New York City

Chapter 1.
He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion…no, make that: he – he romanticized it all out of proportion. Yeah. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.’

Uh, no let me start this over.

Chapter 1.
He was too romantic about Manhattan, as he was about everything else. He thrived on the hustle bustle of the crowds and the traffic. To him, New York meant beautiful women and street-smart guys who seemed to know all the angles…’.

Ah, corny, too corny for my taste. Can we … can we try and make it more profound?

Chapter 1.
He adored New York City. For him, it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. The same lack of individual integrity that caused so many people to take the easy way out was rapidly turning the town of his dreams in…’

No, that’s going to be too preachy. I mean, you know, let’s face it, I want to sell some books here.

Chapter 1.
He adored New York City, although to him it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. How hard it was to exist in a society desensitized by drugs, loud music, television, crime, garbage…’

Too angry, I don’t want to be angry.

Chapter 1.
He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat.’

I love this.

‘New York was his town, and it always would be.”

Woody Allen

So, how are the various social media platforms doing?

From Chuck Wendig:

So, how are the various social media platforms doing? Are they worth your time as a person, as a writer, as seven possums in a trenchcoat? Given that community and audience are both found and earned through these social networks, I figure it’s worth taking a gander at them again as I’ve done a number of times over the last year — in part because the social media landscape has broken into a number of little islands thanks to various tectonic shifts beneath the internet crust and we’re all just trying to find a place to rest our digital heads at night. Also in part because, as a writer, I need to find not just a place to HAWK MY WORDY WARES, which is of dubious value, but rather a place where I can meet writers and readers and agents and publishing folks and bookstore people and in general contribute to a larger, greater, cooler bookish ecosystem.

That said, as always, this is all purely my perspective. It is zero percent useful wisdom and one hundred percent just some bullshit that passed through my head like a cloud of stupid. I am not to be listened to. I’m just some jackass with a blog. Proceed with that situational awareness.


So, to jump to the start, I’m on Threads now.

It’s fine!

That’s more or less my capsule review. It’s fine! It’s fine. It’s fine.

Some general thoughts about it:

a) It’s obviously tied to Instagram and Facebook and therefore is tied to Zuckerberg which is bad and not good. No, it’s not awesome having to pick your social media platform based on which billionaire sociopath upsets you the least? But it is what it is, I guess. Our choices in life do not always amount to great ones, woefully.

b) If you want the place where the celebrities, the brands, the media outlets, are all going, it’s probably there. It’s got a big crowd — a lot of transfers over from Instagram, I guess? Despite the big crowd I don’t think it feels that peppy as yet. I can’t actually tell how many people I’m following (?) but it seems like a good group. That said, I do see a lot more general activity happening on Bluesky. Still, Threads is not precisely quiet, either, and even in the week since I’ve joined it looks to have picked up a bit.

c) There is a “who you follow” feed, which appears to present the posts of your followed accounts in the order they are posted. But it defaults to an algorithmic FYP feed, which shows a random disgorgement of… I mean, I assume it’s whatever the Insane Robot That Governs The Place wants you to see. It definitely seems to prioritize verified accounts over non-verified.

d) There does seem to be a pretty good bookish crowd of writers and readers.

e) The vibe there is… I dunno, is it wrong if I say, Ruby Tuesdays? Applebees? Like, if Twitter is currently your local Nazi Bar, and Bluesky is your local Eclectic Diner, this definitely feels like a popular-but-functional chain restaurant. People are having a nice enough time and it feels pretty reliable. It’s the “Hey, let’s go to Chili’s” variant of social media. Sometimes, you want that, and that’s okay, no shame.

f) The one thing I like about it in theory but not in practice is the granularity of how you can see your engagement — there’s All, Follows, Replies, Mentions, Quotes, Reposts, Verified, Dunks, Trolls, Posts By People Who Don’t Know What They’re Talking About But Probably Mean Well, Devil’s Advocates, Robots, Dog Photos, Replies From Stalkers, and People Who Still Think NFTs Are Cool. Or something like that. Point is, it’s definitely more granular but… I also don’t feel like each tab works great, and I’m really not seeing a lot of actually existing replies, and the overall GUI of those pages feels noisy and hard for me to parse, for some reason. That might just be me, though.

So, it’s fine! I don’t hate it. I don’t yet love it. It exists and I’m using it and have found some value there and in part that value is finding friends who are using it, too. Which is nice. I wasn’t going to join it but… real talk, writing is a lonely gig and sometimes you want to feel like there’s a room you can go into and hear some voices. Further, publishing is in a place where it’s still not sure exactly how to navigate the shattered social media landscape, and as much as I hate to say it, that means it’s (yet again) on writers to actually carve out their spaces and — well, we’re all just trying to either not die in the abyss or, at the very least, find other people dying in the abyss with us so we can commiserate with one another as we sink softly into the pudding of oblivion.

(Also, The Pudding of Oblivion is my next next novel, out in 2026.)

At the very least, Threads is not Twitter.

. . . .


I continue to not be on there or literally see anything that happens there and I’m probably better for it, and you’re probably better not seeing me there, and I think that’s a good decision we’re all making. I do understand that BookTok is currently *checks notes* kind of in control of publishing, whether it realizes it or not, and as such, I guess I should probably be there and be paying attention? At the same time, I can’t control it, and I suspect it would just cause my brain to swell up like an overfed tick and then it would pop and there’d be anxious brain goo everywhere. So, again, I remain here. Without the Tiks or the Toks to keep me warm at night.

. . . .


If you need to know what your racist aunt or that guy from high school is up to, Facebook is your jam. I dunno. It seems to throttle links now and ennh. I use it as a walled garden to keep up with family and friends, that’s it.

Link to the rest at Chuck Wendig

Publishers Launch Weeklong #ReadPalestine Campaign

From Publishers Weekly:

Publishers for Palestine, a coalition of more than 350 publishers from around the world, has organized a weeklong campaign called #ReadPalestine, held November 29–December 5, during which participating publishers are offering free ebooks by Palestinian authors and about Palestinian history and culture.

More than 30 ebooks are free to download throughout #ReadPalestine week, timed to coincide with the U.N.’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The titles include fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and are available in eight languages. Among the titles on offer are Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear by poet Mosab Abu Toha (City Lights Books), Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer by journalist Phyllis Bennis (Interlink Books), and Hamas: From Resistance to Regime by historian Paola Caridi and translated by Andrea Teti (Seven Stories Press).

. . . .

The campaign encourages indie bookstores and libraries to participate in #ReadPalestine week through book displays and social media posts, and for readers to share their favorite books by Palestinian authors and about Palestine with the hashtag #ReadPalestine.

Publishers for Palestine was established earlier this month, publishing a statement of solidarity on November 3. The letter called for “an end to all violence against Palestinian people” and invited “publishers, and those who work in publishing industries around the world who stand for justice, freedom of expression, and the power of the written word, to sign this letter and join our global solidarity collective.”

. . . .

“Publishing, for us, is the exercise of freedom, cultural expression, and resistance,” the letter continued. “As publishers we are dedicated to creating spaces for creative and critical Palestinian voices and for all who stand in solidarity against imperialism, Zionism, and settler-colonialism. We defend our right to publish, edit, distribute, share, and debate works that call for Palestinian liberation without recrimination. We know that this is our role in the resistance.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has no patience for any form of anti-semitism. From the date of Israel’s founding, when it was attacked by seven neighboring Arab nations, to today, when the worst sort of anti-Semitism is generated constantly by much of the Arab world, none of Israel’s neighbors regards a period of peace as anything more than a pause to replace their dead soldiers and rearm for the next attack.

The anti-Semitism of today is a direct descendant of the Nazi death camps and gas chambers.

