Murakami Withdraws from The Alternative Nobel Prize in Literature

17 September 2018

From BookRiot:

Japanese author Haruki Murakami has asked to withdraw his nomination as one of the four finalists for The New Academy Prize in Literature, also known as the alternative Nobel Prize in Literature.

According to The New Academy’s press release, Murakami is deeply honored by the nomination; however, he wishes to withdraw to focus on his writing and avoid the distraction that the media attention will bring.

The jury of The New Academy will continue its work to appoint a winner from the remaining three finalists–Maryse Condé, Neil Gaiman, and Kim Thúy, who all have expressed their enthusiasm over being nominated.

. . . .

The New Academy is a Swedish non-profit organization founded in the spring of 2018 in response to the Swedish Academy postponing the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature because of the many scandals that erupted earlier this year. The New Academy is not affiliated with either the Swedish Academy or the Nobel Foundation.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG wonders if it was wise for The New Academy Prize in Literature to announce that one of its prize nominees had declined to participate in the prize business.

Had anyone asked PG whether a startup prize company should issue a press release announcing that someone famous had refused in advance to receive a prize, PG would probably have suggested that the PR team find another subject.

Why might Murakami have taken this step?

Answers could include:

  • The flight from Tokyo to Stockholm has to be a killer.
  • On the date of the prize ceremony, December 10, the beaches of Thailand might be more appealing than the shores of the Baltic.
  • Can a literary prize that is funding a “Gala Dinner and Prize Ceremony” with a Kickstarter campaign be all that prestigious?

Or Murakami might have visited the New Academy’s website:

The New Academy is a non-profit organization, politically and financially independent. It consists of a wide range of knowledgeable individuals. The New Academy works within the time frame of the Swedish Academy and in five different committees.

. . . .

The New Academy will be dissolved in December.

While the lure of “five different committees” comprised of “knowledgeable individuals” is powerful, PG hereby respectfully declines to be nominated for a quasi-Nobel Prize for Champerty, Maintenance and Barratry.

Cemetery Wine

17 September 2018

(Yes, PG is more easily distracted than usual this morning.)

From Atlas Obscura:

Catholicism and wine cross paths throughout history and literature. Jesus turned water into wine. Some wineries survived Prohibition by producing still-legal sacramental wine. Mass-goers still drink wine as part of the sacred Communion ritual. And now, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, California, is turning grapes grown in their cemeteries into bottles of reds and whites fit for a graveyard picnic.

These cemetery vineyards got their start as a beautification project. In 2006, the diocese was faced with the task of landscaping unused portions of the grounds at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward. Grass would’ve cost $50,000 an acre, so they decided to plant grape vines at less than half the cost. The diocese liked the idea so much that they planted vines across three different graveyards, each offering unique growing conditions for particular varietals. Growers planted chardonnay, pinot noir, and primitivo at Holy Sepulchre; cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel at Holy Cross in Antioch; and pinot noir, merlot, and sangiovese at St. Joseph’s in San Pablo.

The diocese initially offered the resulting bottles of wine to parishes within the community and donated them to charities for fundraisers. But in 2013, they began a collaboration with Alameda’s Rock Wall Winery to take their products, labeled Bishop’s Vineyard, to the next level. Today, Bishop’s Vineyard produces around 600 cases annually, offers memberships to an exclusive wine club, and has won medals at local wine competitions and festivals.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

Crypto Week

17 September 2018

Although visitors to TPV are an intelligent and widely-read group of individuals with many interests, it occurred to PG that some might not know that this is the beginning of Crypto Week, so declared by Cloudflare, a cloud services company.

Although this is not the standard fare on TPV and is not intended to become so, “Welcome to Crypto Week” in the subject line of an email PG received in the last couple of hours, did its intended job for an advertising/promotional email — PG clicked to open the email instead of deleting it.

Every day this week, Cloudflare will be announcing support for a new technology that uses cryptography to make the Internet better. Everything we are announcing this week is free to use and provides a meaningful step towards supporting a new capability or structural reinforcement.

