It’s better

It’s better to be a dictator than gay.

Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus

Detention of Publisher, Bookseller in Belarus

From Shelf Awareness:

The International Publishers Association, the Federation of European Publishers and the European and International Booksellers Federation have strongly condemned the detention of Belarussian publisher and bookseller Andrey Yanushkevich and his associate Nasta Karnatska for selling copies of George Orwell’s 1984. They were reportedly detained after they opened a general bookstore in Minsk and continued to sell copies of the novel, which was banned, along with other publications, on May 19.

Kristenn Einarsson, chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, said: “We recognized independent Belarusian publishers in the 2021 IPA Prix Voltaire shortlist. We know that publishing and bookselling is so difficult in Belarus now and incidents like this will undoubtedly lead to self-censorship on the part of authors, publishers and booksellers. We continue to offer our support to all those publishers in Belarus who want to publish freely.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Belarus is located in a part of the world which has a very dense history of being ruled by dictators and people who don’t reside in the country. Bordered by Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, Belarus has been ruled for twenty-six years by a guy named Alexander Lukashenko, a big fan of Vladimir Putin. Signs indicate that Lukashenko has no plans to retire, ever.

The Red Prince

From The Wall Street Journal:

John of Gaunt is among the best-known figures from medieval England. One reason is the speech that Shakespeare gives him in “Richard II,” a hymn to England itself: “This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, / This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, / This other Eden, demi-paradise.” Who, in history, was the man we know mostly from his eloquence on stage?

Shakespeare calls Gaunt “time-honoured Lancaster,” a reference to the duchy that he acquired as the result of the first of his three marriages. The liaison made him, as Duke of Lancaster, the richest nobleman in 14th-century England. He was also royal-born, the third (surviving) son of Edward III and the brother of Edward, the heir apparent, who died too young to assume the throne. Edward was called the Black Prince—no one is quite sure why, perhaps it was an allusion to the color of his armor. Helen Carr’s fascinating biography of John of Gaunt is called “The Red Prince,” a coinage meant to refer, presumably, to the heraldic red rose associated with the House of Lancaster.

As Ms. Carr reminds us, England’s 14th century was turbulent, to say the least. Two kings—Gaunt’s grandfather Edward II and his nephew Richard II—were deposed and then murdered in prison. England was intermittently at war with France. The bubonic plague—the Black Death—killed at least a third of the English population. A violent peasants’ revolt erupted.

Other aspects of the period were less disturbing. Most notably, English gradually replaced French as the language of the governing class, leading to the first flowering of English literature: Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and Langland’s “Piers Plowman.” Chaucer, a government official, would become, late in life, John of Gaunt’s brother-in-law.

Maturity came early in those days. At the age of 15, Gaunt was serving in France alongside the Black Prince, who was “without doubt,” Ms. Carr says, Gaunt’s “role model.” Gaunt shared the glory of his brother’s victory at Poitiers, one of the few decisive pitched battles of the war, which was otherwise a matter of sieges and plundering raids. Exhaustion led to a treaty and a temporary peace, but war soon broke out again. By the late 1360s, the health of the Black Prince was in decline, and the king himself, Edward III, was drifting into senility. John of Gaunt became, of necessity, the pillar of the regime. He was loyal, rich and capable.

Even so, his task was formidable and at times beyond even his capacities. The taxation required to finance the French war was immensely unpopular. In 1371, Parliament became assertive, attacking the government for corruption and inefficiency. To appease the Commons, the old king’s mistress, Alice Perrers, was banished from court. According to Ms. Carr, Gaunt “was furious that the king’s dirty laundry had been aired before Parliament.” The Black Prince died in June of that year, the king a year later. The new king, Richard II, was still a child, and discontent seethed.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

How to utilize exposition and context in a novel

From Nathan Bransford:

Striking the right balance with exposition in a novel is a really crucial and difficult-to-master skill.

On the one hand, the reader needs to have enough information to understand what’s happening in a story, and it’s very easy for an author to lose sight of what is and isn’t on the page. On the other hand, we’ve all read aimless and boring infodumps that feel like they were more fun for the author to write than they are for us to read.

So how do you provide just the right information at just the right time? Here are some tips for utilizing exposition and weaving context into the narrative.

Forget about “show don’t tell”

Many writers go astray with exposition because they are misapplying the old writing canard “show don’t tell” and think it’s somehow against the rules to provide exposition or context. (For what it’s worth, I think “show don’t tell” has more to do with the way characters react to things).

Let’s get this out of the way first: It’s okay to just provide the reader with the information they need to understand what’s happening.

Sometimes writers think they’re being pedantic when they explain unfamiliar concepts, but the reader isn’t going to light up a red buzzer on you for “breaking” a “rule.” They’re going to be too busy appreciating that they now know what the unfamiliar concept is so they can just get on with enjoying the story.

If you don’t provide this context, things the reader doesn’t understand can pile up and pile up and it starts to feel exhausting because we can’t get our bearings within the story.

The crucial principle for exposition

So how and when do you provide exposition and context in a novel?

Here’s the crucial principle: The information is tied to specific events happening in the plot at the time of the explanation.

In other words, the key is that the information helps the reader understand the present narrative that’s currently unfolding in the story.

If the exposition or context helps us make sense of what’s happening in the novel right now? Great.

If the information is just being dumped on us just because “it will become important later?” Chances are it’s going to feel aimless, smushed in, and confusing and the reader will be tempted to skim ahead until they get back to the actual story.

We don’t need static introductions to characters or settings just for the sake of introducing them

When I’m working with authors on edits, often the first fifty pages of a novel will feel very aimless because all we’re doing is meeting characters and places for the sake of meeting them, but the story doesn’t get going until later.

Again: if we’re only getting the information because “it will become important later,” it’s going to feel meandering and a bit pointless. This is what people mean by “infodumps.” It’s information that’s disconnected from a story.

Trust that you can introduce characters and settings when they become important to the present narrative. Otherwise, if you’re trying to show a character’s life prior to the inciting incident, consider a mini-quest to give the opening some momentum, which will feel much more active than an opening infodump.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

The Grass

A poem written in 1918 by American poet Carl Sandburg.

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work—

                                          I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

                                          What place is this?

                                          Where are we now?

                                          I am the grass.

                                          Let me work.

Over the Brazier

Robert Graves was the son of a Gaelic scholar and poet and a mother who was related to an influential German historian of those times.

Graves turned down a scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, to join the British Army. While serving, he published his first book of poetry in 1916. The title was Over the Brazier.

Over the Brazier

What life to lead and where to go
After the War, after the War?
We’d often talked this way before.
But I still see the brazier glow
That April night, still feel the smoke
And stifling pungency of burning coke.

I’d thought: ‘A cottage in the hills,
North Wales, a cottage full of books,
Pictures and brass and cosy nooks
And comfortable broad window-sills,
Flowers in the garden, walls all white.
I’d live there peacefully and dream and write.’

But Willie said: ‘No, Home’s no good:
Old England’s quite a hopeless place,
I’ve lost all feeling for my race:
But France has given my heart and blood
Enough to last me all my life,
I’m off to Canada with my wee wife.

‘Come with us, Mac, old thing,’ but Mac
Drawled: ‘No, a Coral Isle for me,
A warm green jewel in the South Sea.
There’s merit in a lumber shack,
And labour is a grand thing…but—
Give me my hot beach and my cocoanut.’

So then we built and stocked for Willie
His log-hut, and for Mac a calm
Rock-a-bye cradle on a palm—
Idyllic dwellings—but this silly
Mad War has now wrecked both, and what
Better hopes has my little cottage got?

The General

Soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon was twice decorated for heroism and earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his suicidal courage on the battlefield, but he was also one of the most impassioned critics of the savagery and waste of World War I.

Sassoon became very critical about the way the war was being conducted. The following is titled “The General.”

“Good-morning, good-morning!” the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Atrocities

You told me, in your drunken-boasting mood,
How once you butchered prisoners. That was good!
I’m sure you felt no pity while they stood
Patient and cowed and scared, as prisoners should.

How did you do them in? Come, don’t be shy:
You know I love to hear how Germans die,
Downstairs in dug-outs. “Camerad!” they cry;
Then squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.

And you? I know your record. You went sick
When orders looked unwholesome: then, with trick
And lie, you wangled home. And here you are,
Still talking big and boozing in a bar.

On Being Asked for a War Poem

Well-known poet William Butler Yeats was asked for his response to the war and he wrote the following in 1915:

I think it better that in times like these
We poets keep our mouths shut, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

Memorial Day

PG wrote about Memorial Day a day or two ago.

Today is celebrated as Memorial Day in the United States. Other nations also have similar traditions.

PG understands that the United Kingdom celebrates Remembrance Day on November 11, the day on which the armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed, ending World War I. He also understands that Australia and New Zealand recognize Anzac Day on April 25, as the day of the first military action by Australian and Kiwi forces in World War I.

Rupert Brooke was one of the leading English poets of World War I.

His most well-known poem had two somewhat different titles, “The Soldier” and “Nineteen-Fourteen: The Soldier”

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brook

Brooke saw his only action of World War I during the defense of Antwerp, Belgium, against German invasion in early October 1914. Although aided by a stiff resistance from Antwerp’s inhabitants, British troops suffered a decisive defeat in that conflict and were forced to retreat through a devastated Belgian countryside.

In 1915, Brooke was serving as an officer in the British Royal Navy. He died of blood poisoning on a hospital ship anchored off the Greek island of Skyros, while awaiting deployment in the Allied invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula.

In Flanders Fields

Canadian physician John McCrae volunteered for World War I in 1914 and served as a brigade surgeon for an artillery unit. He was involved in Second Battle of Ypres, where the Germans launched an assault that included the war’s first use of poisonous chlorine gas. He cared for many wounded, including a close friend who died.

In the aftermath, McCrae wrote a poem about those he and others could not save.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I could have got more out

Oskar Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more.

Itzhak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.

Oskar Schindler: If I’d made more money… I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I’d just…

Itzhak Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.

Oskar Schindler: I didn’t do enough!

Itzhak Stern: You did so much.

[Schindler looks at his car]

Oskar Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people.

[removing Nazi pin from lapel]

Oskar Schindler: This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this.

[sobbing]

Oskar Schindler: I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t! And I… I didn’t!

Link to the rest at IMDB

New Look, Same Great Look

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

Color is among the most challenging aspects of our experience to describe. Spectrophotometers and colorimeters can quantify light waves, yet their measurements have little impact on our feeling for color. As the philosopher Zeno Vendler put it, “Vincent van Gogh loved the color yellow—and certainly not because of its wavelength.” Color is infamous for its variability in language and perception. How can we know that what we are seeing is the same as what someone else sees? How can we separate what we are seeing from the thing itself? Or, as Ludwig Wittgenstein asked in his Remarks on Colour, “Where do we draw the line here between logic and experience?” In the Remarks, written the year before his death in 1951, the philosopher’s thoughts about color invariably lead back to the study of philosophy. What things are knowable? How are they known? What can be determined through philosophical reasoning? Wittgenstein reflected, “Colors are a stimulus to philosophizing.”

Color can reveal the variety of experience in a way that few other subjects can. Vision, whether described in language or represented in paintings or film or virtual reality, is the quotidian version of locked-in syndrome. In literature and poetry, the personal nature of color perception often serves as a metaphor for other sweeping failures of communication. In everyday conversations, those stumbling, destabilizing references to a blue sweater (it’s actually black) or a green car (it’s blue, in fact) are both forgettable and earth-shattering. For some philosophers, the experience of color is most similar to that of pain: an internal state that resists quantification. But who wouldn’t rather philosophize about azure instead of aches and pains?

In the Remarks, Wittgenstein briefly considered color in photography, though he was quick to note that his example was “not a color photograph.” For someone born in 1889, color photography was still an exception to the rule. Wittgenstein describes but does not name an image of a scene in a machine shop. In it, he saw “a man with dark hair and a boy with slicked-back blond hair standing in front of a kind of lathe, which is made in part of castings painted black.” “What does it mean,” he asks, “that hair looks blond in a photograph?” He identifies several types of metal in the shop—the painted castings, galvanized wire, iron, and zinc, which all seem truthfully represented by shades of gray in the photograph. But the blond hair confounds him: “How does it come out that it looks this way as opposed to our simply concluding that this is its color?” Wittgenstein seems to immediately perceive color in the black-and-white photograph, rather than logically deducing that the light-toned hair must be blond.

For Wittgenstein’s younger readers, color photography was fast becoming the norm. A 1956 color film booklet enthused: “The lifelike beauty, the realism, the high-fidelity color quality that you get with your camera and Anscochrome Film will give you endless satisfaction. For you will not only record but actually reproduce and re-create the original beauty and sparkle of the subject in the finest form for future enjoyment.” As color photographic processes proliferated so, too, did boosters’ praise for them. The most common descriptors were “natural” or “lifelike,” despite the obvious differences in color rendition between film stocks. Kodachrome appears blocky to contemporary viewers, offering a limited dynamic range and low contrast. Fujifilm is known for its vivid greens. Polaroid instant color prints can seem milky and unsharp. All were touted as “natural.”

Photographers’ studios have added color to photographs by hand since the medium’s earliest days. Three of the first five U.S. patents related to photography described methods to add color to the monochrome process. Painters employed by photography studios added everything from a subtle blush tint to the lips and cheeks or dabs of gold to jewelry to create radically overpainted images. While the public apparently clamored for colored photographs, critics were unconvinced. Their most common charge was that by painting over the image, less skilled photographers could cover up their errors—and the truth of the original photograph.

Photo taken about 1850, original in the Museum of Modern Art

In comparison, mechanical color processes promised to amplify photography’s authenticity. They did not rely on the artist’s hand to add color after the fact. Some mechanical color processes, such as the French Autochrome, were available to professionals in the early twentieth century. But color photography became a widespread possibility only in the mid-1930s with the invention of Kodachrome film, first made available for 16 mm motion pictures in 1935 and for 35 mm still cameras the following year. Technicolor film stock was introduced in 1932. It was critically praised in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, which used the transition from black-and-white to color film to dramatize the shift from Dorothy’s reality in Kansas to the fantastical world of Oz. Technicolor, with its vibrant, highly saturated colors, was celebrated as better than the real thing.