For PG, Exhibit A of the steepening decline in values in America’s higher education system is the rise in the number of students and professors who are joining in the anti-Semitic campaign of hate for Jews.

With regard to the OP, a great many talented Jewish executives, editors, and authors were deeply involved in the growth and development of New York publishing during the 20th Century. The “publishers” supporting the “global solidarity collective” that is encouraging the Arab slaughtering of Israelis in their beds and the dismembering of Israeli children is proof that they have lost any sense of decency and are beneath contempt.

That the publishers participating in this disgusting campaign while claiming the “right” to be free of recrimination upsets PG even more. As the publishers might say, “Words have consequences.”

You Can’t Unsubscribe From Grief

From Electric Lit:

Replying All on the Death Announcement Email

On New Year’s Day, I got an email from an old writer friend announcing plans to end her life. Her life was already ending. This expedited ending-of-life had been approved by a medical professional. She was electing to die with dignity. Her death was scheduled for the following day. Like a hair appointment or a visit to the dentist.

It wasn’t an email directly to me. I subscribe to her newsletter.

Farewell, the subject line read. That was her voice. Grand and direct. There was no beating around the bush. Happy New Year! the email began and then: I’m planning to end my life.

After I closed the email, I tried to stop thinking about her, but that night, on the eve of when I knew she was going to die, I couldn’t sleep. I googled her name, read every article that appeared on my screen. Read all the hits that weren’t actually about her. The ones with her name crossed out that the algorithm insisted were relevant. Maybe it knew something I didn’t.

I read about all the diseases I was probably suffering from that had nothing to do with her (or the disease that was killing her), I read about all the new diet trends that would shed my hips of love handles (I hadn’t seen her since she got sick, but in her last photo she was rail thin), I read about a minor celebrity cheating on another minor celebrity and then them reconciling and then them breaking up and then them getting back together again (she loved the thrill of gossip)—I read everything in the hopes of catching a glimpse of my soon-to-be dead old writer friend.

A week later, I got an email from a literary magazine announcing the death of its co-founder. I did not know its co-founder. I just subscribed to the newsletter.

I read the announcement from the literary magazine as if it were the announcement of the death of my old writer friend because after she died, I didn’t receive such an email. Because she was not here to write one. Or to send one. Though she could’ve scheduled one. Which is a thought I’ve had more than once since her death. Why didn’t she do that? That would’ve felt so like her. Not so fast, it might’ve read. I’m still here.

After the newsletter announcing the death of the literary magazine co-founder, my inbox was flooded.

I am so sorry to hear this. May you and yours find comfort. Keep him close to your heart.

I didn’t email anyone when my old writer friend died because it felt like I didn’t know her well enough. We met at a writing residency in Wyoming in 2016. We watched the presidential election together: I baked cookies, she bought liquor. We only inhabited the same space for a handful of weeks. So, how can I justify the vacuum suck of losing her?

The day after the election, we sat at a kitchen table and talked about our bodies. About who they belonged to. About culpability. I remember us disagreeing. The strangeness of feeling so connected to each other and then realizing, suddenly, that we may not actually know each other.  

I cannot keep the literary magazine co-founder close to my heart because I did not know him at all.

Life is eternal! Your memories are the tap that keeps him living!

I think my old writer friend would’ve liked the idea of tapping a memory, like a keg or a maple tree.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

If Books Could Kill

From Wikipedia:

If Books Could Kill is a podcast hosted by Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri about popular nonfiction books about ideas in American culture and politics. It is based around criticising bestselling nonfiction books of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Books featured on the podcast include Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama.

. . . .

If Books Could Kill is hosted by Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri. Hobbes is a journalist known for hosting You’re Wrong About with Sarah Marshall (until 2021) and Maintenance Phase with Aubrey Gordon. Shamshiri was previously known for his hosting the podcast 5-4, along with Rhiannon Hamam and Michael Liroff.

The show targets “airport books”, popular nonfiction books often marketed as pop science or smart thinking that might be found in airport bookshops, which Hobbes describes as “the superspreader events of American stupidity”. Each episode is dedicated to the discussion of a single book, along with the book’s wider cultural influence. The hosts focus on flawed arguments, poor uses of data, factual errors, and the drawing of unsound conclusions or overgeneralizations. They often take a comic tone and will poke fun at the books and their authors.

. . . .


No.Book featuredBook authorRelease date
1FreakonomicsSteven D. Levitt and Stephen J. DubnerNovember 2, 2022
2OutliersMalcolm GladwellNovember 10, 2022
3Bobos in ParadiseDavid BrooksNovember 17, 2022
4The GameNeil StraussDecember 1, 2022
5The Population BombPaul R. Ehrlich and Anne Howland EhrlichDecember 15, 2022
6The SecretRhonda ByrneJanuary 12, 2023
7Men Are From Mars, Women Are From VenusJohn GrayJanuary 26, 2023
8The End of History and the Last ManFrancis FukuyamaFebruary 9, 2023
9The Clash of CivilizationsSamuel P. HuntingtonFebruary 28, 2023
10The Coddling of the American MindGreg Lukianoff and Jonathan HaidtMarch 9, 2023
11Hillbilly ElegyJ. D. VanceMarch 23, 2023
12Rich Dad Poor DadRobert KiyosakiApril 6, 2023
13The 5 Love LanguagesGary ChapmanApril 20, 2023
14NudgeRichard H. Thaler and Cass R. SunsteinMay 4, 2023
15May 19, 2023
16The World Is FlatThomas FriedmanJune 1, 2023
17Atomic HabitsJames ClearJune 15, 2023
18The RulesEllen Fein and Sherrie SchneiderJune 29, 2023
19Liberal FascismJonah GoldbergJuly 27, 2023
20God and Man at YaleWilliam F. BuckleySeptember 7, 2023
21The 4-Hour WorkweekTim FerrissSeptember 21, 2023
22San FransickoMichael ShellenbergerOctober 19, 2023
23The 48 Laws of PowerRobert GreeneNovember 2, 2023

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

Webtoons and Webcomics Keep Scrolling into Print

From Publishers Weekly:

Forget swiping right. Online comics are racking up readers, and the test of success is how far readers will scroll on down.

As demand for graphic novels remains strong, especially in middle grade and YA categories, publishers are turning to popular digital platforms to scout for turn-key titles.

Much of the webcomics buzz is driven by the success of South Korean–based global comics platform Webtoon, which bills itself as the world’s largest webcomics community. Launched in 2005, Webtoon has dominated the scene to such a degree that it’s become common to refer to all comics presented in the platform’s smartphone-friendly vertical-scrolling format as webtoons.

In 2022, Webtoon launched Webtoon Unscrolled, a U.S.-based imprint designed to bring many of the site’s most popular English-language series into print for the North American market. The trio of launch titles (True BeautyTower of God, and Cursed Princess Club) together sold-in more than 200,000 copies in the imprint’s first six months, according to the publisher.

Unscrolled plans to publish 20 ongoing series by the end of 2024, including Lumine by Emma Krogell, a fantasy about the adventures of a runaway werewolf and a witch boy, and the Eisner-Award nominated Third Shift Society by Meredith Moriarty, in which a psychically gifted but broke young woman finds work as a paranormal detective.

“As someone who did superhero comics for 35 years of my career, it’s wonderful to be on the creator-owned side,” says Bobbie Chase, executive editor of Webtoon Unscrolled, referring to the fact that the Webtoon platform allows the writers and cartoonists behind series to retain their intellectual property. The phenomenon of webtoons has, she adds, driven new voices to publish with “first-time creators producing smash hits out of the gate.”

Webtoon’s readership skews young and female. Almost half of the site’s creators are women, and many of the top series are by female or nonbinary creators. Chase notes that while romance comics rose to the top in the early years of the original Korean platform, the English-language version of Webtoon boasts a broader mix of genres, including fantasy, science fiction, and horror. (For more on the enduring popularity of romance comics, see “Readers Swoon for Webtoons,”).