This might not be an ideal message for those promoting a murder mystery, but given PG’s strange mélange of techno-legal interests, it captured a bit more of his fleeting attention. He clicked a link that lead to the Welcome to Crypto Week landing page. The third paragraph read:

Everything we do online depends on a relationship between users, services, and networks that is supported by some sort of trust mechanism. These relationships can be physical (I plug my router into yours), contractual (I paid a registrar for this domain name), or reliant on a trusted third party (I sent a message to my friend on iMessage via Apple). The simple act of visiting a website involves hundreds of trust relationships, some explicit and some implicit. The sheer size of the Internet and number of parties involved make trust online incredibly complex. Cryptography is a tool that can be used to encode and enforce, and most importantly scale these trust relationships.

PG found the lead-in paragraphs unusually well-written for a tech company (not a terribly high standard, but one rarely achieved). While some of PG’s best friends are tech entrepreneurs and engineers, he doesn’t always get a buzz from their writing styles.

The landing page becomes a bit more technical from there, but was not without the occasional metaphor – combining cryptographic processes was described as, “building a taller tower of turtles.”

If you’ve gotten this far, you might want to click on the link, but if you didn’t click, PG wouldn’t blame you.

For the record, PG has no pecuniary or other type of relationship with Cloudflare. His Lastpass password vault does reflect that he had some sort of login with Cloudflare that he last used four years ago, but four years reaches back into the 18th century for the internet.

Link to the rest at Welcome to Crypto Week – Cloudflare

 

Top 100 Kindle Best Sellers

16 September 2018

Top 100 Kindle Books – Paid

Top 100 Kindle Books – Free

Here are Amazon’s Books Bestseller Lists (Print/Kindle Combined ), Updated Hourly:

All Books

Fiction Genres

Romance

Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Comics and Graphic Novels

Non-Fiction

Biographies

Self-Help

Christian

History

Religion and Spirituality

 

Missing the Dark Satanic Mills

16 September 2018

From The New York Review of Books:

Practically from the start of industrial manufacturing, gawkers appeared to marvel at the sight. The cotton mills of sooty Manchester were an obligatory stop for every clued-in visitor to that city. In the summer of 1915, Henry Ford’s Highland Park factory in Michigan, the first with a continuous assembly line, drew three to four hundred visitors a day. So prominent a feature of the industrial landscape were factory tourists that Diego Rivera painted them into his mural sequence Detroit Industry (1932–1933). In one panel, the throngs at Ford’s River Rouge plant (young, old, women, men, Dick Tracy among them) look on, their mouths downturned, as the line of chassis—pierced by steering wheels and ministered to by bent-over, jumpsuited workers—rolls by. In 1971, 243,000 people visited River Rouge. Later that decade, the Commerce Department’s USA Plant Visits, 1977–78, a compendium of factories that offered tours, ran to 153 pages.

Although American manufacturing output today is near a historic high, the percentage of manufacturing jobs drifted steadily downward in the decades after World War II, and then in 2000 plunged sharply. Factories currently employ less than 8 percent of the American workforce, a consequence of offshoring as well as automation. Perhaps because there is not much romance in watching robots go about their day, the factory tour pickings are now more meager. In the Chicago area in the 1960s, you could have seen how steel, furniture, newspapers, pottery, automobile parts, hosiery, and, yes, sausages were made. Today, the only factory tours left in the city are epicurean: craft distilleries, artisanal chocolateries, and a popcorn factory. If you want to have a look at manufacturing of the Make-America-Great-Again variety in Illinois, you will need to drive nearly two and a half hours to Moline, where the John Deere company, headquartered there since 1848, still provides free tours of the harvester works.

With nostalgia for manufacturing jobs now thoroughly weaponized in American politics, Joshua Freeman’s Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World is timely. Freeman, a historian of American labor and the author of American Empire, the Penguin history of the post–World War II United States, takes as his subject huge factories, the behemoths of his title: River Rouge; the Soviet steel complex Magnitogorsk, east of the Urals; and China’s Foxconn City, with its hundreds of thousands of workers, arguably the largest factory ever in operation. Focusing on these giants, Freeman suggests, reveals what happens when concentrated production and economies of scale are taken to the showiest extreme. It also helps to explain the hold that factories have had on the imagination over the past 250 years: the promise (largely delivered on) that industrialization would lift billions out of poverty, competing with the fears (also realized) that it would wreck the environment and sharpen social conflicts.

. . . .