Kodachrome and other films designed for the still photography market instead claimed faithfulness to reality. One very early instruction manual promised that “the introduction of Kodachrome has placed in the hands of the nonprofessional user a color medium which will reproduce color with almost perfect fidelity.” A spate of how-to books accompanied the new technology, offering instructions on everything from exposure and printing to “how to see color.” These included warnings about using “color for color’s sake” or including so many colorful elements in the frame that it became, in one Kodak editor’s words, “a veritable ‘color hash.’ ” Another author cautioned against making a very specific, but apparently ubiquitous, picture: “We are not particularly interested in a beautiful girl clad in a brilliant red bathing suit playing with an equally brilliant blue, yellow, and green beachball.”

Professional photographers remained skeptical of color film. In instructional guides, they qualified the manufacturers’ claims about natural color. A photographer for the American Museum of Natural History explained in 1941 that Kodachrome “has no subjective reactions. What it sees is not colored by previous knowledge or experience. When the color film sees grass, it doesn’t insist, as we are so apt to, that all grass is green. It may see brown grass or blue grass or other colors that look all wrong to us in the processed film.” Notable photographers, including Berenice Abbott and Louis Stettner, also took care to point out that humans and film “see” color differently. Abbott suggested that some of the difference lay in our past experiences: “When we judge the color photograph, we not only think of how the subject looked in nature, but we also remember how painters throughout the centuries have rendered similar objects. The color photograph has to satisfy a double standard—fidelity to real life and a recognizable approximation to traditional art.” These caveats beg the question: Which color is natural? What we’ve trained ourselves to see or what is out there in the world?

By the 1960s color film dominated the amateur market as well as the movies. Color negative film became available for Kodak’s easy-to-use Instamatic camera in 1963; Polaroid debuted instant color prints the same year. Snapshots in color offered a broad swath of viewers some of their first apparently objective experiences of light, uninfluenced by the brain’s adjustments. The new film, which was initially color balanced for daylight, could not make the perceptual changes that we do when we see objects in different types of light. We think of an apple as being the same color whether we look at it on a tree or on display in a grocery store. When asked to draw an apple, a child will seldom stop to inquire where that apple appears: Indoors or out? Under warm or cool light? But, as physicists will eagerly tell you, color is merely the product of reflected light. An apple doesn’t possess the color red; it reflects red wavelengths while absorbing others. We see the reflected light. But which colors are reflected is also determined by which colors are present in the light. Film prepared to respond to the color temperature of bright sunlight (6500 Kelvin) makes the lower temperatures of incandescent lights appear orange, while fluorescent bulbs render the scene markedly green. An apple is never simply red.

. . . .

Although the changing colors of sunlight had been amplified by Impressionist painters of the late nineteenth century—think of Monet’s snowy haystacks in periwinkle dawn or the Aperol orange of his Rouen Cathedral at sunset—these strange visions now began appearing in amateur snapshots. A 1962 Kodak manual recommended the warm tones of sunset and sunrise for dramatic landscapes but cautioned that they were inappropriate for portraits. The reddish light would render the family like a pot of “boiled lobsters,” according to the author, evidently thinking only of the effect on light skin tones. Similarly, the popular how-to author Fred Bond wrote of photographing during those forbidden hours, “If flesh tones appear badly ‘sunburned,’ do not blame Kodachrome. It recorded what it saw.” During this period color film privileged not only bright, white sunlight but also white skin. Kodak film labs and at-home printers used a company-provided color chart that featured a photograph of a white model, designating white skin as “normal.” Owing to the limited tonal range of color film at the time, when photographers exposed and developed for the light end of the spectrum, darker tones fell into shadow, leaving no detail or tonal gradations.

. . . .

Long before the invention of photography, natural scientists, artists, and craftspeople had struggled to communicate about color. Although Japanese artists had been creating multicolor woodblock prints since the mid-eighteenth century, printing in the West largely relied on a secondary process of hand coloring until the rise of chromolithography in the late nineteenth century. Some disciplines, such as heraldry, established notational systems to specify color in monochromatic prints. Engravers used different styles of hash marks to indicate the colors used in coats of arms. Sometimes engravings and woodblock prints were colored by teams of colorists before their sale, but others were colored by their owners, according to their own preferences or interpretations.

Top: Perspective Print (Uki-e) of the Theaters in Sakaichō and Fukiyachō on Opening Night, by Utagawa Toyoharu, c. 1780. Bottom: Plate IX from Choix de Coquillages et de Crustacés, by Franz Michael Regenfuss and Margaretha Helena Regenfuss, 1758. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

PG notes that any photographer who takes more than a handful of photos has had the experience of being disappointed because the colors in the photo are not those the photographer saw when she/he pressed the shutter button.

PG couldn’t resist linking to Paul Simon’s Kodachrome.

Mimi Reinhard typed up Schindler’s list

From The Economist:

Sometime in the early autumn of 1944 Mimi Weitmann, as she then was, added her name to a list. She thought she would take the risk. Unfortunately she had to use the horrible first name, Carmen, which her opera-loving father had given her; “Mimi”, from “La Bohème”, was the much nicer nickname they settled on later. Sadly, too, she had to add the surname of her dead husband, Yozsi Weitmann, her love since university, who had been shot by the Germans at the gate of the Krakow ghetto as he had tried to escape.

That had happened in 1942. She had been widowed in her 20s, left with a baby son, Sasha, whom she and Yozsi had managed to smuggle to Hungary with her grandmother. She was very uncertain when, or even whether, she would see either of them again. As she typed “Carmen Weitmann”, there seemed to be nothing left of herself. Her old life as carefree Mimi, in a Vienna where Jews were integrated and the word “Aryan” unnecessary, was too long ago and far away. She was now in a blank place, among the dead.

At least she was no longer in the ghetto, which had been liquidated anyway, with those too ill or old to work simply shot in the street. She was in the Plaszow labour camp, to which most of Krakow’s Jews had now been moved. There were horrors in Plaszow, too: a small child killed for refusing to take off his clothes, the digging of a mass-grave which was also meant to be hers. But she was given a relatively sheltered desk-job because, being Austrian, her German was perfect, and because she had learned shorthand from a stenography course. Not that these were much use for taking down and typing up—as she was tasked to—a list that eventually ran to 1,200 names.

The list had been growing for a while. At first it had around 1,000 names, those of the Jews who worked in Oskar Schindler’s German Enamel Factory in Krakow. Then it got longer. It was added to by Mietek Pemper, secretary to Amon Goeth, the vicious camp commandant, and by Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s accountant. Then Schindler himself (and his wife) contributed yet more, the relatives and friends of his employees and, it seemed, anyone he could think of. She typed them up as he asked her. In the end there were at least seven versions, possibly even nine, and her job was to make each one presentable.

Every name was Jewish (with “Ju.” typed before it), even though Schindler was not. These were meant to be essential workers in his factory, which he was going to move from Plaszow (where it had moved from Krakow) westward to Brünnlitz, in his native Sudetenland, and repurpose to make arms. But as Mimi typed the date-of-birth column she could see there were children on it, and as she typed the “skills” column she could spot photographers and rabbis among the metalworkers, so something else was clearly going on. Even her own qualification, Schreibkraft, “typist”, looked odd, especially as she added it with two slow fingers. Typing was something she had never learned.

She did not have much direct contact with Schindler, but liked him as a boss. He was charming and outgoing, and treated his Jewish workers kindly, not like scum. Perhaps even too kindly, for he was a great womaniser, with several pretty secretaries besides her, and got into trouble once for kissing a Jewish girl on the cheek at his birthday party. Maybe she was there because he liked her cool blonde elegance, rather than her mind. She knew, too, that he was very rich, and struck deals with the Nazi high-ups all the time by bribing them with black-market luxuries to get better conditions and more food for “his” Jews, as he called them. But that sounded patronising as well as protective, as if they were just cogs in his factory, since Jewish slave-labour was cheap. She also could not forget that he was a thoroughgoing Nazi, an ss man, who sometimes spent whole nights carousing with the officers.

In short, her boss was no angel. And there was something chilling about the list, with its constant repetition of number, race, name, skill. Perhaps he did not mean to save “his” Jews after all, but simply move them to another camp, a fatal one. His closeness to Goeth, though it was tactical, was worrying. Some people, she knew, had refused to let their names be put on the list for those reasons. She decided, though, that she would trust him. She added her name partly to be useful to him, by swelling the numbers. Then she added three friends as well.

That was a gamble, and for one terrifying moment she seemed to have bet the wrong way. Three hundred of the women and girls on the list, including her, were transferred by mistake to Auschwitz, where they endured two weeks that reminded her (from her language-and-literature studies) of Dante’s “Inferno”. With even more bribery, and threats too, Schindler got them out. In the end the list and the transfers worked, and everyone was saved.

She restarted her life then, moving to Morocco, marrying Albert Reinhard, reclaiming her son and settling first in New York, which she loved, and then in her 90s in Israel. Of the time with Schindler, and the list, she said little or nothing over those years. When Steven Spielberg’s film appeared in 1993 she was invited, with the other Schindlerjuden, to the premiere, but left before the screening. The memory was still too fresh. When at last she felt able to see it, she approved of the casting but not of the prisoners. They were too well-dressed, not demeaned in rags.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Ms. Reinhard died on April 22, 2022, in Israel, at the age of 107.

Additional obituaries can be found in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

“Yoknapatawpha on the Hudson”? On the Novelistic Universe of Edith Wharton

From The Literary Hub:

Like William Faulkner or Thomas Hardy, and not unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Edith Wharton loved some milieus too much for just one story. In its setting and characters, The Old Maid is quintessential Wharton, the New York-born author who wrote fifteen novels and novellas and became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Today she is most closely identified with the upper-class, hermetically sealed New York of her childhood and young adulthood, which she sharply indicted in The House of Mirth (1905) and satirized more gently in The Age of Innocence (1920).

Few realize that she wrote even more stories set in Gilded Age Manhattan. Indeed, Wharton summoned up the lost world of her childhood almost compulsively as an adult, long after she resettled as an expatriate in France. Edith Newbold Jones was born in 1862 into a grand New York family related to the Astors and van Rensselaers. As a novelist, she was a late bloomer. She wrote a number of poems and stories during her itinerant childhood in the U.S. and Europe, but her work was sidelined by her society debut at age seventeen and, a few years later, a long and miserable marriage with a Boston Brahmin named Teddy Wharton.

. . . .

The Old Maid, first published in 1924, was part of a four-novella collection called Old New York, which dedicates a story to each decade from the 1840s through the 1870s. They are set among the same mercantile elite of Dutch and English families as is The Age of Innocence, and their casts of characters sport familiar surnames like Archer and Van Degen, creating a sort of Yoknapatawpha on the Hudson. The Old Maid takes place a generation before the famous 1870s love triangle among Newland Archer, Ellen Olenska, and May Welland.

A couple of minor characters have roles in both novella and novel: Mrs. Manson Mingott is a convention-defying aunt instead of a convention-defying grandmother, and Sillerton Jackson, The Age of Innocence’s gossip-loving old man, is prefigured as The Old Maid’s bachelor-about-town.

And yet these surface similarities are a little misleading. The exquisite drama of The Age of Innocence revolves, above all, around characters yearning to be free: free from their custom-bound society, and free to follow passion over duty. “Women ought to be free—as free as we are,” Newland proclaims. His love interest, Countess Olenska, is equally given to statements like, “I want to be free; I want to wipe out all the past.” Of course, they can’t be free in those ways, and Wharton ultimately breaks up the would-be lovers with stylish, genteel, epigrammatic finality.

The word “free” never appears in The Old Maid. Its two main characters, Delia Ralston and Charlotte Lovell, don’t want to be free from their imbroglio, their society, or each other. Their predicament is a thorny one – and rather more risqué than what one might expect of this author in this milieu. (The Ladies Home Journal politely rejected the story for being “a bit too vigorous;” it was only published after the success of Innocence.) Charlotte has an illegitimate baby with an artistic dilettante and can’t bring herself to abandon the child to an orphanage. She pleads with her wealthy, married, older cousin, Delia, to support baby Tina, which she agrees to do—if, and only if, Charlotte breaks off her high-society engagement to become the titular old maid. To top it off, the father of Charlotte’s child was once the (chaste) love of Delia’s life.

The novella spans twenty years, from Charlotte’s pregnancy to the eve of Tina’s marriage. Delia and Charlotte each have intense maternal feelings for Tina: one biological but secret and the other based on both affectionate proximity and long-ago passion.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

How to Write an Apology Letter

From The Grammarly Blog:

There may come a time in your life (or maybe it’s already happened) when you offended someone or let them down. Depending on the situation, a simple “I’m sorry” might not be enough to make up for the mistake or hurt you caused.

Writing an apology letter for a mistake or wrongdoing might be the first step in repairing the recipient’s dignity and restoring respect and trust in the relationship.

What is an apology letter?

The purpose of an apology letter is to atone for a mistake, offense, or harm that you caused toward another party. In addition to acknowledging your responsibility in the situation, it’s an opportunity to validate the recipient’s experience and feelings. It’s also a way to begin to restore trust and communication in the relationship by affirming how you’ll work to repair the damage and avoid causing offense in the future.

Keep in mind that an apology letter is not a tool for justifying your actions or exculpating yourself. The letter is for the recipient, meant to address your actions and their feelings. 

When to write an apology letter

An apology letter can be valuable in situations when you’ve caused or contributed to wrongdoing or a mistake that adversely affected another person. 

For example, you might want to write a letter to a friend, family member, or partner whom you care about but have insulted or taken for granted. Apology letters can also be useful when you’ve compromised other relationships, such as those in the workplace. You might decide to write an apology for a job-related mistake or for failing to give a colleague credit.

How to write an apology letter

 Writing a letter of apology starts with the apology itself, but before writing down your thoughts, make sure you feel calm and clear-headed. 

Give yourself enough time to process your own emotions and the scenario so you can understand the recipient’s perspective. When you’re ready to apologize, include the elements below in your letter.

1 Apologize unconditionally

At the beginning of your apology letter, write “I’m sorry for . . .” or “I apologize for . . .” followed by what you’re specifically remorseful about. Expressing remorse upfront shows humility and awareness about how you’ve affected the other person.

2 Acknowledge the impact

Next, recognize the effect that your actions had, whether on the recipient, a group, or a larger situation. Accepting responsibility for how you impacted others demonstrates that you understand why they’re hurt, upset, or disappointed. This is a critical step because it validates their feelings, which can help them feel heard and seen. 

Sometimes it might seem helpful to briefly explain what happened that led to the offense. However, be cautious about making excuses for your behavior. A recipient who’s slighted may not be interested in the reason behind why you’ve broken their trust—only that you have.