Because Webtoon comics are creator owned, authors and artists are free to sign with other publishers, as well. Rachel Smythe’s mythological fantasy romance Lore Olympus, one of the biggest English-language properties on Webtoon, was first published by Del Rey at Penguin Random House. PRH recently made the bestselling series the flagship title of its new Inklore imprint.

Though Inklore isn’t exclusively focused on webcomics, it plans to publish several web-to-print titles, including series from South Korea and Japan, such as My Love Story with Yamada-kun at Lv999 by Mashiro (Apr. 2024) and Cherry Blossoms After Winter by Bamwoo (Nov. 2024).

Doing it for the fans

Inklore editorial director Rebecca “Tay” Taylor describes the imprint’s audience as in the 18–35 age range and largely female, and often seeking LGBTQ content. “They’re reading romantasy, they’re reading BL [boys’ love], they’re reading horror,” she says. “Basically, anyone who’s reading or writing fan fiction on AO3 [the fanfiction megasite Archive of Our Own]—that’s our audience.”

Taylor observes that these readers “haven’t been catered to by traditional publishing… so they’ve created the content they wanted to see in webcomics, fan fiction, and fan art. And they are legion.”

Online comics are “one of the fastest-growing categories out there,” according to Michael Petranek, editorial director at Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. Graphix’s web-to-print titles include the Prism Award–winning Magical Boy by The Kao (out now), about a trans boy who fights evil Sailor Moon–style, and Rainbow! by Angel and Sunny Gloom (Mar. 2024), in which a neurodivergent teenager tries to find love. Both first ran on Tapas, one of Webtoon’s biggest rivals.

Emilia Rhodes, HarperCollins Children’s Books editorial director, says the decision to publish UnOrdinary by uru-chan, a superhero series from Webtoon, arose from “organic enthusiasm” she picked up from colleagues. (Volume two will be released in July 2024 from HarperAlley.) “A bunch of younger editors at the office were obsessing,” she adds, “and they totally turned me on to it.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

What Sleeping With Jane Eyre Taught Me About Pacing

From Jane Friedman:

I’ve been sleeping with Jane Eyre, lately—courtesy of The Sleepy Bookshelf, a podcast designed to help me snooze.

Except it’s been keeping me awake.

I’ve loved this classic since childhood, every reread captivating me as if for the first time.

But it soon became clear that I was sharing my bed not so much with Jane, as with Charlotte Brontë herself. Listening to the novel has been showing me things I had missed on the page—the first-person narrative drawing me in so close I could almost believe it was memoir—and night after night I’ve been reveling in a writing-craft class led by the venerated author.

One such class addresses a storytelling weakness that shows up a lot in my writing and editing practice: high-tension scenes that rush to their finish with the speed of a bullet train.

Brontë’s talent for keeping readers on tenterhooks reminds me of Matthew Dicks and his hourglass technique, which he shares in Storyworthy (entire book, so good!).

Going too fast is one of the biggest mistakes storytellers make, Dicks says. When you arrive at the moment readers have been waiting for, “It’s time to slow things down. Grind them to a halt when possible.”

Consider the properties of an hourglass: the upper chamber containing story still to be told. No grain of sand before its time. All flowing inexorably to the same destination.

In one of my favorite scenes (spoilers ahead), Jane Eyre returns to Thornfield Hall after a year of yearning, desperate to clap eyes on her great love, Mr. Rochester, whom she fled upon learning at the altar that he was already married.

As she approaches the Hall, I itch to press fast-forward. Would he be there? Would they helplessly reunite, or would her moral restraint prevail? Had I been turning pages, I’d be reading very fast indeed—which is what readers do when narrative tension flames through the roof. How else to defend against an author’s merciless manipulation?

But because I was forced to listen and wait, I caught Brontë in the act of tipping the hourglass—again and again.

She sends Jane on four separate journeys to find Mr. Rochester, starting with a 36-hour coach ride from her home to Rochester Inn—ample time for reader anxiety to flare. Rather than simply asking the innkeeper for news of her lost love, Jane prolongs hope by walking the remaining two miles to the Hall.

It is a walk designed to drive the reader to the edge of endurance.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

The Queen of Romance in AI

PG promises this is the last of today’s AI writing posts.

Prompt: Provide a fictional plot outline in Danielle Steel’s style and themes.


Title: “Shadows of Yesterday”

Plot Outline:

  1. Setting and Introduction:
    • The story unfolds in modern-day New York City.
    • Introduce the protagonist, Isabella, a young, ambitious, and successful magazine editor facing personal and professional challenges.
  2. Isabella’s Background:
    • Isabella comes from a wealthy, but emotionally distant family.
    • Flashbacks reveal her struggles with her demanding and critical mother, shaping her relentless drive for perfection.
  3. Career Challenges:
    • Isabella is up for a major promotion, but faces stiff competition and workplace politics.
    • Her professional life is a whirlwind of high-profile events, glamorous parties, and celebrity interviews, masking her inner turmoil.
  4. Romantic Entanglements:
    • Isabella’s love life is complicated, caught between a comfortable but unexciting relationship with a longtime friend and a passionate, unpredictable affair with a charismatic entrepreneur.
  5. Family Crisis:
    • A sudden family tragedy forces Isabella to reevaluate her life choices.
    • She returns home to confront unresolved issues with her family, particularly her mother.
  6. Self-Discovery and Growth:
    • Through these trials, Isabella embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
    • She begins to understand the importance of balance in life and starts to question her relentless pursuit of success.
  7. New Love Interest:
    • Amidst her personal growth, Isabella meets a new love interest – someone who challenges her perspectives and offers a more authentic and supportive relationship.
  8. Climactic Decision:
    • Faced with a pivotal career decision, Isabella must choose between her lifelong ambition and a chance at genuine happiness.
    • This decision is complicated by a surprise revelation related to her family’s past.
  9. Resolution:
    • Isabella makes a bold decision that prioritizes her personal happiness and true self over societal expectations.
    • The story concludes with her embarking on a new path, finding a balance between her career ambitions and personal life.
  10. Themes:
    • The narrative weaves through themes of self-discovery, the complexity of family dynamics, the pursuit of success, and the search for love and personal fulfillment.
    • It highlights the often difficult choices women face in balancing career, family, and romance.

This fictional outline is inspired by Danielle Steel’s style, known for her emotionally rich stories that explore family, relationships, and personal growth set against the backdrop of contemporary life. The plot combines elements of romance, drama, and self-discovery, typical of Steel’s bestselling novels

End of ChatGPT4

Since PG is not an expert on the works of Ms. Steel, he’ll leave comments on the accuracy of the plot outline to those who are.

For PG, this series of “Provide a fictional plot outline in (well-known author’s) style and themes” AI experiments is the first indication that AI might be a potentially-useful tool for authors.

It strikes him that AI might be helpful for beginning authors writing in various genres. PG checked the Romance Writers of America website and this is part of what he found:

The Basics

Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there’s a romance novel waiting for you!


Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. 

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as they want as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. 

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction. 

The same types of expected elements can be found in all the genre fiction that floats into PG’s mind – fantasy, sci-fi, YA, horror, mysteries, etc. His is impression from his personal AI experiments is that one of the things AI can do is generate some interesting ideas for rules-based subjects.

Hemingway Revived

After his AI experience with Zadie Smith, PG decided to try something similar with a dead author.

Prompt: Provide a fictional plot outline in Ernest Hemingway’s style and themes.