The rise of the factory was the consequence of three interrelated developments: machinery that was so large or expensive that production could not be carried out at home, technological expertise that similarly exceeded the capacity of the individual household, and entrepreneurs who wished to directly supervise their workers. By the time factories appeared in Lancashire and the East Midlands, the transition to an industrial economy was already underway, and the task of making sense of this new system of manufactures fell first to the British. The perils were apparent: the exploitation of child labor and the thick forest of chimneys pumping out smoke and gasses, the filth of the overcrowded cities and the subjugation of workers to new forms of discipline that critics likened to slavery.

But just as obvious was the wonder. It was not simply about the goods produced—a quantity of textiles measured in miles rather than yards—but the factories themselves, of which Joseph Wright’s 1783 painting of Richard Arkwright’s cotton mills at night provides a glimpse. Outshining the moon in Wright’s picture is the factory, each one of its rectangular, symmetrical windows ablaze, a scene of harmonious, heavenly creation in the Derwent Valley. To describe what they were seeing, writers pressed far-fetched metaphors into service: Robert Southey thought the new factories looked like convents, Alexis de Tocqueville called them “huge palaces,” while Charles Dickens, describing the steam engine, likened its pistons to “the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness” and the smoke it produced to “monstrous serpents.”

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

When he was much younger, PG enjoyed factory tours. His favorite was probably the printing plant of a couple of large Chicago newspapers. Lots of moving machinery, huge rolls of paper and streams of uncut newspapers going all over the place. And some of the press workers wore little caps made from folded newspaper.

His tour through a large meat processing plant was less edifying, although that’s where the beef and pork many people enjoy is produced.

One summer, he worked in a small soft drink bottling factory and it was pretty boring.

 

Why Can’t We Stop Instagramming Our Books?

16 September 2018

From Medium:

Back in April, The New York Times noted an Instagram trend: NYRB Classics were popping up everywhere. The imprint, issued by the New York Review of Books, “specializes in reissuing volumes that have fallen out of print or been otherwise neglected,” the Times reported, yet the books have now “become design objects and totems of intellectual status.”

What attracted people to this relatively obscure set of books? Their design. Their dimensions (in photos shot from above) are identical, their cover layouts are standardized. But their spines are varying, seemingly random, colors. Arranged together — for instance, on a shelf — they are chaos within limits, and perfectly Instagrammable.

This was, by all appearances, unintentional. The NYRB Classics line didn’t set out to be an Instagram favorite; they’ve looked the same for ages. But that reversal of intent might now be occurring elsewhere in the publishing world as, more and more, book jackets are designed with social media in mind.

Of course, books aren’t off-limits as Instagrammable objects. Aesthetic appreciation of books might be more worthwhile than fetishizing other consumer products. Yet, literary purists are likely depressed by the idea that book covers could be designed to be purposefully displayed as totems — that is, as reflections of the reader’s taste and style — without an awareness of the words inside. After all, whatever happened to not judging a book by its cover?

But maybe all is not lost. Maybe sharing book covers on Instagram isn’t just about projecting intellect or lifestyle. Maybe books — as objects used to display one’s taste — are fundamentally different from furniture or clothes. Maybe there’s more beneath the filter.

. . . .

We are not the first generation to spend time arranging the books on our shelves for public display. As far back as the 16th century, members of high society in Britain elaborately embroidered book covers as an alternative to leather binding. In the late 1800s, the craft underwent a revival.

“In a variety of publications, from magazines to histories of bookbinding and collecting, middle-class Englishwomen were encouraged to ply their needles within an explicitly patriotic historical tradition,” Jessica Roberson, an Ahmanson-Getty postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, wrote earlier this year in a review of a spate of late-19th century book embroidery histories.

Link to the rest at Medium

As a consequence of PG’s sheltered life, he had never heard of book embroidery.

In the event one or two of the visitors to TPV are in the same sorry state of ignorance, here is an example of book embroidery. It is the embroidered cover to a 1578 edition of The Epistles of St. Paul, owned by Queen Elisabeth.

Here is yet another example of book embroidery.

As PG is certain many have immediately surmised, this is an embroidered book cover for Henshaw’s Horae Successivae (1632), white satin with a floral design edged in gold cord, featured in Cyril Davenport’s English Embroidered Book-bindings (1899).