3 Atone for the wrongdoing

In this part of an apology letter, express your wish to make amends. Offer suggestions on how you plan to change your actions moving forward. Avoid statements, like “Tell me what I can do to make this right” which puts the burden of finding a way forward on the recipient.

Instead, do the mental labor by bringing your own solutions to show that you’re coming from a genuine place of learning and goodwill.

4 Offer reassurance

Reiterate your desire to rebuild from this experience together. And, assure them that you’ve learned from your mistake.  

When you’re finished writing the apology letter, it should be concise and honest. Importantly, it should demonstrate that you hear and empathize with the recipient’s experience.

Remember that an apology letter doesn’t guarantee the other person’s forgiveness. It’s the first step to potentially recovering lost faith in a relationship that’s important to you.

Link to the rest, including what not to say in an apology letter, at The Grammarly Blog

Memorial Day

From History.com:

Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day 2022 will occur on Monday, May 30.

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season.

. . . .

The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries.

By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.

It is unclear where exactly this tradition originated; numerous different communities may have independently initiated the memorial gatherings. And some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.

. . . .

Decoration Day

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.

. . . .

On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there.

Many Northern states held similar commemorative events and reprised the tradition in subsequent years; by 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor the dead on separate days until after World War I.

Link to the rest at History.com

Slow News Weekend

For visitors from outside the United States, next Monday is Memorial Day, which makes this weekend one in which the publishing industry and lots of other businesses temporarily shutter their operations to give employees time off.

Thus, PG expects to find thin pickings for potential articles to excerpt on TPV. He still plans to put up a few posts, but normalcy won’t recommence until next Tuesday.

Taking a Stand Against Discrimination at Book Fairs

From Publishers Weekly:

Authors Eliot Schrefer and Brandy Colbert withdrew from separate book appearances within the past year over censorship concerns—Schrefer from the Plum Creek Literacy Festival and Colbert from a Black History Month presentation. Below, they discuss why they took a stand.

Colbert: Eliot, we experienced surprisingly similar situations with book censorship over the past year. First, you were set to attend the Plum Creek Literacy Festival and then withdrew after seeing that your LGBTQ YA book The Darkness Outside Us was missing from the order form—along with another celebrated LGBTQ YA book—and discovering that the host college had a policy to discipline students for “active involvement in a homosexual lifestyle.”

Schrefer: Yes, that captures it! Then, a few months later, you were invited to present to a school district in Texas, except they said a few days beforehand that they didn’t want you discussing your newest book, Black Birds in the SkyThe Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, as it was “too controversial.” When your publisher pushed back, the organizers decided not to censor your presentation, but said they would not purchase Black Birds as part of the book buy-in for students, choosing one of your backlist titles instead. You withdrew.

Colbert: All this at an event that was expressly designed to honor Black authors during Black History Month! Both of our cases seem like soft censorship to me, in that the organizers didn’t object to our presence and overall work, but refused to provide students with access to specific books. I think it’s even more important to push back against this type of censorship, as it’s still quite harmful and can lead to more blatant bans.

Schrefer: Soft censorship is usually invisible, which is why it’s so effective. We both happened to be in situations where it was revealed. Me because I clicked on an order form; you because the school district became scared of the “CRT” bogeyman.

Colbert: It’s difficult to turn down appearances where we’ll get to meet and interact with our readers, but it’s vital that we stand up for ourselves and our work. Allyship is also important; authors whose work hasn’t or won’t be censored should stand by the authors whose books are under attack. In your case, I was pleased to see so many other authors withdraw.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

AAP StatShot: US Market up Slightly Year-to-Date, March Down 4.2 Percent

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its StatShot report released this morning (May 27), the Association of American Publishers (AAP) for March 2022, released for publication today (May 27), trade revenues are seen falling 6.4 percent, but are up 2.0 percent, year-to-date.

March trade revenues across all other categories came to US$804.4 million, which is down 4.2 percent from the figure for March 2021. Year-to-date revenues up that slight 2.2 percent, came in at $3.0 billion for Q1. As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the AAP’s numbers reflect reported revenue for tracked categories including trade (consumer books); K-12 instructional materials; higher education course materials; professional publishing; and university presses.

That step back of 6.4 percent translates to $702.5 million. And what to watch for is just below: Look at this big drop in hardback sales from last year’s March figures.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 19 percent, coming in at $238.1 million
  • Paperbacks were up 8.6 percent, at $266.0 million in revenue
  • Mass market was down 30.7 percent to $14.3 million
  • Special bindings were down 17.6 percent, with $12.7 million in revenue

Paper formats, according to a note from the association’s team, “still account for 75.6 percent of all trade sales. And–as was discussed in an audiobook and podcast panel Publishing Perspectives moderated this month at the Jerusalem International Book Fair, a part of what’s reflected in that paper-formats observation may have to do with the fact that downloadable audio—so loudly praised for its gains on the market—in March came in at 9.0 percent of the overall trade, trailing ebooks at 10.9 percent. (See the graphic to the right.)

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 12.2 percent for the month as compared to March 2021 for a total of $76.9 million
  • Downloaded audio was up 8.4 percent for March, at $63.5 in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 20.1 percent, at $1.3 million

Year-to-Date Numbers

  • Year-to-date, the industry’s trade revenues were up 2.0 percent, at $2.1 billion for the first three months of the year.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 3.0 percent, coming in at $740.6 million
  • Paperbacks were up 14.6 percent, with $763.5 million in revenue
  • Mass market was down 20.1 percent to $49.4 million
  • Special bindings were down 3.1 percent, with $43.6 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 9.8 percent as compared to the first three months of 2021 for a total of $249.3 million
  • The downloaded audio format was up 2.7 percent, coming in at $194.5 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 23.4 percent coming in at $3.7 million

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that the report only covers revenues generated by traditional publishers and likely does not include more than a few small and mid-sized traditional publishers. Plus, to the best of PG’s knowledge, publishers report on the honor system and the AAP doesn’t perform any sort of checks or audits on the financial information they receive.

He will also note that, due to the right that many traditional bookstores have to return unsold hard copy books to the publisher for full credit/refunds, big purchases of books by bookstores of all sizes in December may generate large returns in January or February, adversely impacting publisher financial performance for the first calendar quarter of the year.

Additionally, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon doesn’t disclose its sales of KDP ebooks and POD to any third parties, nor is he aware that Amazon Publishing shares its sales outside the company.

PG suspects that traditional publishers that are either publicly owned or are subsidiaries of larger companies which are publicly owned provide accurate numbers due to potential claims for fraudulent disclosures under the laws and rules governing what publicly owned companies must disclose and the penalties for knowingly disclosing incorrect information about the company’s sales, etc.

Here’s an excerpt from the AAP’s description of how it gathers information underlying its reports:

“We’ll excerpt here from the proverbial fine print provided on methodology for this report. We’ve edited only slightly, to minimize promotional language and to do away with a few gratuitous institutional capitalizations.

“AAP StatShot reports the monthly and yearly net revenue of publishing houses from US sales to bookstores, wholesalers, direct to consumer, online retailers, and other channels.

“The pool of StatShot participants may fluctuate from report to report [this month’s report coming from some 1,366 publishers]

“Like any business, it’s common accounting practice for publishing houses to update and restate their previously reported revenue data.

“If, for example, a business learns that its revenues were greater in a given year than its reports first indicated, it will restate the revenues in subsequent reports to AAP, permitting AAP in turn to report information that’s more accurate than before.”

Promote Your Book with Your Values

From Jane Friedman:

Like many authors, I had a book to promote during the COVID-19 pandemic and still today each one of us faces the threat of illness and too little bandwidth for a promotional blitz. Shilling our wares can be draining, so I decided to ask the unreasonable from my book promotion: that it give me something back.

At first this felt like a short cut. I was juggling Long-COVID, a full-time job, and the raising of a teen, so it seemed necessary to do what made me happy rather than adding to my exhaustion. I realized, looking back on past events, that the way to gain energy from book promotion is to focus on my values.

I’ll admit that this awareness started somewhat by accident. During the long promotion for a book of essays on chronic pain, Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System, I was asked to do a few workshops for people with chronic pain hosted by nonprofit organizations. As I enjoy teaching and interacting with workshop participants, I knew how to promote and prep for these events. Unlike a reading, where I often feel like I’m begging audience members to sit passively and listen to me for an hour, a class felt like a dialogue, a chance to connect, even if it was on Zoom.

Then I started to think about the numbers. As an author, I’ve experienced the discomfort of an in-person reading with two people in the audience, both of whom are bookstore employees. The time invested in planning a reading—never mind the task of getting a bookstore to agree to host a university press author—rarely offered meaningful returns in terms of book sales or visibility.

When I began to offer free workshops with writing prompts built around my book’s theme, my audience counts were ten times what I’d been able to pull in for a reading. Plus, the focus shifted from “me” to “us”: I got a chance to interact and be spontaneous, to read and hear writing from participants, to dialogue about questions that emerged from writing prompts, and even to do some writing myself.

So when I had my next book to promote—an essayistic memoir about a single day in my life (Supremely Tiny Acts: A Memoir of a Day)—I thought up a format for online classes that allowed participants to write and share on what had happened to them that very day. These “Day-Ins” ended up providing moments of calm focus amid our anxious pandemic lives and were, even over Zoom, a great social bonding activity.

This doesn’t mean that every book promotion event needs to be a class. Instead, I realized, I wanted to do book events that do double duty, that allow me to align the things I care about with the time I spend on promotion. My personal values include community engagement, but they also include a wide array of causes from disability rights to racial justice to the environment.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG recognizes that, for the author of the OP, there is more than a little desire to evangelize her discoveries and improve the lot of humanity in general.

While PG doesn’t doubt that the gatherings and classes described in the OP were an enjoyable experience for the participants and are certainly a twist on the typical book tour, he wonders whether this is the best use of quite a few hours and more than a bit of energy by an author.

How many potential purchasers of the author’s books were reached? Yes, PG is certain that at least some of the attendees told their friends about the experience and some of those friends purchased the book, but what is the best use of an author’s time these days?

The online classes were certainly more productive than an old-fashioned if-this-is-Tuesday-I-must-be-in-Baltimore book tour for traditional bookstores, but it still took a lot of time.

PG’s assessment would be somewhat different if the Zoom classes had been recorded, then put online where anyone could access them. If he missed that in the OP, he apologizes for his oversight.

His point is that an author only has so much time and energy to expend during a day, week, month, year, and he suspects that, for many authors, that time and energy might be best focused on writing another high-quality book.

But, as usual, PG could be mistaken.

The Sad Young Literary Man Is Now a Middle-Aged Dad Keith Gessen wrote a memoir about family life. His wife, Emily Gould, is mostly okay with that.

From New York magazine:

Raffi Gessen-Gould, age 6, is an expert on these topics: Greek gods, international currency exchange, sharks, geology, when his father will go bald (when Raffi is a teenager), invisibility cloaks, waffles, slingshotting stretchy rubber snakes across the living room, making slime without his mom, and the benefits of getting slime stains on the couch (they feel good to touch). He is the second-tallest kid in his class. He can jump the farthest. He sleeps on the top bunk. The longest book he has ever read is 199 pages. He has not read his father’s new book, Raising Raffi: The First Five Years, which is 241 pages, and he does not seem in any hurry to do so. He did ask if he was responsible for the bad crayon drawing on the cover. (No.)

This Raffi — the real-life Raffi — will turn 7 in early June. The character Raffi in Raising Raffi will never be that mature. That Raffi is a creation of his father, Keith Gessen, a device through which Gessen explores his parental fixations: the pros and cons of teaching a child Russian or making a child play hockey, the problem of gentrifying schools, and conflicting camps of parenting advice. Raffi the literary creation is a bit of a hooligan — or, as his father puts it, a collection of “pain points.” That Raffi spends a lot of time doing stuff like punching his father in the nose and breaking down toddler gates to get into his parents’ bed at 2 a.m. That Raffi wonders what it’s like to sit on his infant brother Ilya’s head and follows through. Raffi the real person has outgrown all that now.

One recent Saturday evening, after his father opened the door to the 990-square-foot Brooklyn apartment Raffi and Keith share with the writer Emily Gould (Raffi’s mother and Keith’s wife) and Ilya, now 3, I asked Raffi how he felt about a book coming out with his name in the title.

He’s not a kid who limits his answers to areas in which he possesses expertise. “I don’t know,” he said.

Words are the family business. Gessen, 47, was a co-founder of the literary magazine n+1 and has published two novels. Thirteen years ago, Vanity Fair called him the “red-hot center to the Brooklyn literary scene,” or “at least close to it.” Gould, 40, has published two novels and a book of nonfiction, though she’s best known for her work at the media-gossip website Gawker, where her funny, confessional writing helped define the voice of the early-aughts internet. The two very publicly hooked up in 2007, not long after Gould described for Gawker’s audience Gessen bartending at an n+1 party with “tufts of black chest hair peeking from the unbuttoned collar of his American Apparel polo.”

Link to the rest at New York magazine

The publisher of the book, Viking, has not seen fit to set up Look Inside on Amazon, (because, maybe, their brains have melted due to Hatred-of-Amazon-Burnout or some underpaid and overworked temp assistant didn’t do the listing right or piracy or some Uber-Big-Shot in Europe believes no one should look inside a book before they have purchased it) but PG will override his initial impulse not to show a Kindle cover link because he liked the cover.

Observant visitors to TPVx will also note that there’s no Buy button on the big, eye-catching image of the cover below, so PG inserted a Buy Button of his own creation below the lovely cover photo.

x

TikTok Mounts a ‘Stealth Stand’ in Abu Dhabi

From Publishing Perspectives:

There’s a luminous, unmarked circular stand on the exhibition floor of the 2022 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, tucked away near the screen-flashing National Geographic stand and the Children’s Oasis activity area.

In the 73,000-square-meter exhibition hall, this may be the only installation without branding all over it. It looks like a bedroom-sized Stonehenge, but instead of stones, these are lighted rectangles, standing on end in a circle—they might even be books in some imaginations.

One giveaway to whose installation this might be? The colors. Watermelon, white, and a bright-green cousin of turquoise.

Inside this bevy of monoliths, there’s a small round revolving table with a ring light on a stick. When Publishing Perspectives looks in, a boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old is spinning on the revolving platform, grinning into the smartphone-camera inside the ring light. He’s loving it. He’s making a fast video of himself with a helpful, watchful assistant. And this is TikTok’s booth at the sprawling Abu Dhabi book fair.