ChatGPT4 Response:

Title: “The Unyielding Current”

Plot Outline:

  1. Setting and Introduction:

    • The story is set in the mid-20th century, primarily in a small fishing village on the coast of Cuba.
    • Introduce the protagonist, Santiago, an aging and experienced fisherman, stoic and introspective.
  2. Santiago’s Struggle:

    • Santiago has been experiencing a prolonged streak of bad luck, having not caught a significant fish for weeks.
    • This struggle is a point of gossip among the villagers, though Santiago remains determined and uncomplaining.
  3. Man vs. Nature:

    • Santiago embarks on a fishing trip alone, determined to break his unlucky streak.
    • He ventures farther out to sea than usual, showcasing his knowledge and respect for the ocean.
  4. The Great Marlin:

    • Santiago hooks a massive marlin, beginning a multi-day struggle between man and nature.
    • This battle is not just physical but also a mental and existential one, reflecting Santiago’s deep contemplation of life and his place in the world.
  5. Santiago’s Reflections:

    • As the struggle with the marlin continues, Santiago reflects on his past, his triumphs and losses, and the nature of existence.
    • Themes of solitude, heroism, and the relentless passage of time are explored.
  6. The Turning Point:

    • After an arduous battle, Santiago finally reels in the marlin, a symbol of his personal victory against the odds.
    • However, his triumph is short-lived as sharks are attracted to the marlin’s blood.
  7. The Final Battle:

    • Santiago fights the sharks with all his might, but they devour the marlin, leaving only its skeleton.
    • This battle symbolizes the inevitable nature of loss and defeat, regardless of one’s strength or will.
  8. Return and Resolution:

    • Santiago returns to the village, exhausted and defeated, yet there’s a subtle sense of triumph in his resilience.
    • The villagers, who once doubted him, now look upon him with a newfound respect.
  9. Themes:

    • The story embodies Hemingway’s distinctive themes: the dignity found in human struggle, the relationship between man and nature, and the inevitability of death.
    • It also reflects Hemingway’s style of straightforward prose and his iceberg theory of omission.

This fictional outline is inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s narrative style and thematic focus, reminiscent of his celebrated work “The Old Man and the Sea”. It incorporates his characteristic exploration of themes such as strength, resilience, and the unyielding challenge of nature, all presented in a simple, yet profound narrative style.

End of ChatGPT4 Response

Provide a fictional plot outline in Zadie Smith’s style and themes

PG asked ChatGPT4 to create a detailed plot outline for The Fraud by Zadie Smith, a book that is a current NY Times bestseller.

The AI responded as follows:

As of my last update in April 2023, “The Fraud” by Zadie Smith is not a recognized title among her works. It’s possible that it’s a new release after my last training data, or it might be a lesser-known or misremembered title.

However, if you’re interested in a fictional plot outline inspired by Zadie Smith’s style and themes, I can certainly create one for you. Smith’s works often explore themes of identity, race, class, and the complexities of contemporary life, often set against the backdrop of multicultural London. Please let me know if you’d like me to proceed with this approach, or if there are specific elements you’d like included in this fictional plot outline!

PG took the AI’s advice and posted the following prompt:

Provide a fictional plot outline in Zadie Smith’s style and themes.

Here’s the response he received from ChatGPT4:

Title: “The Tapestry of Us”

Plot Outline:

  1. Setting and Introduction:
    • London, in the vibrant and diverse neighborhood of Willesden.
    • Introduce the central character, Aisha, a young mixed-race woman grappling with her identity.
  2. Aisha’s Background:
    • Aisha’s parents: her mother is a Jamaican immigrant and her father a British academic.
    • Flashbacks to her childhood show a constant struggle between her Jamaican heritage and British upbringing.
  3. The Inciting Incident:
    • Aisha receives a mysterious letter from an unknown relative in Jamaica, sparking curiosity about her roots.
  4. Exploring Identity:
    • Aisha’s journey delves into themes of racial identity, class, and belonging.
    • She navigates the complexities of being biracial in modern London.
  5. Contrasting Perspectives:
    • Introduce a cast of diverse characters, each offering different views on identity and culture.
    • Include a love interest, perhaps someone who challenges Aisha’s perceptions.
  6. Journey to Jamaica:
    • Aisha decides to visit Jamaica to explore her heritage.
    • The trip is eye-opening; she experiences a culture both familiar and alien.
  7. Revelations:
    • In Jamaica, Aisha uncovers family secrets and histories that reshape her understanding of her identity.
  8. Return to London:
    • Aisha returns with a new sense of self.
    • Her experiences in Jamaica influence her life in London, from relationships to career choices.
  9. Resolution:
    • Aisha embraces a multifaceted identity, understanding that she can be both Jamaican and British.
    • The story concludes with Aisha starting a community project that celebrates multicultural identities.
  10. Themes:
    • The narrative weaves through themes of race, class, the immigrant experience, and the search for personal identity.
    • It explores the idea that identity is not fixed but a tapestry of experiences and cultures.

This fictional outline borrows from Zadie Smith’s style in exploring deep societal issues through personal narratives, set against the backdrop of a multicultural London, much like her acclaimed works such as “White Teeth” and “Swing Time”.

End of ChatGPT4

Since PG has not read any of Ms. Smith’s books, he’ll leave an assessment of the outline to any who have.

The Greatest Novels of the 20th Century


List the 15 greatest English-language novels published in the 20th century, and what each novel was criticized for at the time of its publication and how the initial criticism is regarded today.


Compiling a list of the “greatest” English-language novels of the 20th century is subjective, but here’s a selection based on their impact, popularity, and critical acclaim. I’ll also touch on their initial criticisms and how these are viewed today:

  1. “Ulysses” by James Joyce (1922):
    • Criticism Then: Deemed obscene and unreadably complex.
    • View Now: Its complexity is seen as groundbreaking, influencing modern narrative techniques.
  2. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (1960):
    • Criticism Then: Simplistic and sentimental portrayal of racial issues.
    • View Now: Celebrated for its moral clarity and character depth, though some critique remains on its racial perspectives.
  3. “1984” by George Orwell (1949):
    • Criticism Then: Seen as overly pessimistic and anti-socialist.
    • View Now: Highly regarded as a prescient and profound exploration of totalitarianism and surveillance.
  4. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925):
    • Criticism Then: Viewed as a trivial chronicle of the Jazz Age.
    • View Now: Acclaimed for its exploration of the American Dream’s corruption and its stylistic brilliance.
  5. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov (1955):
    • Criticism Then: Condemned for its subject matter involving pedophilia.
    • View Now: Recognized for its literary artistry while still provoking debate over its themes.
  6. “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller (1961):
    • Criticism Then: Initially considered confusing with its non-linear narrative.
    • View Now: Hailed as a brilliant satire of war and bureaucracy.
  7. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley (1932):
    • Criticism Then: Criticized for its pessimistic dystopia and perceived anti-family and anti-religion sentiments.
    • View Now: Viewed as an important cautionary tale about technological and social control.
  8. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger (1951):
    • Criticism Then: Considered controversial for its frank language and themes of teenage angst and rebellion.
    • View Now: Generally seen as an emblematic novel of teenage disaffection, though it remains divisive.
  9. “Beloved” by Toni Morrison (1987):
    • Criticism Then: Challenged for its complex narrative style and raw depiction of the horrors of slavery.
    • View Now: Widely acclaimed for its powerful storytelling and exploration of the African American experience.
  10. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez (1967):
    • Criticism Then: Some viewed its magical realism as overly fantastical.
    • View Now: Celebrated for its rich narrative and contribution to world literature.
  11. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell (1945):
    • Criticism Then: Seen as a blunt allegory and criticized for its dark view of socialism.
    • View Now: Regarded as a sharp critique of totalitarianism, not just of socialism but of political power dynamics in general.
  12. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding (1954):
    • Criticism Then: Initially criticized for its portrayal of children as savagely and morally corrupt.
    • View Now: Now seen as a profound exploration of human nature and societal structure.
  13. “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie (1981):
    • Criticism Then: Its blending of fantasy and history was initially disorienting for some readers.
    • View Now: Celebrated for its magical realism and deep insights into Indian culture and history.
  14. “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac (1957):
    • Criticism Then: Criticized for glorifying a hedonistic and aimless lifestyle.
    • View Now: Regarded as an iconic representation of the Beat generation, though some criticism remains.
  15. “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck (1939):
    • Criticism Then: Accused of socialist leanings and exaggerating the plight of migrant workers.
    • View Now: Seen as a powerful and empathetic portrayal of the struggles during the Great Depression.