PG must note that he has always preferred the 1891 edition of Davenport’s masterpiece due to a better job of typesetting. The 1899 edition was basically a rush job necessary to meet unexpected demand when Lord Curzon praised it as the definitive work in its field and said he would be taking his copy to India.

As members of a particularly astute group, visitors to TPV have undoubtedly realized that causing the death of book embroidery is yet another sin one may be accused of committing when one purchases an ebook instead of a printed book.

If you are one of those sinners and need a snappy retort, you can point out that Amazon offers handmade fabric iPad covers created by Hmong artisans living in the Lanna district of Northern Thailand. You can also ask any critics whether they realize that the northern Hmong tribes originate from the Tibetan area of China, so they are refugee artisans. Additional points may be awarded for this attribute.

Nothing in Capitalism is Clean: On Making Art in Empire

16 September 2018

From T. Thorn Coyle:

Under capitalism we are all for sale, and most labor is grossly underpaid.” –– Maggie Mayhem

Nothing in this world is clean. Everything supports, depends on, tears down, or eats something else. Sometimes these cycles feel useful and nourishing, like soldier fly larvae in their wriggling, pale masses, slowly eating compost scraps, and making soil.

Other times? The cycles feel as if the jaws of death have us in their crushing grip and we can no longer breathe.

***

When I was nineteen, I, a young anarchist with a blue, flat top mohawk and gold Dr. Martens boots, got a job on the Pacific Stock Options Exchange. I did so to learn more about the US economic system and to feed myself and pay my rent. My previous jobs didn’t pay nearly enough to live on.

It was as I suspected: our economic system was very bad, and based on gambling. In more recent years, that view expanded, as it became more and more clear that the system of “shareholders” meant that profit was the only motive, crushing workers, choking sky, and poisoning soil and water as it sought its own sick life of making billionaires.

One day, in that late-80s world, I took my lunch out to a long, low wall where the ultra punk-rock bicycle messengers hung out sometimes. One of them asked for my sandwich. I gave him half.

These messengers were rebels. Free spirits. They careened through the streets of downtown San Francisco, through traffic, up and down harrowing hills, chains clanking, hair wild. They were mercenaries who could not be bought or sold.

Except, one day it hit me: they delivered packages to Shell Oil Corporation and to other crushers of soil and souls. Any money that changed hands within the system of capitalism was not clean.

There was blood on it.

There was blood and suffering everywhere.

***

I’m an author and a small, independent publisher. It’s a cottage industry. I have no workers but myself, hiring other independent people to edit books and design series covers.

And I sell those books in the marketplace.

Many people ask if they can buy my books in places other than Amazon. Because Amazon, they say, is evil. Considered a monopoly by some, and run by an infamous multi-billionaire, Amazon doesn’t pay its workers nearly enough, and by all reports, treats them very badly.*

Now, as an independent publisher, I could work out how to sell both ebooks and paper copies from my website. And I am working up to the latter, and may eventually do the former with some of my books, at least.

But here’s the thing: I want my books to reach as many people as possible. I also want to make money because, you see, I need to eat, and money is the most direct route to that. Even maintaining a food garden ––which my family does–– requires some money, plus no small amount of effort.

I could sell books to 100 ––maybe 1000–– people from my website and get a job elsewhere, likely working for some other place connected to a large, oppressive corporation somewhere.

No money is clean in these systems, remember?

And I do sell e-books in other places, it is only my current novel series that is Amazon exclusive for the e-books only. And that’s a temporary business experiment.

What are those other places I sell e-books?

Kobo. A young, Canadian upstart that some authors sell pretty well on, though my books haven’t so far. Oh, and they are now working in partnership with Walmart. As you may know, the Walton family are the wealthiest people in the United States, and by all reports, also pay poorly and treat their workers very badly. Many Walmart workers resort to food stamps and food banks in order to survive.

iBooks. Owned by Apple. You know, the mega corporation that –– like every single computer and phone maker–– is tainted by terrible factory conditions, suicides, and the mining of coltan gained by the suffering of indentured people, a process that has decimated the only home of the mountain gorilla. I type my essays and books on one of their computers.

Barnes and Noble. Barely a player anymore, and a company that, not so long ago, lovers of independent booksellers hated. Rumor has it that they may soon be on their way out of business.