On the left side of the entrance, there’s a small QR coded note, but still you don’t see the word TikTok. Only the logo.

And that’s all it takes. A report from Wallaroo Media in late April indicates that TikTok worldwide has more than 1 billion monthly users, many opening the app some eight times per day, and logging in from at least 154 nations in as many as 75 languages.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

There’s a photo of the TikTok booth in the OP. If you have ever spent much time at trade shows, the exhibit space will look as unusual as it sounds in the description.

Russian parliament scraps age limit for army recruits

Not actually to do with books and TPV isn’t going to turn into a blog about politics, but interesting for PG at least.

From Reuters:

Russia’s parliament approved a law on Wednesday in double-quick time removing the upper age limit for contractual service in the military, amid heavy casualties in Ukraine.

Lawmakers in the State Duma lower house approved the bill in three readings in a single session, with the upper house, the Federation Council, giving its assent shortly after. The bill now needs only the signature of President Vladimir Putin to become law.

State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said: “Today, especially, we need to strengthen the armed forces and help the Ministry of Defence. Our Supreme Commander is doing everything to ensure that our armed forces win, and we need to help.”

Currently, only Russians aged 18-40 and foreigners aged 18-30 can enlist as professional soldiers in the Russian military.

Russian forces have suffered significant losses fighting in Ukraine.

The defence ministry said on March 25 that 1,351 Russian service personnel had been killed and 3,825 wounded since Moscow sent its armed forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24. It has not updated its casualty figures since.

Both Ukrainian and Western intelligence officials have said Russia’s losses in Ukraine were significantly higher at the time, and have risen sharply since March.

Link to the rest at Reuters

Writing Memorable Character Flaws

From Writers in the Storm

A character flaw is an undesirable trait that negatively affects the writer’s character. The degree of this effect will depend on the type and magnitude of the defect. Fortunately, the struggles caused by these imperfections often forge great strength of character.

Life is messy.

A perfect character has nothing to learn. The reader will find this person boring and unrelatable.

Weakness + Struggle = Growth.

Flaws—minor, major, and fatal— make memorable and captivating characters.

. . . .

Three Character Flaw Categories

1. Physical

Cultural ideals determine beauty in a society, so let’s say, that in this case, flaws are deviations from the culture’s norm.

Beauty itself can be considered a flaw. In this study, beautiful women who wear makeup are deemed aggressive.

Any character can be assigned “flaws.”

2. Emotional or Personality

Shyness may seem like sensitivity. In reality this trait may be due to a lack of self-love.

Neediness may appear as emotional openness and end up causing co-dependence.

Need for control might look like discipline but can be punishing.

3. Ideological

A character’s ideology is the set of beliefs and values important to the character. These principles can be a flaw as well as a source of attraction.

Characters might find each other’s ideologies fodder for jokes, at least initially. But the reality of these views can easily create conflict.

Character Flaw Types

Minor Character Flaws

A minor character flaw has minimal impact on a character’s life. Some may be lovable, others maddening. Minor imperfections can move the plot along.

These flaws distinguish your characters, making them memorable. They don’t impact the story but can affect dialogue or reactions to scenes. Examples are as follows:

  1. Being perpetually late.
  2. Poor decision-making skills
  3. Gossiping.
  4. Lazy and unwilling to do things.
  5. Spoiled.
  6. Spacey.
  7. Preoccupation with one’s physical features.
  8. Poor hygiene.
  9. Naive.
  10. Clumsy.

Examples in novels

  • Clumsy – uncoordinated and fumbling; often accident-prone. Example: Bella Swan in Twilight.
  • Naive – easily fooled or persuaded to believe something. Example: Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land.
  • Spacey – having one’s head in the clouds; absent-minded. Example: Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter.
  • Spoiled – bratty and self-centered as a result of overindulgence. Example: Mary Lennox (at first) in The Secret Garden.

Sometimes flaws aren’t negative as they serve to cause a roadblock for the character, leading to character growth.

Major Character Flaws

A significant character flaw can damage the character and the people within their reach in a physical, mental, or moral manner. These character flaws can drastically impact a character’s life and the lives of those around them. Here are some examples:

  1. Addiction – drugs, gambling, smoking, sex, serial killer.
  2. Recklessness.
  3. Possessive.
  4. Deceptive.
  5. Short-tempered.
  6. Greedy.
  7. Narcissistic.
  8. Revengeful.
  9. Weak-willed.
  10. Inconsiderate.

Examples in novels

Short-tempered – quick to anger. Example: Jack Torrance in The Shining.

Possessive – overprotective and controlling. Example: Edward Cullen in Twilight.

Weak-willed – timid and spineless. Example: Peter Pettigrew in Harry Potter.

Inconsiderate – caring little for the feelings of others. Example: Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

All Better

PG managed to resolve his computer problems yesterday.

He’s not certain exactly what caused them, but the usual suspects are his fat fingers which also managed to get all the electrons floating around PG’s lair back into line.

Computer Probs

PG is having some problems with his principal email program, which has started eating all of his stored emails.

It looks like he’ll need some time to get this mess straightened up, so further posting will have to wait for a bit.

Is Amazon Sabotaging a Pro-Trump Kids’ Book?

From PJ Media:

Earlier this month, former Trump official Kash Patel published The Plot Against the King, a kids’ book taking the real-life Russiagate plot to sabotage Trump’s campaign and presidency and turning it into a family-friendly tale set in medieval times. The book was published by Beacon of Freedom Publishing House, an imprint of Brave Books.

As of this writing, the book is in the top 100 of all books on Amazon and had previously been in the top ten; however, the author says that Amazon is now trying to sabotage his book.

Amazon has restricted the book to verified purchase reviews only. If you attempt to write a review without having purchased the book first, Amazon won’t let you, giving you the disclaimer: “Amazon has noticed unusual reviewing activity on this product. Due to this activity, we have limited this product to verified purchase reviews.”

However, despite this restriction, the author says that Amazon is throttling five-star ratings from verified purchase reviewers by not allowing them to be posted.

“I have received numerous complaints from supporters that after purchasing my book, The Plot Against the King on Amazon, they were not able to leave a review,” Patel says in a statement obtained by PJ Media. “Like I have experienced numerous times in the past, with the documentary The Plot Against the President, Amazon is actively throttling my book.”

In addition to five-star reviews being throttled, Patel notes that there are about 70 unverified one-star reviews from customers who most certainly did not read the book, and haven’t been taken down despite the limitation placed on the book’s reviews. Patel wonders why Amazon allows these bogus one-star reviews to remain, “but doesn’t allow real verified customers that have read the book to review it.”

Link to the rest at PJ Media and thanks to K. for the tip.

Per GeekWire, as of February this year, Amazon had over one million employees. PG suggests that any organization with that many employees is bound to be paying wages to multiple crazy people and fools.

Ideally, an employer identifies a crazy person/fool pretty quickly and takes appropriate action, but, as a wiser person than PG once said, “The problem with fools is that they can be so ingenious.” Crazy people can pass as non-crazy people for a period of time.

In PG’s experience, sometimes large organizations have to fire a crazy boss before they recognize that most of the people that boss hired are also crazy.

So, a crazy person decided to manipulate the hidden levers of Amazon to sabotage a book he/she/they/it didn’t like. PG suggests that spreading the word about this unfair practice/treatment of the book was likely the best way of remedying the problem.

Evidently, somebody else at Amazon doesn’t share the view of whoever glitched the book in the first place. PG just checked and The Plot Against the King is ranked #1 in Children’s Action and Adventure Books on the Zon.

PG would have put up a Look Inside widget for the book, but evidently, someone at Beacon of Freedom Publishing House, an imprint of Brave Books, didn’t think anyone reads ebooks and the paperback link to look inside doesn’t work with the Amazon’s Look Inside WordPress Widget. PG will not indulge in speculation about whether another crazy person working at Brave Books or not.

PG also notes there’s a nice photo of the author with former President Trump or “King Donald” as he is apparently called in the book.

Snack tips for writers

From Substack:

In April, Substack welcomed 11 writers into our Food Intensive, a mini-fellowship where we collectively incubate ideas, deepen strategies, and hone the direction of their publications. 

This week, our fellows discuss what snacks they keep on hand while writing. From the art of Leah Koenig’s “procrasti-snack” to the nefarious “peanut butter eaten from the jar with a spoon,” the food writers share what nourishment they take to keep their creative practice flowing and stave off the rumble of impending deadlines.

. . . .

I am always hungry. Writing about food or looking through my photos to add to my newsletter makes the hunger worse. I try to eat healthy things while I write because I can find myself going without lunch many days from sheer forgetfulness and would rather be full on good snacks than junk food.

—Natalie Love Cruz, Food For Thought

During my years spent writing from a desk parked directly next to my bed—and just a few paces to the kitchen door—I like to think I have mastered the art of the midday snack, and also the procrasti-snack. Because the siren call of the popcorn bag only grows louder when a story deadline looms. Here’s my most recent procrasti-snack: plain yogurt, a drizzle of maple syrup, a sliced banana, and a sprinkle of peanut butter granola. Take that, deadline.

—Leah Koenig, The Jewish Table

Link to the rest at Substack

Do unto those

Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.

Wendell Berry

How Writers Fail (Part 2)

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

Because of last summer’s move, we reorganized our books. We are in a smaller space than we were in Oregon, so we got rid of a lot of our books—the ones we didn’t need for research or the ones we liked, but didn’t love.

Now, we’re left with the ones that are actual favorites. It’s rather interesting to both of us to note how our tastes change over time. Dean got rid of works by a writer whom he once loved, but who became a factory, writing with others whom Dean didn’t like as well, and that colored his entire attitude toward that writer.

I got rid of over 100 romance novels because I either couldn’t remember them or they no longer spoke to me. That still left me with a rather large collection. Every time I look at them, I feel inspired, which is why they’re still in my life.

The hardest thing, though, the saddest thing, to me anyway, are the writers whose work just stops. Not because Dean or I got tired of reading them or the writer veered into territory we weren’t interested in. But because something got in the way of the writing.

We discussed one writer recently who was badly—and I mean badly—treated by Bantam Books. That highly acclaimed writer hasn’t written anything that I know of in the past five years or more. They could still sell books traditionally to a smaller company than before. They also have a wide open short story market. But I’m pretty sure that what happened at Bantam, which isn’t something I’m able to discuss, literally broke their spirit.

And, as an older writer, they didn’t feel like they could pivot into a world of publishing that is strange to all of us.

That conversation with Dean, combined with sorting and refiling all the books, and a line in an article I read some time ago about Liz Phair combined into this post.

First, the little passing remark from a reviewer about the musician Liz Phair.

I was reading the July 2021 issue Entertainment Weekly. I turned to an article on Liz Phair’s newest album and realized I hadn’t thought of her for years. She’s not a personal favorite, so I was aware of her work, but not following it.

My sense of Liz Phair, really? was an accurate one, though, because, it turns out the new album, Soberish, is her first in eleven years. She hasn’t been idle. She wrote a book, wrote for television, and did a variety of other things.

But she hadn’t produced an album in quite a while.

In the middle of the article, there’s this analysis:

Phair recorded the new album with Brad Wood, the engineer and producer who helped bring her ’90s albums to life. Their pairing is even more ideal three decades out; they’re not afraid to take chances, like starting a big comeback album on an uncertain note, as Soberish does when Phair asks “Is something wrong?”

The part that struck me is this: they’re not afraid to take chances. And, the reviewer, Maura Johnston, seems to believe this is because they’re not afraid because they’ve been in the business for a long time.

That might be true. It might not.

Because what I see from writers who’ve been in the business for a very, very long time is a lot of fear. 

. . . .

When you get burned the way that the Bantam writer above got burned, the natural human response is to try to prevent that from ever happening again. Some writers prevent that by refusing to work with that company or editor, or these days, by publishing indie.

Others stop writing altogether to prevent that kind of problem.

And then there are the writers who are on the flip side of the badly burned problem. Sure, they’ve had serious and frightening setbacks, but they’ve also had so much success that they’re afraid to mess with it.

The phrase we use in our house is that they’re “protecting their lead.” I learned it from Dean, and he initially used it to talk about tournament golf (which he used to play). A lot of players end up in the lead after 3 days of play because they were playing loose or freely. And then, they wake up on the final morning and become cautious.

They’re protecting their lead, and it often leads to failure, because golf courses, like life sometimes, require a certain style of play. If you change your style of play midstream, you’ll probably tamper with your success.

The writers who protect their lead write the same thing over and over and over again. They read their reviews, know what’s expected of them, and try to deliver it. I just read a book like that from a writer whose work I used to love.

Lately, his work has shown the tendency to write what he’s known for, which is (in some circles) twists and plot surprises. Those things only work when you’re not expecting them, and he’s been putting them into his stories like tinsel on a badly decorated Christmas tree. I hope he gets past it, I do, but I suspect he’s afraid of losing his success, so he’s trying to replicate it, rather than let the stories flow the way they want to.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

The Commodification of Jean-Michel Basquiat

From Jacobin:

In April, Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure opened at the Starrett-Lehigh Building in Manhattan. Organized by the late artist’s family, the exhibition includes over two hundred Basquiat pieces, many previously unexhibited. As Lisane Basquiat, the artist’s sister and comanager of his estate, told Rolling Stone, the show is meant to offer “insight into Jean-Michel’s journey and the context within which [he] was raised and the way that he entered into his adulthood.” Indeed, the lengths to which the exhibit goes to broker an intimate encounter — the space designed by architect David Adjaye includes a reproduction of the artist’s childhood home and his studio — are indicative of Basquiat’s immense cultural standing. Try to imagine anyone taking the trouble to recreate the childhood home of Joseph Beuys or Louise Bourgeois.

That Basquiat holds such lingering distinction while many other artists of his generation have receded is certainly understandable. His art is kinetic, politically trenchant, and deeply iconic. As Dick Hebdige wrote in 1992, “Basquiat’s work is as complexly coded and oblique, as passionate, as technically sophisticated, as intellectually daring as a saxophone solo by Bird or Coltrane.” Even for the uninitiated, such elements are readily apparent.

Basquiat’s celebrity was, of course, significant in his own brief lifetime. Easily surpassing the standing of both Julian Schnabel and Keith Haring, he was one of the brightest stars of the 1980s art world at a time when contemporary art was gaining marquee status. He dated Madonna (apparently repossessing and painting over works he had given her after she broke up with him). And he was on the cover of the New York Times Magazine.