Each of these novels was groundbreaking in its own way, challenging societal norms and literary conventions of their time. The initial criticisms often stemmed from contemporary sensibilities and political climates, whereas current views tend to appreciate their artistic and thematic contributions more fully.

End ChatGPT4

PG is familiar with some, but not all, of the books listed, so he’ll be interested to see how visitors to TPV react to the list.

He was interested in reactions to how the AI described the criticisms of each book when it was first published and will be interested in opinions about the AI’s assessment of “greatest books” which, of course, is a very hazy description. He’ll also be interested in opinions about the “judgement” of the AI regarding what books to include and what books to exclude from the list.

Here’s a list of the best-selling books of the 20th Century that PG found online site that said it was sourced from The Guardian’s bestseller list (not a lot of overlap with the Greatest list):

1 Lord of the Rings. Author: J. R. R. Tolkien. Published in 1954-1955. Earned about 150 million.

2 Le petit prince (The Little Prince). Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Published in 1943. Earned about 140 million.

3 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1997. Earned about 120 million.

4 The Hobbit. Author: J. R. R. Tolkien. Published in 1937. Earned about 100 million.

5 And then there were none. Author: Agatha Christie. Published in 1939. Earned about 100 million.

6 The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. Author: C. S. Lewis. Published in 1950. Earned about 85 million.

7 Vardi Wala Gunda. Autor: Ved Prakash Sharma. Published in 1992. Earned about 80 million.

8 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1998. Earned about 77 million.

9 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 1999. Earned about 65 million.

10 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Author: J. K. Rowling. Published in 2000. Earned about 65 million.

11 O Alquimista (The Alquimist). Author: Paulo Coelho. Published in 1988. Earned about 65 million.

12 The Catcher in the Rye. Author: J. D. Salinger. Published in 1951. Earned about 65 million.

13 Think and Go Rich. Author: Napoleon Hill. Published in 1937. Earned about 60 million.

14 The Bridges of Madison County. Author: Robert James Waller. Published in 1992. Earned about 60 million.

15 You can Heal your life. Author: Louise Hay. Published in 1984. Earned about 50 million.

16 Cien años de soledad. (Hundred years of solitude). Author: Gabriel García Márquez. Published in 1967. Earned about 50 million.

17 Lolita. Author: Vladimir Nabokov. Published in 1955. Earned about 50 million.

18 The Common Sense Book of Babe and Child Care. Author: Dr Benjamin Spock. Published in 1946. Earned about 50 million.

19 Anne of Green Gables. Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery. Published in 1908. Earned about 50 million.

20 Il Nome Della Rosa (The name of the Rose). Author: Umberto Eco. Published in 1980. Earned about 50 million.

Help Me Get Out of a Speeding Ticket


Prepare a written argument that I wasn’t driving recklessly when I was pulled over by a highway patrol car on the 405 freeway in Long Beach at 3:00 AM for driving 8 miles over the speed limit when the freeway was almost completely empty and the highway patrol officer ignored another car that had just passed me traveling at least 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.


When preparing a written argument to contest a traffic citation for allegedly driving recklessly on the 405 freeway in Long Beach, it’s crucial to focus on specific legal and factual points. Here is an outline to structure your argument:

  1. Introduction:
    • State the date, time, and location of the incident.
    • Briefly describe the circumstances leading to the traffic stop.
  2. Clarification of Charges:
    • Clearly state the specific violation you were cited for (e.g., driving 8 miles over the speed limit).
  3. Road Conditions and Context:
    • Emphasize that the freeway was nearly empty at the time of the incident.
    • Explain that the conditions allowed for a slightly higher speed without compromising safety.
  4. Comparison with Other Vehicles:
    • Mention that another vehicle passed you traveling significantly faster (approximately 20 miles over the speed limit).
    • Argue that this indicates your speed was not excessively high compared to the flow of traffic.
  5. Definition of Reckless Driving:
    • Cite the legal definition of reckless driving.
    • Argue that driving 8 miles over the speed limit, in this context, does not meet the criteria for reckless driving.
  6. Safety Record and Driving Behavior:
    • If applicable, mention your clean driving record or lack of prior traffic violations.
    • Emphasize your commitment to safe driving and respect for traffic laws.
  7. Request for Consideration:
    • Request leniency or dismissal based on the specific circumstances of the case.
    • If appropriate, express willingness to attend a defensive driving course as an alternative to penalties.
  8. Conclusion:
    • Summarize your key points.
    • State that you believe the evidence supports a finding that you were not driving recklessly.

Remember, the goal is to provide a clear, factual, and concise argument that challenges the notion of reckless driving under the specific conditions of your case. It’s also important to remain respectful and professional in your tone throughout the document.

End of ChatGPT4

PG doesn’t see much genius in the solution that ChatGPT generated. It won’t put many lawyers out of business with this type of performance.

A green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.

“If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” said Gatsby. “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”

Daisy put her arm through his abruptly but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

14 Do’s and Don’ts of Time Management for Writers (from a Recovering Over-Achiever)

From K.M. Weiland:

For many of us, writing is one of the most important things in our lives. And yet, it can be all too easy to let that “most important thing” end up at the bottom of our to-do list. If yet another day has passed in which you haven’t been able to write—or a day in which you did write but getting it done was a struggle—you’re not alone. Time management for writers is possibly one of the key skills of the lifestyle. This is true whether you write full-time or write around your full-time responsibilities.

I’ve always been a schedule hacker and someone who tries to make every minute count. I’ve also always been someone who constantly laments that there isn’t just one more hour in the day. Time management is something of an obsession for me, probably because it’s a game you never completely win. In years past, I’ve gone down the overachiever path of absolutely flying through my days and trying to cram in as much as possible. There are seasons in which that is effective or even unavoidable, but eventually it becomes unsustainable. I’ve also gone through seasons in which circumstances dictated I do as little as possible, but that too is unsustainable over the long term.

Inevitably, the sweet spot is found in balance. Each person’s balance is different, depending on personality, health, goals, obligations, and other factors. No matter what your lifestyle, the demands of the modern day keep us busy and distracted. This can be especially challenging for a creative who needs downtime to breathe and think and wander, as well as concentrated go-time in which to enforce discipline and actually get words on paper.

Recently, I received the following question from reader Joan Arc:

I enjoy reading your blog posts and I like the fact that you like suggestions from your fellow writers. But as I am engaged in school and trying to balance life whilst I study, I find it is becoming more difficult to devote the time to read them. I was wondering if in the near future, you could give some helpful hints about time management and how to balance a writing schedule that will stay even when life takes priority. This is a thing that I, along with many aspiring writers struggle with, and consequently, I lose inspiration for my book. Do you have any suggestions for this?

In today’s post, I’m going to review some of the do’s and don’ts of time management that I have found most supportive throughout my writing career. First, however, I will say a word about consistency in general. I’ve written before about the pros and cons of writing every day, ultimately landing on the view that it’s not important that you write “every” day. What is important is consistency—whatever that means to you—since consistency is what staves off that loss of inspiration Joan references.

