nonfiction.

PG bets that David McCullough could get millions for research through Kickstarter. PG would certainly contribute. Come to think of it, James Patterson could as well.

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