But in recent years, his fame has become stratospheric. He has been name-checked by Jay-Z and Nas, and at auction his paintings have fetched some of the highest prices ever commanded. In 2017, Untitled (1982) was sold for $110.5 million, at the time the highest price ever paid for a work by an American artist and still the highest price ever paid for the work of a black artist. Yet it has been ultimately through merchandizing where Basquiat’s stardom has been the most evident.

Gap, Amazon, Urban Outfitters, Uniqlo, and Old Navy sell clothing featuring his artwork. Three different footwear companies have offered Basquiat additions in recent years. There are keychains, throw pillows, iPhone cases, scented candles, and a Basquiat edition of Uno.

For deep-pocketed consumers, WACKO MARIA, Valentino, and Coach have released Basquiat-branded items. As Coach’s creative director Stuart Vevers told Essence in 2020, the artist “embodied the creative, inclusive spirit of New York and was a force for change in his community. I am proud to celebrate his work and values and help bring them to a new generation.”

And herein lies the problem. Sanitized and caricatured by corporate marketing schemes, Basquiat’s work has been defanged. Today, Basquiat the artist has become Basquiat the brand.

. . . .

In 1982, he held his first solo show at Nosei’s gallery, notoriously selling out the first night. Art dealer Bruno Bischofberger introduced Basquiat to Andy Warhol that same year, a collaborative relationship that would further propel Basquiat’s stardom. When Warhol died in 1987, it reportedly affected him considerably and he began using drugs more heavily. He died of an overdose in 1988.

While Hebdige certainly isn’t wrong to assert that Basquiat’s formally complex work resists facile interpretation, the themes of exploitation, racism, and imperialism are nevertheless explicit in many of the pieces. Numerous paintings — though typically not the ones licensed by Walmart — evocatively explore race, framing contemporary racial inequality through the longue durée of racial violence. Untitled (History of the Black People) (1983) references both the Egyptian and Atlantic slave trades. Taxi, 45th/Broadway (1984–85), dramatizing Basquiat’s own experience of being unable to hail a cab, depicts contemporary conditions of racial inequality.

. . . .

The contemporary branding regime not only largely obscures these critical aspects of Basquiat’s paintings, it also occludes the contested nature of his work in the context of the art world. Indeed, many of the things Basquiat’s art is now seen to epitomize — originality, authenticity, iconoclasm, and the vibrant, bohemian world of 1980s New York — are aspects that many of his early critics were eager to dismiss as affectations. That Basquiat holds immense critical standing today largely follows from critics’ efforts to oppose the racialized dismissals of his work and his legitimacy as an artist.

In a 1988 article, Robert Hughes saw the artist as nothing more than a dilettante. Basquiat, he argued, was “a small, untrained talent caught in the buzz saw of art world promotion, absurdly overrated by dealers, collectors, and, no doubt to their future embarrassment, by critics.” For Hughes, Basquiat’s success was a product of critics’ search for “a wild child, a curiosity, an urban noble savage.” As for the art itself, Hughes merrily cast it as “a run of slapdash pictorial formulas” with “mostly feigned” brio. In his acid New Yorker article from four years later, “Madison Avenue Primitive,” Adam Gopnik similarly portrayed Basquiat as a poser, a “corny” and “derivative” artist who gets by on an “ersatz primitivism.”

Yet, just as there were critics ready to dismiss Basquiat and accuse their colleagues of reverse racism, there were others who recognized the significant critical work being done. In 1993, bell hooks, writing on a Basquiat exhibition held at the Whitney, observed that he “takes the Eurocentric valuation of the great and beautiful and demands that we acknowledge the brutal reality it masks.” Moreover, instead of seeing pure egoism and braggadocio in his work, as he is often understood today, hooks identified the layered meaning of his depictions of wealth and status: “Fame, symbolized by the crown, is offered as the only possible path to subjectivity for the black male artist.”

Link to the rest at Jacobin

Jean Michel-Basquiat, Untitled (1982).

PG has always been intrigued by the style of a great deal of written art criticism and reviews. Here’s an excerpt from a review of a 2005 retrospective exhibition of Basquiat pieces at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s not clear whether the author had ever actually met the artist who had died almost twenty years earlier.

Of course, Basquiat saw plenty of stories as well, especially in modern art. And they, too, have a way of shifting into the present tense. Word painting derives from collage, and any combination of ego and facility recalls Pablo Picasso. However, Cubism dismantles vision, along with the distinction between painting and citation from the past. Basquiat imports words and images into a single field of paint.

A confrontation of word and male image also makes me think of Pollock before drips, as in the pretend arithmetic of Man and Woman. However, Pollock in his thirties was still seeking the Jungian unconscious. Basquiat is daring the conscious viewer to deal with the facts.

His performance was far too much a one-man show, but his present tense lives on. His reputation did fall for a while after his death, which may explain why the retrospective draws most often on private collections built, no doubt, in a headier climate. The show can afford to pick and choose where Basquiat would not, but far too much appears thoughtless and repetitive nonetheless. It does not, however, look irrelevant. The dead ends of a short life and a short-lived East Village scene have acquired new meanings.

The same black serves for text and drawing, like the mix of words and images so prevalent in painting now. The focus on “attitude” extends to photography now—and not only in the inner city. Women today portray themselves as conscious, proud, dangerous, or hurt. Cecily Brown or Chloe Piene could well be using Basquiat’s scratchy line, fierce color, and assumption of a white, male audience. One can see him as the missing link between Cy Twombly’s classical repose and a woman flat on her back. One can see him as the bridge between the eras of Jungian and drug therapy, with all the attendant gratifications and side effects.

.

PG is feeling more than a bit Jungian himself at the moment. He’s decided that it’s a good time for him to reconnect with his deep feelings, thoughts, and beliefs in this very moment so he can to get back in touch with his unconscious mind to see how it’s doing.

He will note that such intense Jungian exercises frequently lead to him falling asleep for awhile.

So he’ll make a couple of additional posts and let his unconscious mind hang out by itself for a bit.

Don’t own so much clutter

Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.

Wendell Berry, Farming: a Handbook

What Do We Lose—and Gain—As Book Tours Move Online?

From The Literary Hub:

When I was young, in a distant century, there was an odd feature of the literary community: celebrated authors writing essays for magazines or newspaper book sections chronicling the horrors of their tours. Usually amusingly, sometimes just trying to be. Laments about arriving at a bookstore to find many people waiting, but no copies of the book. Or many books but no people, because someone had forgotten to promote the event (or there was a playoff game in any relevant sport that night). A reading for five people, two of whom were the mother and father of the bookstore manager, under orders to look attentive and enthused. Or, airline chaos with a luggage follies subplot. Hotel booking failures, weather events. Interviewers confusing the author for someone entirely else. (This is real, by the way, happened to someone I knew well.)

The lede buried in all of this, for today’s writers (and readers) is, of course, that there were book tours once. All over. For so many authors. There used to be a joke that in October you couldn’t go through an airport without colliding with a writer on tour. I went cross-Canada from the start of my career, and down into the United States, at a time when I was barely known. And in most cases there were actual people gathered for a reading and signing, besides the manager’s parents. An author coming into town could be an event of sorts, back when.

Sometimes a colossal one. One older friend had a launch in Toronto one night. I went with a third, mutual friend. The bookstore was… flat-out mobbed. Buzzing. Hundreds of the city’s best and brightest had gathered. The author was well known and well liked in the legal community and word had definitely gotten out. No slackness on the part of publicists or bookstore at all. People were lined up holding three, four, five copies of the new book to be signed.

I got in line with two copies (the mutual friend elected to mingle and chat). When I finally arrived at the signing table the author leaped up and we embraced. I said, “X, this is amazing!”(His name isn’t really X, by the way.)

X said, “Guy, you understand nothing!”

I said, “Always a possibility. Why, in this case?”

“Because tonight, tonight, I will sell three quarters of all the books I am ever going to sell of this title!”

But he did sell them. (And the book is still in print, decades after. Just checked.)

For my own second book, as a callow thirty-one year old, I remember arriving in a city for two days allocated to media and a signing. The local publicist met me and handed me a printout of my schedule. I looked at it and blinked. There were ten events. Five radio gigs, two television, one magazine interview, one newspaper interview, and the bookstore signing that night. Plus what I always call “drive-by signings,” when you drop into a store to sign their stock and head off into the midday sun, or whatever, tipping your hat.

. . . .

Is a tour really the best way to allocate budget and time? Will it be a painful experience? Awkward for everyone? Might email or telephone interviews with whatever media exists in a given city not be smarter? While aggressively going the online route: magazines, blogs, social media? Or, more recently, Zoom conversations with an audience logging in and asking questions? One rarely loses luggage en route to one’s computer, after all.

What’s been lost in the transition is the personal. The direct connection with readers. If you’ve spent, as I do, years writing a book at your desk, brooding and swearing, but then find yourself in a library’s reading room, church hall, bookstore, literary festival, to encounter those who have come out to express their affection for your work… that’s profoundly rewarding.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Don’t Boycott Amazon

From The Nation:

fter years of dominating American capitalism by grinding workers into the dust, Amazon is on a hot losing streak, and it’s absolutely invigorating to watch. If the Amazon Labor Union had only organized workers in a blowout vote on Staten Island, it would’ve been enough. And if Amazon had only spent $4.3 million fighting them just to fail, it would’ve been enough. But, dayenu! A judge also just threw out the company’s motion to dismiss a case of race- and gender-based discrimination filed by a corporate worker, too!

Except it’s not actually enough.

Until a few weeks ago, the last time I bought anything on Amazon was in 2017. Then my vet told me that I had to get special diagnostic strips to monitor the sugar content of my cat’s urine (long story). When I asked her if I could just buy them at my local pharmacy, she sent me a link to Amazon, where I could get them delivered in two days for $16. I clicked. Immediately, I felt the anger and guilt that comes with trying to be a person of conscience in a culture of pathological convenience. And I felt foolish for imagining that ethical consumerism can do anything other than temporarily assuage those feelings. The fact that The New York Times uses Amazon Web Services—something it’s disclosed while also publishing exposés about Amazon’s atrocious labor practices—doesn’t stop me from reading the paper of record. Zephyr Teachout calls it the “too big to boycott” trap in her most recent book, Break ’Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom From Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money. Beyond being futile, she writes, symbolically avoiding mega-­corporations is also masturbatory: “The ‘vote with your feet’ model has a lot of appeal, in that it allows people to import virtuousness into their lives without the struggle of organizing and building a coalition.”

Chris Smalls, who was fired by Amazon following his organizing efforts in Staten Island, has done that hard work. That includes appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show to speak to the masses of old white people mainlining the signature Fox blend of racism and Reaganomics, a move that was seen as controversial by some on the left. Charlotte Newman—the head of Underrepresented Founder Startup Business Development at AWS—tried to do the work when she sent memos and e-mails to corporate leadership outlining the steps Amazon could take to address the discrimination she faced as a Black woman in the workplace. No one ever responded to her, but David Zapolsky, the same executive who’s presumably lived to regret calling Smalls “not smart or articulate,” sent an e-mail to Amazon employees inviting them to call his cell phone and tell him how it feels to be Black in America. Derp.

Even though she’s now suing the company, Newman told me, she doesn’t recommend a boycott. “There’s this idea—could an organization be so corrupt that people shouldn’t seek employment or work with it? But I don’t see Amazon through that lens. Given the size of the company and gridlock in Congress, I don’t think we’ll see a space where Amazon ceases to exist. The more likely change that we’ll see is if consumers ask more of the company. Amazon is customer-obsessed, and I think if customers start to ask more questions about Amazon’s practices, that would move the needle more than anything.”

Walking away isn’t an option for Newman either. The first in her family to attend an Ivy League school, she told me how proud her parents were when she got a job offer from Amazon. She loved working in public service for people like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, but she also felt selfish for not pursuing a career that would better support her family. So, encouraged by management, she took the job even though it was lower-level than the one she had applied for, learning only later about the dramatic pay disparity between her and her white peers with similar qualifications. As soon as she assumed the role, she encountered shocking levels of discrimination, which left her wondering how she could spend her weekends marching for Black lives and then keep her head down during the week: “I’ve tried to keep working through the comments, low[er] pay [than white peers], being promoted slower, through the harassment. But who am I if I don’t say anything?” In essence: how to be a person of conscience at Amazon? After exhausting the internal remedies, she finally sought counsel and filed a 63-page federal complaint that details Amazon’s total disregard for equity in favor of showboating social media posts.

Link to the rest at The Nation

PG didn’t realize The Nation was still around. It’s been decades since he’s read anything from the magazine.

The OP reminds him why he hasn’t checked to see if that enterprise is still in existence or not.

PG won’t get into politics, but, suffice to say, in the United States, many unions have become very corrupt, at times associating with organized crime.

From The United States Department of Justice:

Historically, organized criminal groups such as La Cosa Nostra or the Mafia gained substantial corrupt influence, and even control, over labor unions by creating a climate of fear and intimidation among employers and union members by threats and acts of violence. Working the United States Attorney’s Offices, the Labor-Management Racketeering Unit in OCGS has assisted criminal prosecution and civil RICO lawsuits to eliminate such corrupt influence and control of labor unions and their affiliated organizations. As of 2020, the United States had obtained relief in 24 civil RICO cases involving labor organizations affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the Laborers International Union of North American (LIUNA), the former Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HEREIU), and the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA).

During the period from 2017 to 2021, the Labor-Management Racketeering Unit worked with the United States Attorney’s Office in Detroit to charge and obtain guilty pleas from the Fiat-Chrysler Association (FCA), officials of the FCA, and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union involving more than $3.5 million in illegal payments and gifts from the FCA to officials of the UAW. As a result of those and other guilty pleas involving abuse of union funds, the UAW agreed to be subject to court-approved officers as part of an anti-fraud consent decree directed at the removal of corruption within the UAW.

Link to the rest at The United States Department of Justice

Discover the charm of Wendell Berry’s rural tales

From The Economist

Wendell Berry was almost 30 when he packed up his life as a New York intellectual and decamped to Port Royal, a tiny community in Kentucky where generations of his forebears had farmed the land. His friends thought him mad. Mr Berry said it was “not an altogether pleasant fate”. But he felt obliged—destined, even—to record the history of the place.