8 Do’s of Time Management for Writers

The following eight “do’s” of time management for writers are all practical steps to take in aligning your daily schedule to your vision for your writing life. Note, that it’s important to start with your vision. Start by getting clear on your own goals, not just for writing but for other areas of your life as well. This will help you identify your ideal schedule, as well as what is achievable at the moment.

1. List Your To-Dos So You Can See Them All in One Place

If your day is anything like mine, then it is made up of a bazillion little to-dos. Many of them are so infinitesimal (emptying comment spam on the website) or ordinary (brushing my teeth) that I don’t always think of them as “to-dos.” And yet, they add up fast. When trying to get clear about how to streamline your schedule and create flow states throughout your day, take the time to analyze everything. Time management for writers isn’t just about writing. It isn’t even mostly about writing. It’s about optimizing the entire day so the writing time comes as easily as possible.

2. Create “Batches” of Related Tasks

Once you’ve created a list, group your tasks thematically. A personal motto that serves me well in some instances and not so well in others is “do whatever is in front of you.” Sometimes this is the single best method for moving forward through a large task or for creating momentum when you feel stuck. Other times, it just ends up scattering your focus all over the place. Instead of eating the elephant one bite at a time, you eat a little of the elephant and a little of the giraffe and a little of the hyena—and you end the day feeling you haven’t accomplished anything.

Batch your tasks, so you can focus on one thing at a time. For example, don’t check email throughout the day. Reserve a slot at an optimal time of the day when you can sort through and respond to all emails at once.

3. Multi-Task (With Care)

Multi-tasking is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can undeniably help you move through multiple projects at a quicker rate. On the other hand, the growing amount of research on the loss of productivity associated with multi-tasking is sobering. Even though all that busyness can make us feel super-productive, the actual metrics don’t always weigh out. Use caution and consciousness when adding multi-tasking to your schedule.

That said, there are times when multi-tasking takes everything to 2.0. For example, you might plan to listen to an audiobook or podcast whenever your hands are busy elsewhere (e.g., commuting, doing the dishes, or, for me, designing weekly social media graphics such as the Pinterest image at the top of my posts).

4. Schedule Downtime Relentlessly

When we think of time management for writers, what usually comes to mind are all the tasks we want to do. But particularly if you’re wanting or needing to cram a lot into your daily routines, one of the most important things you can schedule is downtime. Make downtime your priority. Except in situations in which you have no choice (e.g., your paycheck is on the line, your child has an emergency, etc.), the downtime on your schedule should be the last thing to take the hit. I’ve learned this the hard way. These days, I adamantly schedule “downtime” and self-care first thing in the morning. If I don’t do it first, I don’t do it, and because it is the most important part of my day, I prioritize it relentlessly.

5. Make a Commitment With Yourself

Making schedules is the easy part; sticking with them is where the road can get rough. There are two key pieces to sticking with a schedule. The first key is creating a schedule that works. This often requires trial and error, some degree of flexibility, and self-forgiveness.

The second key is discipline. Think of your schedule as a commitment to yourself. Not only are you committing to do all the tasks you’ve laid out for yourself, but when you show up to one of those tasks, you’re going to give it your full attention. This is true for every task on your list, but as a writer, it’s the writing time that should be particularly sacred.

It can be so easy to carve out an hour or two in your day for writing… and then spend half or more of that time twiddling it away. Now, sometimes twiddling is really just creative lollygagging or even dreamzoning, both of which are part of the creative process. But other times (and you know when those times are), the twiddling is just procrastination.

6. Schedule Writing Tasks and Writing-Related Tasks Separately

People often ask me if outlining, researching, and editing count as “writing time.” In my view, they do. However, when it comes to time management for writers, it can be valuable to schedule them separately. Depending on your preferences, the temptation to do a little of everything during “writing time” may end up being counter-productive. For example, if I’m trying to get myself into the headspace of flowing with a scene I want to write, I don’t want to interrupt that with the sudden urge to go research some tidbit. I try to schedule myself out of my distractions by penciling in a slot for researching or editing or whatever else at a different time from my writing.

7. Create a Quick Warm-Up Routine

After zooming through all the to-dos that fill the rest of your day, it can be tough to sit down at your desk and suddenly turn on your inspiration and creativity. And yet, you only have an hour, and you can’t afford to waste any of it!

One of the best tricks I’ve ever used for transitioning into my writing time is a personalized warm-up routine. At certain times in my life (when I’ve had more time), I’ve scheduled warm-ups as long as 30 minutes. These days, my warm-ups are usually quite short. I choose tasks that help ground me, pull me out of a mental space and into my deeper, body-oriented imagination—such as a quick grounding meditation, lighting a candle, breathing some essential oils, or taking a bite of chocolate or a sip of coffee. I may also read over what I wrote the day before or read a quick section from my research or character notes, to help pull myself back into the mindset of my story.

8. Write in Fifteen-Minute Spurts

There you are, sitting at your desk right on schedule, ready to write. And… the words just aren’t coming. The urge to twiddle is strong. You look at the clock and suddenly this precious hour seems like for…ev…er. Before you know it, fifteen minutes have passed and you’ve rewritten the same sentence a total of three times.

The brain hack I like to use is writing in fifteen-minute spurts. I tell myself I’m going to write 500 words (or whatever) in fifteen minutes. Writing 2,000 words in an hour seems overwhelming, but 500 in fifteen minutes? I can do that! Then… when the fifteen minutes is up, I take another drink of coffee or a bite of chocolate, and do it again.

Link to the rest at K.M. Weiland

For PG, reading advice about becoming more efficient with time is usually worth his time. That said, the time management strategies that are effective for one person are not necessarily the best way for another person to reach a high degree of efficiency.

Sometimes, the types of strategies included in the OP can be helpful for PG, but at other times, he needs to think deeply over an extended period of time to prepare himself to do something well. At other times, it’s more efficient for him to close his eyes and let his mind wander.

It’s not like his brain forgets what he needs to figure out, but relaxing and mentally wandering reduces the pressure PG has been putting on himself to get a mental task accomplished.

When the pressure is reduced by not focusing on a task to obsession, the less conscious and less logical parts of his brain present a solution that his logicbrain would never have considered.

There’s nothing particularly original or groundbreaking to what PG’s brain does and doesn’t do, but a conscious brain hack isn’t the best way for him to get mental tasks done. Sometimes the best recipe for success is no real recipe at all.

Generative AI generates tricky choices for managers

From The Economist:

The remarkable capabilities of generative artificial intelligence (ai) are clear the moment you try it. But remarkableness is also a problem for managers. Working out what to do with a new technology is harder when it can affect so many activities; when its adoption depends not just on the abilities of machines but also on pesky humans; and when it has some surprising flaws.

Study after study rams home the potential of large language models (llms), which power ais like Chatgpt, to improve all manner of things. llms can save time, by generating meeting summaries, analysing data or drafting press releases. They can sharpen up customer service. They cannot put up ikea bookshelves—but nor can humans.

ai can even boost innovation. Karan Girotra of Cornell University and his co-authors compared the idea-generating abilities of the latest version of Chatgpt with those of students at elite American universities. A lone human can come up with about five ideas in 15 minutes; arm the human with gpt-4 and the number goes up to 200. Crucially, the quality of these ideas is better, at least judged by purchase-intent surveys for new product ideas. Such possibilities can paralyse bosses; when you can do everything, it’s easy to do nothing.

llms’ ease of use also has pluses and minuses. On the plus side, more applications for generative ai can be found if more people are trying it. Familiarity with llms will make people better at using them. Reid Hoffman, a serial ai investor (and a guest on this week’s final episode of “Boss Class”, our management podcast), has a simple bit of advice: start playing with it. If you asked Chatgpt to write a haiku a year ago and have not touched it since, you have more to do.