The truth is that Amazon, being the first successful e-book peddler ––smaller companies took a stab at e-books early on, before the world was ready–– holds 80% of the market share. Currently, if you want to sell e-books in any quantity, you have to be on Amazon.

. . . .

I am also traditionally published, by both a very large house, and a small to medium sized publisher. The large house, Tarcher/Penguin, is now Penguin Random House. It is owned by the massive media conglomerate Bertelsmann ––run by the Mohn family–– and by the multinational British corporation Pearson.

These corporations own or license a lot of “intellectual property” which, if you follow such things, is a great way to amass huge amounts of capital, so much so that people who formerly had no interest novels or comic books are taking note and buying up IP not to send it out into the world, but to hoard as assets.

I have friends who are traditionally published, too. Some of them write for Tor, a small SF/F house that is lately doing its level best to publish more diverse voices. Another thing they’ve been doing lately? Placing an embargo on libraries.

Tor is owned by MacMillan, which is owned by the larger company Holtzbrink. Why is MacMillan placing an embargo on e-books in libraries? They fear it undercuts sales.

These books for lend –– despite being sold to libraries at higher prices than to bookstores –– just may cut into their bottom line.

So, while traditionally published authors may have their books available in all retailers (except now, perhaps, in libraries), books coming from them are no better than books being sold exclusively on Amazon.

I’m using only two examples, but could go on about the Big 5 publishing houses, including the ways these publishing houses treat writers –– not paying the majority of authors a living wage, for one thing. Also, in traditional publishing ––like most corporate systems and institutions–– racism runs rampant. Just look at who gets published in the first place, then look at who gets promotional support. Look at who has garnered awards for the past sixty years.

Ask any Black or Brown or Indigenous (or frankly, any disabled, or queer, or trans…) author how big publishing has treated them. Even the “successful” ones have stories. Ask how many Black editors there are. Ask about tokenism. Ask about misogyny, while you’re at it. You’ll be told of myriad problems including the common phrase, “We already have a South Asian author.” Or “Your books belong in our African American imprint.”

Despite dedicated editors still championing the written word, in my opinion, the traditional publishing model itself is not designed to support authors. I don’t have time to detail all of the issues with a 19th century publishing model trying to operate under 21st century global corporate capitalism.

Link to the rest at T. Thorn Coyle

Why Are Book Margins Stuck in the 1990s?

15 September 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

During the 25 years that I have been in the book business, the discount and margin given to independent booksellers has not appreciably changed; it remains 43%–47% for trade titles. Even more astounding is the fact that all of the major publishers are within two to three points of each other, essentially not competing.

Since margin is essential to a viable business, one can only surmise that the reason publishers have not helped booksellers stay in business with improved margins is that they are greedy, they don’t care, or they expect bookstores to carry fewer books and make up the difference with higher-margin items such as toys and gifts. Recently, I spoke with a sales manager at one of the major houses and aired my concerns. The response was, “We are talking about it; we know it’s hard.”

. . . .

Like many states, Maine, where our stores are located, passed a mandatory progressive minimum wage bill with no offsetting tax reduction provisions. In eight years, our minimum wage will be over $15 an hour and will continue to climb annually.

. . . .

 With a total cost to employers of over $20 an hour per employee, the book business will not be sustainable without margin support from publishers. Thanks to the practice of prepricing books, we cannot raise prices and can only lower them. The hard math of running a bookstore is that most run on a razor-thin net operating margin of 0%–4%. We need a minimum 50% publisher discount in order to be viable.

Over the 18 years that we have owned Nonesuch Books & Cards, publishers have consolidated, gotten bigger, and become more efficient and much more profitable. Yet none of that improvement has benefited independent booksellers beyond occasional same-as-always stock-offer deals.

. . . .

Everything began to unravel for the industry when publishers made the tragic mistake of not setting reasonable off-price discounting policies for big-box stores in the 1990s, effectively turning books into widgets. This lack of judgment was seized upon by Amazon, which took discounting to the extreme by selling books below its effective operating cost.

. . . .

As more and more consumers have flocked to Amazon due to its predatory pricing, indies are being reduced to showrooms for Amazon and the publishing industry—places where customers can sample books before buying them for less elsewhere.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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