Since moving to Port Royal in 1964 he has lived as if he were in the 19th century, writing by hand and ploughing his fields with horses. His eight novels and more than 50 short stories are usually set in Port William, a stand-in for Port Royal. Yet his appeal transcends his backwater milieu. The feminist bell hooks was a fan. Nick Offerman, an actor, wanted to adapt his work for the screen. Mr Berry refused, for the “tv cord is a vacuum line, pumping life and meaning out of the household”.

His Luddism also belies the prescience of his encompassing theme: that humans must nurture the earth that grants them life. “The soil is the greatest connector of lives,” he has written; “without proper care for it we can have no community.” This philosophy dominates his novels and polemics. In “The Unsettling of America”, published in 1977, Mr Berry critiqued the natural destruction caused by giant agribusinesses. He thinks capitalism has divorced farming from culture, severing people from nature.

Mr Berry’s fiction explores the deterioration of convivial values by following Port William’s interwoven clans as their pastoral outpost enters the modern age. In “Dismemberment”, a short story, Andy Catlett loses a hand to a harvesting machine and becomes a recluse. He sees his withdrawal is mistaken and reconnects with the town, finding “the wealth of an intimate history” in belonging to “his ancestral place”.

Port William’s inhabitants often come to such realisations. In “Hannah Coulter”, Mr Berry’s seventh novel, the titular character grows old after a tragic life and anticipates loneliness when her children leave to find work in the city. Instead, her hope is restored when an estranged grandson returns to run the farm. Mr Berry paints the community in atmospheric hues, each brushstroke deepening the reader’s understanding of how the link between soil and people sustains the town.

The author’s rural world is not always melancholic. “Watch With Me”, a series of short stories, traces the loving marriage of Ptolemy and Minnie Proudfoot. In one tale set in 1932, Ptolemy, an expert horseman, struggles to drive a motor car. Here the clash of old and new is humorous, as the couple go “easy into the modern world, never really getting the hang of it”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

“Disembodied” Does Not Mean That

From Daily Writing Tips:

In a very interesting BBC News article about ancient gardens, the writer describes an ancient relief that shows the vegetation-loving but brutal ruler Ashurbanipal and his wife reclining under a grapevine.

It’s an archetypal garden paradise—that is, except for the disembodied head of an enemy, which is hanging from a nearby tree.

The writer seems to think that disembodied—like dismembereddecapitated, and severed—has something to do with cutting off body parts.

It does not. Disembodied is the opposite of embodied.

Embodiment

The verb embody and its opposite can be used literally or figuratively.

embody (verb): to put into a body, to give a form to.

People, institutions, and laws are said to embody various abstractions. For example, Chef José Andrés, who organizes meals for people in disaster areas, embodies the Christian ideal of caritas—love of one’s fellow human beings.

disembody (verb): to separate from the body or to free anything from the form in which it is embodied.

disembodied (adjective): divested of a body; freed from that in which it has been embodied.

A frequent use of disembodied is to describe the voices of unseen speakers.

• A disembodied voice warns the crowd that the moment is about to arrive.
• The conversation is restrained, disembodied voices emerging from the darkness.

Writers of science-fiction and fantasy often explore the existence of creatures that exist without physical bodies.

• Megatron’s disembodied spark, trapped within the chaos-bringer, called out to Prime.
• She survived as a disembodied spirit and took over the bodies of some of the Council.
• Is there comfort in the idea that Max lives on as a disembodied consciousness in a parallel universe?

Dismemberment

dismember (verb): To deprive of limbs or members; to cut off the limbs or members of; to tear or divide limb from limb.

dismembered: Deprived of members or limbs; divided limb from limb.

• Dr. Frankenstein creates his monster from the dismembered bodies of dead men.
• The real heroes are those who came back dismembered, mangled, crippled and blind.
• His dismembered remains were found April 24, 2004, on Baldwin Road in Bedford.

Anything that has parts can be “dismembered.”

• After the Caliphate was dismembered in 1015, a new, more decadent, era started.
• Formed in 2008, when the Home Office was dismembered, UKBA has always been a mess.
• When the empire was dismembered, peoples of all nationalities were everywhere.

Removing the head

decapitate (verb): To cut off the head of a person, animal, and sometimes other things that have a “head.”

• In March, authorities discovered a decapitated pig’s head wrapped in a blanket.
• African violets need to be decapitated at the crown level when issues with the roots or soil arise.

severed (adjective): cut in two, separated

Fishermen discovered his severed head in a canal 120 miles away two weeks later.

To avoid misuse of disembodied, ask yourself if the thing being described as “disembodied” would in fact be visible to the eye.

Consider the following examples:

• In the first TV commercial, a disembodied arm writes in big block letters CREATE.
• Is the disembodied arm under the couch too noticeable, or should we move it farther back?
• In a corner of a laboratory in Sydney, Australia, a disembodied lizard tail is flicking.

In each example, the thing being described as “disembodied” could be seen by a viewer and is, therefore, not disembodied. The arms are unattached to bodies, but are visible, as is the tail.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

How to Upload Your Book to KDP, Easily and Correctly [Text Instruction + Screenshots]

From The Book Designer:

I recently published my 21st book to the KDP platform, having been self-publishing for the last 7 years. And as I was going through the self-publishing steps again, it occurred to me how the platform has evolved over the past decade. This text-based, step-by-step tutorial is your most current and up-to-date process to upload your book to KDP.

. . . .

Uploading Your Book to Amazon KDP: a Step-by-Step Process

Uploading your book to KDP is relatively easy. You don’t have to have a lot of tech know-how, and if you run into any issues, KDP support is excellent at walking you through the process, either by email or over the phone.

In order to upload and prepare your book for publishing on KDP, there are several key elements you need at the ready. 

  • Your completed formatted book (eBook and Paperback). The best formats are ePub file for Kindle eBook and a PDF for the paperback/Hardcover
  • Keywords for KDP as researched with Publisher Rocket
  • Categories list as research with Publisher Rocket (eBook and paperback categories)
  • ISBNs—purchased through Bowker.com

You can hire a professional formatter if you want, or you can format the book yourself. Here’s a guide that walks you through the formatting process for KDP.

If you plan to publish more than one eBook—or simply want to do the formatting yourself—you may want to invest in a user-friendly book formatting software such as Atticus.io. It’s a relatively low investment for $147.00, and it’s simple to use.

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Step #5: Write a Compelling Book Description

A compelling book description sells lots of books and builds your fanbase. This is why you need a powerful book description in order for potential buyers to read what the book is about.

Here’s why your book description matters:

  1. It is a sales page crafted to capture the interest of your reader.
  2. Amazon’s algorithm bots scans the book description for relevant keywords indexed by Amazon.
  3. It is the critical decision-maker for browsers to make a final decision on buying your book

Here is a great resource for learning how to create a compelling description: the Free Amazon Book Description generator by Dave Chesson at Kindlepreneur.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

For PG, this was a nice summary of the steps to indie publishing. He usually doesn’t include live links in the excerpts he posts on TPV, but he found the ones included in the OP were high-quality and helpful locations.

It’s Too Late to Protect Your Genetic Privacy. The Math Explaining Why.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Earlier this year, the police in Eugene, Ore., said they had identified a serial killer who committed three murders from 1986 to 1988. The man, John Charles Bolsinger, had escaped attention so thoroughly for three decades because he had killed himself in 1988.

Investigators had stored DNA from the crimes, and recently plugged it into a genealogy database, zeroing in on Bolsinger by first finding his distant cousins. It is the latest in a growing string of cold cases solved by law enforcement using techniques developed by genealogy hobbyists. Take a DNA sample, identify a second cousin here, a third cousin there, and then use public records to reconstruct a killer’s family tree.

If you’re concerned about the privacy implications of this, you might think, “Well, I would never submit my DNA to one of those sites.”

Sounds reasonable? In fact, it is far too late to completely protect your genetic privacy via personal abstention. A brief exploration into the mathematics of genetics explains why it has become possible to track down killers—but also anyone—through distant relatives.

“If somebody wanted to use the skills of forensic genealogists to try to track you down through a third cousin, they could,” said Jennifer King, a privacy scholar at Stanford University.

To understand how exposed your genes potentially are, consider an obscure unit of measurement—the centiMorgan, or cM. (It is named for Thomas Hunt Morgan, whose experiments on fruit flies led to the Nobel Prize in 1933 for showing how chromosomes are inherited.) It lies at the heart of all the stories you read nowadays of people discovering unknown links through their DNA and genealogical research.

It gauges genetic distance, specifically the length of identical segments of DNA that two people share due to descent from a common ancestor.

In general, people have about 6,800 cMs. A child inherits half their DNA—one set of chromosomes—from each biological parent. So child and parent will have around 3,400 cMs of DNA that match.

(Because of slightly different methodologies, the major testing companies report slightly different numbers.)

For every “degree of relatedness,” the length of shared cMs halves. An uncle or grandparent, one degree removed from parents, shares half as much DNA on average. That is 25%, or about 1,700 cMs. One more degree removed: A first cousin or great-grandparent shares half again, or around 850 cMs. And so on.

How much DNA you share with distant relatives

Even with all these halvings, very distant relatives out to fifth cousins share so much identical DNA that a common ancestor is the only possible source.

“I think most Americans don’t realize this,” said Libby Copeland, author of “The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are.” “It’s a profound shift.”

It is easy to find distant relatives, because a typical individual has so many: according to various methods, around 200 third cousins, upward of 1,000 fourth cousins and anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 fifth cousins.

This isn’t just relevant for crime scenes. There is no such thing anymore as truly anonymous sperm or egg donors, unknown fathers, or closed adoptions. They are all examples of scenarios where secrets involving parentage are easily solved by the centiMorgans. No court ruling or confidentiality agreement can erase this science.

An adopted child who doesn’t know his biological parent still shares 3,400 cMs with that person, and hundreds of centiMorgans with numerous cousins from that parent’s family. The child, or generations from now that child’s descendants, could upload their DNA to a database and by looking for matches with others who have uploaded theirs, discover some of those distant cousins. That would be enough to reconstruct his family tree and identify the parent, even though the parent never uploaded their DNA—the exact same process used to identify DNA in cold cases.

Katie Hasson, associate director of the Center for Genetics and Society, which advocates for protections against genetic information being abused, says that only collective action—not individual precaution—can address the privacy concerns this creates.

“Right now, forensic genealogy is very labor intensive and new, and being used for very serious crimes and cold cases,” said Ms. Hasson. “The likelihood it will be confined to that, without actual enforceable restrictions and regulations, is slim.”

The scale of testing is enormous: around 21 million samples on AncestryDNA, 12 million at 23andMe, 5.6 million at MyHeritage and 1.7 million at FamilyTreeDNA, according to data from the International Society of Genetic Genealogy.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Change your opinion

Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.

Victor Hugo

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens

From Scientific American:

In a viral YouTube video from October 2011 a one-year-old girl sweeps her fingers across an iPad’s touchscreen, shuffling groups of icons. In the following scenes she appears to pinch, swipe and prod the pages of paper magazines as though they too were screens. When nothing happens, she pushes against her leg, confirming that her finger works just fine—or so a title card would have us believe.

The girl’s father, Jean-Louis Constanza, presents “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work” as naturalistic observation—a Jane Goodall among the chimps moment—that reveals a generational transition. “Technology codes our minds,” he writes in the video’s description. “Magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives”—that is, for people who have been interacting with digital technologies from a very early age.

Perhaps his daughter really did expect the paper magazines to respond the same way an iPad would. Or maybe she had no expectations at all—maybe she just wanted to touch the magazines. Babies touch everything. Young children who have never seen a tablet like the iPad or an e-reader like the Kindle will still reach out and run their fingers across the pages of a paper book; they will jab at an illustration they like; heck, they will even taste the corner of a book. Today’s so-called digital natives still interact with a mix of paper magazines and books, as well as tablets, smartphones and e-readers; using one kind of technology does not preclude them from understanding another.

Nevertheless, the video brings into focus an important question: How exactly does the technology we use to read change the way we read? How reading on screens differs from reading on paper is relevant not just to the youngest among us, but to just about everyone who reads—to anyone who routinely switches between working long hours in front of a computer at the office and leisurely reading paper magazines and books at home; to people who have embraced e-readers for their convenience and portability, but admit that for some reason they still prefer reading on paper; and to those who have already vowed to forgo tree pulp entirely. As digital texts and technologies become more prevalent, we gain new and more mobile ways of reading—but are we still reading as attentively and thoroughly? How do our brains respond differently to onscreen text than to words on paper? Should we be worried about dividing our attention between pixels and ink or is the validity of such concerns paper-thin?

Since at least the 1980s researchers in many different fields—including psychology, computer engineering, and library and information science—have investigated such questions in more than one hundred published studies. The matter is by no means settled. Before 1992 most studies concluded that people read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screens than on paper. Studies published since the early 1990s, however, have produced more inconsistent results: a slight majority has confirmed earlier conclusions, but almost as many have found few significant differences in reading speed or comprehension between paper and screens. And recent surveys suggest that although most people still prefer paper—especially when reading intensively—attitudes are changing as tablets and e-reading technology improve and reading digital books for facts and fun becomes more common. In the U.S., e-books currently make up between 15 and 20 percent of all trade book sales.

Even so, evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. A parallel line of research focuses on people’s attitudes toward different kinds of media. Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.

“There is physicality in reading,” says developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, “maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading—as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection. I would like to preserve the absolute best of older forms, but know when to use the new.”

Navigating textual landscapes

Understanding how reading on paper is different from reading on screens requires some explanation of how the brain interprets written language. We often think of reading as a cerebral activity concerned with the abstract—with thoughts and ideas, tone and themes, metaphors and motifs. As far as our brains are concerned, however, text is a tangible part of the physical world we inhabit. In fact, the brain essentially regards letters as physical objects because it does not really have another way of understanding them. As Wolf explains in her book Proust and the Squid, we are not born with brain circuits dedicated to reading. After all, we did not invent writing until relatively recently in our evolutionary history, around the fourth millennium B.C. So the human brain improvises a brand-new circuit for reading by weaving together various regions of neural tissue devoted to other abilities, such as spoken language, motor coordination and vision.