Familiarity may also counter the human instinct to be wary of automation. A paper by Siliang Tong of Nanyang Technological University and his co-authors that was published in 2021, before generative ai was all the rage, captured this suspicion neatly. It showed that ai-generated feedback improved employee performance more than feedback from human managers. However, disclosing that the feedback came from a machine had the opposite effect: it undermined trust, stoked fears of job insecurity and hurt performance. Exposure to llms could soothe concerns.

Or not. Complicating things are flaws in the technology. The Cambridge Dictionary has named “hallucinate” as its word of the year, in tribute to the tendency of llms to spew out false information. The models are evolving rapidly and ought to get better on this score, at least. But some problems are baked in, according to a new paper by R. Thomas McCoy and his co-authors at Princeton University.

Because off-the-shelf models are trained on internet data to predict the next word in an answer on a probabilistic basis, they can be tripped up by surprising things. Get gpt-4, the llm behind Chatgpt, to multiply a number by 9/5 and add 32, and it does well; ask it to multiply the same number by 7/5 and add 31, and it does considerably less well. The difference is explained by the fact that the first calculation is how you convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, and therefore common on the internet; the second is rare and so does not feature much in the training data. Such pitfalls will exist in proprietary models, too.

On top of all this is a practical problem: it is hard for firms to keep track of employees’ use of ai. Confidential data might be uploaded and potentially leak out in a subsequent conversation. Earlier this year Samsung, an electronics giant, clamped down on usage of Chatgpt by employees after engineers reportedly shared source code with the chatbot.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG says companies need to make their own rules for the use of technologies, but if they restrict what their employees can do, there’s a serious possibility that a competitor could take a giant step forward using AI for their business and label what they discovered as confidential.

Under the relatively standard confidentiality agreements used by tech firms and lots of other businesses small and large, the first mover could be confidentially doing something very beneficial for its competitive position vis a vis a competitor with a lock-down AI policy. Absent the combination of business expertise combined with a high degree of learned AI expertise, a competitor would be mystified about how the innovative company was providing its customers valuable new information services that would be difficult or impossible to deliver without the sophisticated AI piece of the solution.

PG had a similar experience with his law office when personal computers were new technology and not widely used by lawyers. PG jumped into PC’s and had a first generation machine on his desk as soon as it was available and earlier than any other lawyer he knew.

During this early period, each new hardware release meant the PG would work much faster and could handle more complex software than the previous generation. He bought a new machine a few weeks after it was released and passed his previous computer to his secretary so she could work faster and better.

An older lawyer friend from another state asked had heard PG talk about how happy he was with the productivity increases he could achieve with sophisticated computer hardware and software. His friend asked if he could spend time in PG’s office just to watch while PG and his very intelligent office staff produced their work. After a few days, PG’s friend said he had never seen so many pages of legal documents created in such a short period of time during his many years of practice.

Judging by the amount of outgoing mail from PG’s office each day, his friend would have guessed there were five or six experienced attorneys in the office, each with one or two legal secretaries providing support.

Being a first-mover with the sophisticated use of computers and the creation of document assembly systems to handle common tasks, PG made a lot of money during that stage of his legal career.

PG was entirely self-taught with personal computers but was willing to put a lot of effort and experimentation into learning how to leverage this technology to make things happen much faster and more accurately than previously possible. It was a steep learning curve for any lawyer like PG with no meaningful technical education, and most attorneys opted to spend all their time doing work for which clients would pay right away.

If PG were still in active practice, he would be spending a lot of time learning how to leverage AI to make his legal work faster and better than it had been before AI.

Will you ever buy mostly e-books?

From Nathan Bransford:

I first launched this poll in 2007, when Amazon’s first Kindle had just been released and iPads didn’t even exist yet. Now we have gadgets and gizmos aplenty, though paper has held on strong. It’s been interesting through the years to get the pulse of e-book optimism and pessimism.

My usual caveats to pre-empt the comments:

  • Yes, I know this isn’t a scientific poll.
  • Yes, I am aware it’s even less scientific to compare very different audiences and sample sizes through time.
  • Yes, I know that you want more poll options because one of these doesn’t precisely capture all of the nuances of your e-book and print book tendencies. Choose the one that’s closest!

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Here is Nathan’s sole polling question:

Will you ever buy mostly ebooks?

Will you ever buy mostly ebooks? Do you already?

You can pry my paper books out of my cold dead hands

I welcome our coming e-book overlords

Maybe. If it’s affordable and the technology looks cool.

I still have no idea

Click on the link above if you wish to participate.

While PG is not a big fan of overlords, he thinks the e-book overlords are much better than the printed book overlords.

Dancing with the Devil

From The Wall Street Journal:

How can we reconcile ourselves to the fact that bad feelings—feelings like anger, envy, contempt, spite and Schadenfreude—play such a prominent role in our mental lives? According to Krista Thomason, a philosophy professor at Swarthmore, we would do well to regard them as beneficial more than bad. Such feelings, she says, should be seen as worms in the garden of our mind. Sure, they are “weird and ugly.” But—like worms enriching soil—they are integral to our self-enrichment and self-care. Ms. Thomason believes that by focusing on the unattractive qualities of bad feelings, as we tend to do, we lose sight of their value, and she wants to correct the record.

In what sense do anger, envy, Schadenfreude, spite and contempt contribute to self-care? They all, Ms. Thomason says, help us pick ourselves up when we have suffered some kind of knock, deprivation or opprobrium. If we get angry when someone disses us, for example, our anger is a way of activating—and putting our indignant selves in touch with—our self-respect. When we feel Schadenfreude, Ms. Thomason notes, it is generally directed toward those who act as if they’re above us: If they take a tumble, we get a boost. “When the cupcakes baked from scratch by the self-righteous super mom go uneaten at the neighborhood block party,” Ms. Thomason observes, we “can’t help but smirk,” and our sense of personal value goes up a notch.

When it comes to envy, Ms. Thomason says, we feel it principally toward those who possess something we want but who deserve it less than we do. Our envy, then, is a way of asserting a claim—there’s a balance that needs to be righted. As for contempt, we feel it toward those whom we deem less competent than ourselves and so—in a world where we are always sustaining blows to our self-esteem—it’s a way of reaffirming our stature and restoring our confidence.

And then there’s spite. We exhibit it, Ms. Thomason says, when we feel we are being told what to do—say, our spouse is nagging us to control our sugar intake and so, to spite her, we eat four bowls of ice cream. The core motivation, in such a case, is to regain our autonomy. “Spite is a way of asserting that my life is mine to live,” Ms. Thomason says, “and that I’m the one who gets to decide who I am.”

Anger contributes to self-respect, contempt to self-esteem, spite to self-mastery, Schadenfreude to self-worth and envy to self-assertion: All are modes of self-care, which for Ms. Thomason is a form of resilience, not a shallow self-help means of “feeling good about yourself.” But for her argument to work, as she for the most part concedes, our feelings must at least be reasonably justified. Toward the person who cut us off in traffic anger might well be appropriate, but banging our car into his would not be. Spiting our spouse by eating an extra bowl of ice cream might well assert autonomy in a restorative way, but spiting her by putting ourselves into an insulin coma would not.

As she makes her claims, Ms. Thomason faults Christian and Buddhist saints for failing to recognize the psychological benefits that our bad feelings provide. Here, though, her argument becomes less persuasive. Such saints, by and large, were focused on something different from self-care: They worried about the moral costs that our bad feelings impose on others. Even when anger is justified, they felt, it closes our hearts and lessens our capacity for mutual understanding. Contempt causes us to despise other people and thereby retreat from our common humanity. Spite leads us to hurt them and Schadenfreude to exult in their misfortune.