Some of these repurposed brain regions are specialized for object recognition—they are networks of neurons that help us instantly distinguish an apple from an orange, for example, yet classify both as fruit. Just as we learn that certain features—roundness, a twiggy stem, smooth skin—characterize an apple, we learn to recognize each letter by its particular arrangement of lines, curves and hollow spaces. Some of the earliest forms of writing, such as Sumerian cuneiform, began as characters shaped like the objects they represented—a person’s head, an ear of barley, a fish. Some researchers see traces of these origins in modern alphabets: C as crescent moon, S as snake. Especially intricate characters—such as Chinese hanzi and Japanese kanji—activate motor regions in the brain involved in forming those characters on paper: The brain literally goes through the motions of writing when reading, even if the hands are empty. Researchers recently discovered that the same thing happens in a milder way when some people read cursive.

Beyond treating individual letters as physical objects, the human brain may also perceive a text in its entirety as a kind of physical landscape. When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text in which meaning is anchored to structure. The exact nature of such representations remains unclear, but they are likely similar to the mental maps we create of terrain—such as mountains and trails—and of man-made physical spaces, such as apartments and offices. Both anecdotally and in published studies, people report that when trying to locate a particular piece of written information they often remember where in the text it appeared. We might recall that we passed the red farmhouse near the start of the trail before we started climbing uphill through the forest; in a similar way, we remember that we read about Mr. Darcy rebuffing Elizabeth Bennett on the bottom of the left-hand page in one of the earlier chapters.

In most cases, paper books have more obvious topography than onscreen text. An open paperback presents a reader with two clearly defined domains—the left and right pages—and a total of eight corners with which to orient oneself. A reader can focus on a single page of a paper book without losing sight of the whole text: one can see where the book begins and ends and where one page is in relation to those borders. One can even feel the thickness of the pages read in one hand and pages to be read in the other. Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there’s a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text.

Link to the rest at Scientific American in 2013

PG notes the date of this extended article, nine years ago, and all of the studies he mentioned would have taken place even earlier than that, given the lead times publications like Scientific American had to deal with as a longer lead-time for its paper publication than many publications do today. Per Wikipedia, the magazine established a paywall for its website in 2019.

PG cannot restrain himself from noting that the magazine owned by Springer Nature, which in turn is a subsidiary of Holtzbrinck Publishing Group.

Holtzbrinck (Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck) is a privately-held company headquartered in Stuttgart. It also owns Big-Five publisher Macmillan and a great many other publications.

Along with another large German publishing conglomerate, Bertelsmann, Holtzbrinck has an embarrassing history of aiding in the publication and distribution of Nazi propaganda during the 1930’s and 1940’s and profited from Jewish slave labor at some of the printing companies that supplied it with books and other publications.

To be fair, none of the present generation of owners and managers are old enough to have participated in those actions, although, there are reports that, during the 1950’s and 60’s, more than one German publishing executive attempted to whitewash previous close relations with various Nazi figures. Various short descriptions of Holtzbrinck recite that it was originally founded as a book club in 1948 which may describe either the present corporate entity or a predecessor, but PG doesn’t know of any postwar book club startups whose sole shareholders were multi-billionaires in the 2000-2010 era.

The controlling owners, Stefan von Holtzbrinck, his brother Dieter and sister Monika Schoeller inherited Holtzbrinck Publishing Group and held it until 2006 when Dieter sold his share to Stefan and Monika who each owned 50% of the company. Monika died in 2019, leaving an estate estimated to be worth $2.2 billion.

To write

To write is human, to edit is divine.

Stephen King

A Bookshelf for All Ages

From Publishers Weekly:

Hey, old people, do you remember the song “I Want a New Drug” by Huey Lewis and the News? Of course you do. Young people: find the video, you might like it.

I bring it up because after nearly a decade of hearing “I like it, but I don’t know what shelf it goes on” about my book Kiya and the Morian Treasure, I want a new shelf. One where parents aren’t nervous wondering what to do. One that makes us read like families used to do. Okay, enough with the song.

Here’s a revelation for some people: the age of the audience is not a genre. When I was pitching Kiya and the Morian Treasure, I spoke with famed science fiction agent Cherry Weiner. Off my pitch, she had requested a full manuscript, which she liked enough call me.

“This is not sci-fi,” she said.

Not sci-fi? It’s Xena: Warrior Princess meets Star Wars. How can that not be sci-fi?

She continued: “It’s not sci-fi, and you don’t want it to be. It’s YA.” She also said she didn’t represent YA, so she was passing on the manuscript. I was devastated for about 30 minutes. That’s when Emmanuelle Morgen called. She also liked it, but saw it more as middle grade. After a round of changes to age my narrator down, we went out with it. Some editors saw it as YA, others saw it as middle grade, depending on whether they identified with the narrator or the subject of her narration. They saw this as a problem. I disagreed.

Target marketing by age has been around long enough that most people think it’s the only way to sell books, but if you take a longer view of commercial art, you’ll see that excluding the majority of your potential audience is a new concept. And by “new,” I mean since the turn of the previous century.

Before radio, movies, television, and the internet split audiences into tiny chunks, there were basically two markets: children and adults. Even at the beginning of these technologies, artists had to create work that would satisfy whomever might receive the signal from the air. Going back even further, when books were expensive to print and buy, one book had to entertain the entire family.

Look at Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo and Three Musketeers. Look at Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Treasure Island. Look at anything by Shakespeare, Dickens, or Twain. They all contain elements that today would get an author the dreaded “I don’t know what shelf it goes on” rejection. These elements include the following:

● Characters of various ages, or the entire lives of characters, not just kids

● Sex being left to what anyone might witness in public

● Age groups being targeted by beats within each story, not the entire work

I said that Kiya and the Morian Treasure is unapologetically Xena: Warrior Princess meets Star Wars. I worked on Xena and saw the numbers: they were equal across all ages. In some markets, the show aired on Saturday afternoons for kids. In others, you could catch it Saturday at midnight for the college crowd.

Publishing might think this is an outlier, but anyone like me, who has worked in film and television since Huey Lewis was big, can tell you it’s typical 8 p.m. programming. If you’d like a trip down memory lane, you can find loads of network TV schedules from the past. Scan them and you’ll also find titles that have become franchises, stories enjoyed by people of all ages—and they aired before 9 p.m.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Rise of Insta-Artists and Insta-Poets

From The Literary Hub:

In April 2014, Amalia Ulman, a recent art school graduate living in Los Angeles, started to upload images of herself to Instagram. Her first image, accompanied by the caption “Excellences & Perfections,” received twenty-eight likes. Over the coming months, Ulman continued to upload selfies documenting her semifictionalized makeover. Some of the images, like the one of her recovery from breast augmentation surgery, were pure fiction.

Others, including those taken at her pole-dancing lessons, reflected things she was actually doing as part of her self-transformation. Like millions of other young women who post selfies on Instagram, Ulman was using the platform to construct a semifictional narrative about herself. Unlike most young women, her carefully curated postings about her life would ultimately be embraced as art.

In a 2015 Art Review article, Eric Morse observed that in Ulman’s Instagram work, eventually titled Excellences & Perfections, “promises of voyeuristic spectacle and salacious confession ignited her account’s real-time fan base and drew mainstream coverage from pop culture glossies like New York Magazinei-D and Dazed and Confused.”

But according to Morse, Ulman didn’t just garner an online following during her durational performance on Instagram. “What continues to fascinate most about Ulman’s progressing oeuvre,” Morse observes, “is not only the vast conceptual net under which she interrogates theories of identity, domesticity and fantasy, but the challenging heterogeneity of disciplines and templates that she engages from exhibition to exhibition—from poetry to design to online performance.”

The critical reception of Ulman’s social media performance work hasn’t always been as positive as Morse’s laudatory review, but it has been copious, and in a content age, quantity is what matters. Ulman clearly understood this, which is why she felt compelled to start producing work about herself online in the first place. As she explained in a 2018 statement in Art Forum, “There is an expectation now that artists should be online and on social media promoting themselves, but that the promotion shouldn’t be the work per se. It felt like a requirement, especially as a woman, to expose oneself to sell the work in a way.”

Ulman’s decision to produce content about herself (not herself as an artist but simply as a young, sexualized woman) ultimately proved wildly successful—more successful than her previous artwork. What her online performance also revealed is that in an age of content, content isn’t just something needed to promote one’s art. Increasingly, content is art or, at least, what has come to stand in for art.

But what does this mean for artists and writers and the broader field of cultural production? If cultural producers are now under immense pressure to produce content—not necessarily about their art or writing but about themselves—is culture itself now nothing more or less than the sum of the content one can produce about their alleged lives as artists or writers? Rather than the “death of the author” heralded by French novelist and philosopher Roland Barthes in the 1960s, are we now witnessing its counterpoint—a cultural sphere where nothing remains but a cult of celebrity being played out on digital platforms?

The field of cultural production in which Ulman and other contemporary artists and writers now work is still partially structured by traditional forms of reception and circulation. In Ulman’s case, reviews of her work in publications such as Art Review and the exhibition of her work at the Tate Modern in London and New Museum in New York City certainly contributed to her success, but neither of these achievements secured her success in the first place. Her ability to gain a foothold in the modern art world was propelled by her willingness to produce content about her life and share it on a social media platform. And Ulman isn’t alone.

Most artists and writers now rely on a similar strategy—or more precisely, content strategy. In the 2020s, if you want to be a successful artist or writer, you don’t necessarily need cultural or social capital or even a preexisting body of art or writing to succeed. What matters most is your content capital.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG is pretty much on the side of anybody who dodges gate-keepers and official taste-makers. The internet continues to flow around the cultural intermediaries that held sway during ancient times.

As Paul Simon wrote many years ago:

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenements halls and whispered in the sounds of silence.

Why men need to read more novels

From GQ:

It’s bedtime, and me and my boyfriend are comparing notes on what we’re reading. I flick through the tomes on his e-reader; it’s science fiction, politics, or politics in space. He’s halfway through Kim Stanley Robinson, following hot on the heels of China Mieville, Vincent Bevins, and Ursula K. Le Guin. He peers over at the pages of my Jane Austen, and wrinkles his nose. “It’s all chitter-chatter.” I ask him to explain what he means. “Well, there’s just a lot of talking.” He hunkers back down with the expanse of Red Mars and leaves me in the drawing rooms of Mansfield Park.

It’s not that he’s a protein-powder-where-a-brain-should-be bro. Indeed, he bears all the hallmarks of a fully reconstructed man: NTS on the radio, bell hooks on the shelf, a yoga membership used at least thrice-weekly. But literary fiction, as opposed to non-fiction, history, or sci-fi, just doesn’t interest him. Why prod the nooks and crannies of the human heart, when you can terraform planets, or dig into the CIA’s murky psy-ops in Indonesia? And he’s not alone. According to Nielsen, despite men famously making up half the population, they only account for 20% of the audience for literary fiction.

Part of this may be down to the changing landscape of authors themselves. In 2000, men made up 61% of the UK’s top selling hardbacks. By 2020, this number fell to 43%. Where straight white men used to dominate bestseller charts and prize shortlists, now it is people of colour, LGBT people and women who are both at the avant-garde of writing and driving sales in stores. Bernardine Evaristo, Paul Beatty, and Anna Burns have been lauded by the Booker committee for their narrative experimentation; meanwhile publishing houses across the country scour the internet for the next Sally Rooney. Commercially successful writing by women is, mercifully, no longer automatically designated as ‘chick-lit’. In recent years, the work of Marian Keyes has been critically reappraised; meanwhile Torrey Peters, and Candice Carty-Williams have garnered both plaudits and decent sales figures. Celebrity authors and those with big fan bases, like Richard Osman and Lee Child, may shift product, but creatively, straight white men haven’t kept up with those who’ve previously been consigned to the margins.

THE LITERARY CANON WILL SURVIVE HAVING TO HEAR MORE FROM ETHNIC MINORITIES, WOMEN, AND QUEER PEOPLE, AND A BIT LESS FROM MIDDLE-AGED UNI PROFESSORS

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t another article bemoaning the dearth of straight white men in contemporary literature. Culture changes faster than politics. Elected leaders look at Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and LGBT rights with hostility and/or befuddlement, but publishers and editors have seized the identitarian moment – also known as identity politics – with all the zeal of the recently converted. Elite tastemakers can’t deliver social equality, but they are attempting to commission a diverse cultural landscape into existence. And I reckon the literary canon will survive having to hear more from ethnic minorities, women, and queer people, and a bit less from middle-aged uni professors lamenting their employer’s updated guidance on sexual harassment.

While the material privileges of race, class, and gender remain stubbornly intact in society, the distribution of visibility has shifted meaning the caucasian Big Dogs of prestige literature can’t present themselves as the universal perspective anymore. Now that minorities and the historically marginalised have a voice in publishing, no one really needs Jonathan Franzen or Martin Amis to speak on behalf of humanity. Who are men when they don’t get to simply claim the status of godlike narrator? Aside from some notable exceptions – Sean Thor Conroe’s Fuccboi being one – male writers who aren’t otherwise talking from a marginalised perspective have largely abandoned the novel as a means to make sense of cultural change. Faced with the challenge of articulating themselves as themselves, it’s like straight white men have given up on the subtleties of literary fiction and said: “Fuck it – I’m doing stand up about cancel culture instead.”

THE CAUCASIAN BIG DOGS OF PRESTIGE LITERATURE CAN’T PRESENT THEMSELVES AS THE UNIVERSAL PERSPECTIVE ANYMORE

Rather than bemoan the loss of the male novelist, as other commentators have done, it might be useful to ask where exactly the male reader of novels has gone – if he even ever existed. Even the male literary titans still clinging on, such as Booker winners Julian Barnes and Yann Martel, have audiences which are 60% female. In truth, despite the historic dominance of men writing literary fiction, the idea of a male reader has been consistently derided throughout history. Even in the novel’s 19th Century heyday, reading fiction was a feminised activity – there was something a bit sexy about women who allowed books to activate their passions (Henry James wrote that one lady’s reputation for reading a lot “hung about her like the cloudy envelope of a goddess in an epic.”)

But men who spend too much time indoors, reading novels and living their lives vicariously through the trials and tribulations of others, were widely considered cucks. A man’s literary interest had to be justified by ambition, linked to his masculine capacity for action, or contextualised in real-world exploration. They wander lonely as clouds, touch the heart of darkness, seek adventure on the road and end up getting dysentery. This gendered division of the imagination endured even through the social and political revolutions of the 20th Century. Karl Ove Knausgaard has spoken of the suffocating weight of gender expectations on his own experience of writing: “It put such doubt in me that I’ve never really recovered from it,” he said to The Observer. “I don’t talk about feelings but I write a lot about feelings. Reading, that’s feminine, writing, that’s feminine. It is insane, it’s really insane but it still is in me.”

Link to the rest at GQ and thanks to T. for the tip.

PG is definitely out of touch with the currents of contemporary society, at least as it exists in London or New York.

And that fact doesn’t bother him one whit.

He doesn’t know whether that sentiment has established itself in his psyche because of not ever caring about what or how they do things in London or New York and he’ll throw in Paris as well, or if there is some deeply-buried part of his brain that’s been adversely wired from birth.

Not everybody has to like serious books. PG likes some very serious books and is less-enamored with others. He read all the classic fiction in high school (not as assigned reading) college (50/50 assigned reading and non-assigned reading plus a dash of Cliff’s Notes) and enjoyed most while feeling so-so about some. He’s read some excellent fiction during the centuries since graduation, some serious, other not so much.

Although he has come to know a lot of authors, PG admits to not remembering the names of the authors for a great deal of the reading he currently does, fiction or non-fiction. He can always look the authors/books up either among his Amazon acquisitions or in his file at the local public library, available online, should he want to read more books they’ve written.

PG has a lot of very intelligent personal friends of various genders, but he doesn’t tend to talk about fiction with them. He’s happy to do so if they want to talk about fiction, but mostly they want to talk about other things.

And finally, PG has never read a book because he wants to impress anyone either positively or negatively and doesn’t think he would enjoy associating with someone who does.

PS: PG and Mrs. PG do talk about books quite a lot, but Mrs. PG is long-past judging PG by what he reads or doesn’t.

Making History

From The Wall Street Journal:

History offers no promise of an answer or a happy ending. There is not even a promise of a happy beginning: The further back we go, the less we have to go on. Worst of all, a historian cannot make anything up, but must still make everything into a story. No wonder historians tend to avoid historiography, writing about how history is written. It would give the game away.

Richard Cohen’s “Making History” is a substantial, ambitious and consistently readable inquiry into the history of history. His search for how the historical sausage gets made leads him to examine the biographies of the butchers, from Herodotus (the “father of history,” Cicero said, the “father of lies,” Plutarch said) to Nikole Hannah-Jones (the mother of more recent inventions in “The 1619 Project”). Academics may object that biography is vulgar, like writing for money, but the approach of Mr. Cohen, a longtime London book editor, has the weight of history behind it. Character always was destiny. “It is not histories we are writing, but Lives,” Plutarch wrote in the early 2nd century. The characters of the past, and the stories we tell ourselves about them, shape our present and future.

We are, Mr. Cohen writes, in a “golden age” of history writing. For most of human existence, the recording of the past has been “sacred history,” propaganda put forth by a priestly caste or authorities who claimed to rule by divine right—or, sometimes, simply to be divine. History as we know it—honest and free inquiry across the disciplines—has, he argues, only been possible in two epochs. The first was the founding era of the Greeks and the Romans. The second is ours, the era initiated in 1520, when Pope Leo X commissioned Niccolò Machiavelli to write a “History of Florence.” Homer uses histor to mean a “good judge.” A historian’s judgment is impaired when a theological thumb is on the scales—but is the judgment of secular historians any better?

Historians can be divided into followers of Herodotus (c. 485-425 B.C.) and Thucydides (c. 460-395 B.C.). The Herodotus of “Histories” is a storyteller—“the world’s first travel writer, investigative reporter, and foreign correspondent”—and his eye for local color can lead him astray. Team Herodotus is made up of bold synthesizers, and can sometimes play fast and loose with the sources. Cicero acclaimed Herodotus but lumped him with Theopompus, a later Greek historian who was, Mr. Cohen notes, “a notorious liar.”

Team Thucydides starts from scratch, trying not to let a good story get in the way of the facts. Thucydides was a nobleman and a general, and a generation younger than Herodotus. He fought against the Spartans, was blamed for a defeat and found himself exiled with time on his hands. In “The Peloponnesian War,” Mr. Cohen writes, he “developed the art of war reporting almost overnight.” If the hero of “Histories” is Herodotus himself, the hero of “The Peloponnesian War” is Pericles, the Athenian leader who recites Thucydides’ pile-driving rhetoric. Thucydides speaks over our heads, to posterity. He is an analyst, not an entertainer, and the founder of international relations theory. “His dry parts,” Lord Macaulay rued, “are dreadfully dry.”

The Roman empire mass-produced history like its Greek precedecessors, but Roman historians were more than imitators. For Team Thucydides, Polybius dismissed “sensational descriptions,” advised historians to “record with fidelity what actually happened,” preferably from eyewitness accounts, and developed the highly influential cyclical theory of history. For Team Herodotus, Livy added moral example to entertainment. A witness to Rome’s transition from republic to empire, Livy condemns the present by implied comparison to the past. The greatness of the past is ethical—legends of “patriotic heroism and self-sacrifice”—but also a matter of scale. Livy, Mr. Cohen writes, has the heart of a “tabloid journalist” reporting tall tales about “weeping statues; downpours of blood, stones, or meat; monstrous births; and a talking cow.”

The author endorses Petrarch’s opinion that the thousand years after the Roman historians were saeculum obscurum, a “dark age.” Both Christians and Muslims subordinated inquiry to dogma; the revival of Greek-style history in Florence rather than Constantinople, and the repression of free inquiry under Islam, were not foregone conclusions. In the 14th century, while Boccaccio was reduced to tears at the neglect of manuscripts in monastery storerooms, Ibn Khaldun wrote the “Muqaddimah,” the first “systematic social analysis” whose search for the “inner meaning of history” anticipated Hegel. Team Herodotus, meanwhile, struggled on with the Christian chroniclers of the new European nations: Froissart on the chivalric slaughters of the Crusades, Geoffrey of Monmouth on the mythical origins of the English.

Machiavelli’s revival of the Greek method was a heresy. The “History of Florence,” Mr. Cohen writes, is “the first modern analytical study.” The first to judge without religious bias, it marks “a turning away from a God-centered universe toward a man-centered one, in which the heavenly returns of virtuous behavior were no longer seen as a safe bet.” The pursuit of earthly rewards did not uniformly ennoble the modern historians: Many of them pursued the situational morality that Machiavelli advised in “The Prince.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Should be a free link, sorry if it doesn’t work for you.)

The most effective way to destroy

The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.

George Orwell

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

George Orwell, 1984

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.

George Orwell, 1984

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

George Orwell, 1984

Orwell’s Humor

From City Journal:

We don’t easily think of George Orwell as a comic writer. We also don’t think of him principally as a writer of novels, though he wrote six, including Animal Farm and 1984, the books that earned him enduring fame. The novel as a form claims a degree of irresponsibility or disinterestedness inconsistent with our idea of the man who created Room 101.

Orwell’s two comic novels of the 1930s, Keep The Aspidistra Flying (1936) and Coming Up For Air (1939), remind us of how essential the satiric impulse was to his anti-totalitarianism. And though they were published only three years apart, they show his progression, as England prepared for war with Germany, toward the dire seer of 1984.

Maybe our trouble accepting Orwell as a humorist begins with his face. The George Orwell that looks back at us from book jackets is dour and serious, wearing sturdy gray and brown wools under a face long and grave, ascetically thin, and burdened by unwelcome knowledge. This is the iconic, global Orwell, the one read by dissidents in Burma and Iran. Of course, Orwell was serious, in the ultimate sense of preferring grim reality to comforting illusion. He credited himself with a crucial “power of facing unpleasant facts.”

Orwell was suspicious of pleasure and especially of ease. The pivotal decision of his life was to decline the scholarship to Oxford that would have gained him admission to England’s elite in favor of an especially unpromising post as a colonial police officer in Burma. The choices he made after that—to live a tramp’s life, “down and out” on the streets of Paris and London; to fight for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War; and ultimately to turn against his former comrades on the Stalinist left—all seem like a coda to the first.

As a counterweight to this flinty integrity, humor was essential to Orwell, not merely as a form of relief but as an aspect of his realism. His writings on tea are a comic compendium in themselves. He was terribly serious about tea (“tea is one of the mainstays of civilization in this country”), which he understood was funny, in the manner of any trivial obsession. He was perfectly willing to die for the Spanish Republic and nearly did, but he took great pains (or caused his wife to take them) to see that he got decent tea sent to the front. Fifteen years later, as he lay dying of tuberculosis in a London hospital, his final gift from his friend, Paul Potts, was a single packet that Orwell didn’t live to consume. In “A Nice Cup of Tea,” he affects a schoolmasterly rigidity about its proper preparation, writing with an irony so light that it is easily missed. (“These are not the only controversial points to arise in connection with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become.”) It’s a complex kind of humor, both alert to and tolerant of human eccentricity—what one is tempted to call the humor of democratic liberalism, except that it is abundant in Russian literature, too. It is the humor that celebrates the part of us the state can never reach.

Fittingly, Gordon Comstock’s inability, without Philbyish deceptions, to serve himself a cup of tea in his room, a practice forbidden by his landlady, is the most striking of his humiliations in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Orwell’s semi-autobiographical novel of genteel literary poverty:

Gordon went to the door, pushed it ajar, and listened. No sound of Mrs. Wisbeach. You had to be very careful; she was quite capable of sneaking upstairs and catching you in the act. This tea-making was the major household offense, next to bringing a woman in.

 “Don’t you see that a man’s whole personality is bound up with his income?” he asks her. “His personality is his income. How can you be attractive to a girl when you’ve got no money?”

Gordon hates the well-turned-out young men who come into the bookshop, “Those moneyed young beasts who glide so gracefully from Cambridge to the literary reviews.” Poverty insinuates itself into every aspect of his life, partly because Gordon, with his poet’s sensitivity, is so permeable. He is that type of tireless complainer who takes everything personally. “In a country like England,” he acidly observes, “you can no more be cultured without money than you can join the Cavalry Club.”

Link to the rest at City Journal

God Has a Beautiful Mansion for Me Elsewhere

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

On December 10, 1825, the fifty-year-old English lawyer Henry Crabb Robinson attended a dinner at the home of his friend Charles Aders, a London businessman. Eliza, Aders’ wife, was a painter and printmaker, and she had invited a few artist and engraver friends to the party. Over the course of the evening Robinson became increasingly fascinated by one of the guests—an elderly, relatively unknown poet and painter by the name of William Blake, whose conversation casually roamed from the polite and mundane to the beatific and fantastic.

Blake was short, pale, and a little overweight, with the accent of a lifelong Londoner. He was dressed in old-fashioned, threadbare clothes and his gray trousers were shiny at the front through wear. His large, strong eyes didn’t seem to fit with his soft, round face. Robinson noted in his diary that he had “an expression of great sweetness, but bordering on weakness—except when his features are animated by expression, and then he has an air of inspiration about him.”

For all his wild notions and heretical statements, Blake was pleasant company and easy to like. The aggressive and hectoring voice of his writings was not the Blake those who met him recall. Many years later, another guest at that party, Maria Denman, remarked, “One remembers even in age the kindness of such a man.”

What made Blake so fascinating was the casual way in which he talked about his relationship with the spirit world. Blake, Robinson wrote, “spoke of his paintings as being what he had seen in his visions—and when he said ‘my visions’ it was in the ordinary unemphatic tone in which we speak of trivial matters that everyone understands and cares nothing about.” Blake peppered his conversation with remarks about his relationship with various angels, the nature of the devil, and his visionary meetings with historical figures such as Socrates, Milton, and Jesus Christ. Somehow, he did this in a way that people found endearing rather than disturbing. As Robinson wrote, “There is a natural sweetness and gentility about Blake which are delightful. And when he is not referring to his visions he talks sensibly and acutely.”

Robinson walked home with Blake that night and was so struck by the conversation that he spent the evening transcribing as much of it as he could remember. The two men became friends, and Robinson’s diary is an invaluable record of how Blake acted and thought during the last two years of his life. “Shall I call him Artist or Genius—or Mystic—or Madman?” Robinson mused that first night. He spent the rest of their relationship attempting to come up with a definite answer. “Probably he is all” was the best he could find.

. . . .

A week after the party, Robinson made his first visit to Blake’s home at Fountain Court in the Strand, where he lived with his wife, Catherine. The building itself has long since gone, but it was roughly where the Savoy Hotel now stands. Robinson was unprepared for the level of poverty in which the couple were living. “I found him in a small room, which seems to be both a working room and a bedroom,” he wrote. “Nothing could exceed the squalid air both of the apartment and his dress, but in spite of dirt—I might say filth—an air of natural gentility is diffused over him.”

This was the second of the two rooms that the Blakes rented on the first floor of the building. The first was a wood-paneled reception room, which doubled as an unofficial gallery for Blake’s drawings and paintings. The second, at the rear, was reserved for everything else. In one corner was the bed, and in the other was the fire on which Catherine Blake cooked. There was one table for meals, and another on which Blake worked. From here he looked out of the southern-facing window, where a glimpse of the Thames could be seen between the buildings and streets that ran down to the river. This sliver of water would often catch the sun and appear golden. Behind it, the Surrey Hills stretched into the distance. For all the evident poverty, visitors spoke of the rooms as enchanted. As one later recalled, “There was a strange expansion and sensation of freedom in those two rooms very seldom felt elsewhere.”

Blake, Robinson remembered, was “quite unembarrassed when he begged me to sit down, as if he were in a palace. There was but one chair in the room besides that on which he sat. On my putting my hand to it, I found that it would have fallen to pieces if I had lifted it, so, as if I had been a sybarite, I said with a smile, ‘Will you let me indulge myself?’ and I sat on the bed, and near him, and during my short stay there was nothing in him that betrayed that he was aware of what to other persons might have been even offensive, not in his person, but in all about him.”

“I live in a hole here, but God has a beautiful mansion for me elsewhere,” Blake once said. He knew that he was pitied by the occasional prosperous artist who visited, but he thought that it was he who should be pitying them. “I possess my visions and peace,” he argued. “They have bartered their birthright for a mess of pottage.” Robinson was struck on that first visit by how at ease the Blakes seemed with their poverty. “I should be sorry if I had any earthly fame, for whatever natural glory a man has is so much detracted from his spiritual glory,” Blake told him. Despite how the world had treated him he was quite happy, he insisted, because he wanted nothing other than to live for art and had no desire to do anything for profit. But as Robinson also noted, “Though he spoke of his happiness, he spoke of past sufferings, and of sufferings as necessary. ‘There is suffering in heaven, for where there is the capacity of enjoyment, there is the capacity of pain.’ ”

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake, The Tyger, 1794
Blake’s Ancient of Days, 1794