But when it comes to the ills the bad feelings can inflict, Ms. Thomason pulls her punches. Anger, she suggests, is morally harmful—it hurts others—if it causes us to lash out but not if we simply “sit with it” until it goes away. Maybe, but how often does that happen? Contempt and Schadenfreude, she says, can actually bring us closer to our fellow human beings, assuming that we’re “laughing at others because we know we’re capable of the same blunders.” But is that how we truly experience those feelings? To claim that the psychological benefits of our bad feelings outweigh their moral harmfulness, it seems, Ms. Thomason has to gloss over how morally problematic they are.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Were PG a student at Swarthmore, he thinks he would avoid Professor Thomason’s classes.

Diagram a Sentence

PG asked ChatGPT4 to do something with the first line from The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed.

Prompt: Diagram the following sentences: ‘The King is dead. Long live the Queen.” The announcer’s voice crackles from the wireless and winds around the rapt patrons of Berlin’s Milk Bar as sinuously as the fog curls around the mournful street lamps, their wan glow barely illuminating the cobblestones.”

ChatGPT4: To diagram the given sentence, we’ll break it down into its constituent parts, focusing on the main clauses, subordinate clauses, phrases, and key parts of speech. The sentence can be diagrammed as follows:

  1. Main Clause: “The announcer’s voice crackles from the wireless”
    • Subject: “The announcer’s voice”
    • Verb: “crackles”
    • Prepositional Phrase: “from the wireless”
  2. Subordinate Clause: “as sinuously as the fog curls around the mournful street lamps”
    • Conjunction: “as”
    • Adverb describing how the voice crackles: “sinuously”
    • Comparative Conjunction: “as”
    • Subject: “the fog”
    • Verb: “curls”
    • Prepositional Phrase: “around the mournful street lamps”
  3. Additional Phrase: “their wan glow barely illuminating the cobblestones”
    • Possessive Pronoun: “their”
    • Subject: “wan glow”
    • Verb: “illuminating”
    • Direct Object: “the cobblestones”
    • Adverb modifying the verb: “barely”
  4. Independent Sentences: “‘The King is dead. Long live the Queen.'”
    • These are two separate declarative sentences.
  5. Contextual Setting: “winds around the rapt patrons of Berlin’s Milk Bar”
    • Verb: “winds”
    • Prepositional Phrase: “around the rapt patrons”
    • Prepositional Phrase: “of Berlin’s Milk Bar”

In this diagram, each part of the sentence is broken down to show the structure and how different elements are connected. This visualization helps in understanding the grammatical structure and the relationships between different parts of the sentence.


PG will leave the task of assessing how the AI did on this challenge to visitors who still remember what a “Direct Object” is. He doesn’t remember Mrs. Lascelles ever saying anything about “contextual settings.”

PG was expecting to receive a graphical diagram to be created by the prompt, like the following example:

PG speculates that the AI doesn’t have the ability to output graphic diagrams. (Yet)

Words fail us, and this writer knows it. How she is bringing people to the (grammar) table

From USA Today:

Ellen Jovin is not the grammar police.

She’s more like a grammar guru, a gentle, nonjudgmental guide who knows English isn’t etched into a linguistic stone, rigid and unchangeable. Instead, she knows it’s a living, evolving thing whose rules are subject to the wants, needs and whims of those who speak and write it.

Though she is hardly a Strunk & White scold, Jovin is so invested in English as an interactive pursuit that she has not only written a book about it (“Rebel With a Clause,” HarperCollins), but she’ll also set up a table just to talk shop, answer questions or geek out with fellow word nerds. Her husband, Brandt Johnson, also a writer, is working on a documentary film about the Grammar Table.

“I treasure everything about language,” Jovin said. And she enjoys sharing that passion with others, no matter their own relationship to words. “It’s about love for the language in all the forms it comes to us − slang, departures from traditional grammar, what words mean and how that can change. It’s fun.”

Jovin has taken the Grammar Table to all 50 states since 2018 (she has stops planned for Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona, in February) and is often in parks in New York City, where she lives. A longtime educator, consultant and writer, Jovin started the Grammar Table as a way to get away from a computer screen − where grammatical rules have degraded almost as much, it seems, as personal and political discourse.

. . . .

Jadene Wong is one of the people Jovin has connected with (yes, Jovin said, it’s fine to end a sentence with a preposition). A pediatrician at Stanford University and “self-admitted grammar nerd,” Wong loved “Rebel With a Clause” so much that she found the author’s website and reached out via email. She was delighted when Jovin wrote back.

Wong thinks so highly of Jovin − and grammar, apparently − that she took time out of her vacation in Hawaii to talk to USA TODAY. When she visits New York, she finds out where Jovin will be with the Grammar Table and makes a point of stopping by to talk.

“Her writing is so humorous and fun,” said Wong, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area. “She knows the rules, but she also goes with the times and the trends. She’s not a person who says, ‘You have to do this or you have to do that.’ She wants to know, ‘What would you do?’ She knows modern language. She’s not like your old schoolteacher.”

One thing Jovin does that’s reminiscent of an old schoolteacher, though, is diagramming sentences. Her Instagram, @grammartable, includes posts from her travels as well as a couple of quick diagrams of pop songs’ lyrics, including Pink Floyd’s grammatically challenged “Another Brick in the Wall” and Vampire Weekend’s salty song “Oxford Comma.”

And if you think diagramming is a relic as old as a ruler-wielding Catholic school nun, think again.

Ninth grade students at High School of American Studies at Lehman College in the Bronx learn how to diagram sentences as part of their English curriculum, said the school’s principal, Alessandro Weiss.

Jovin visited the school last year and will be back again this year.

“Ellen is excited about language,” Weiss said, and that’s something HSAS educators want students to share. “We want our students to find joy in language and to understand how it’s open to change.”

Diagramming not only helps students understand sentence structure and grammatical rules, but it also illustrates how much precision matters. Students can see misplaced modifiers, stray prepositions and the dreaded dangling participle more easily when it’s mapped out on a series of straight lines.

Link to the rest at USA Today

Helpful Writing Advice from the Pros

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” — Somerset Maugham

“Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.” — Truman Capote

“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.” — Doris Lessing

. . . .

“A bad review may spoil your breakfast, but you shouldn’t allow it to spoil your lunch.”— Kingsley Amis

. . . .

“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” — Ray Bradbury

. . . .

“The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died, and then queen died of grief is a plot.” — E. M. Forster

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

X remains primary social media platform for publishers

From The Bookseller:

Publishers say most of their social engagement still comes through X, formerly known as Twitter, though they are now actively engaging with alternatives such as Threads, BlueSky and Mastodon.

Since business magnate Elon Musk completed his buyout of the networking site in 2022, there have been a number of changes, notably to the platform’s verification policies, stripping verified blue ticks from accounts which hadn’t signed up for its paid-for subscription service. Links to articles also changed to only show the associated image without the headline, making it difficult to share news. This has prompted the book community’s use of the platform to dissipate, but most publishers still see X as their main social media platform as it still has the largest number of active users and newer alternatives are not yet set up for scheduling.

Jack Birch, senior digital marketing manager at Bloomsbury, told The Bookseller: “The users that have left Twitter/X since Musk’s takeover have not gone to a specific destination; they have fragmented across different platforms such as Blue Sky, Mastodon and Threads, as well as other platforms. As a company, we felt that Threads had the potential to be the biggest competitor to X, given Meta’s history of running successful social media apps and an existing audience that they could convert (cleverly linking Instagram followers to Threads at the click of a button). We hoped Instagram and Facebook users could pivot to a text-based social network, as well as pick up people leaving Musk’s X. However, after initial enthusiasm, interactions and impressions have dropped off a cliff.”

He believes that despite the press for dwindling numbers on Twitter/X, it remains the place for “influential media figures” such as journalists and celebrities and is still where “news breaks first”. Birch also cited how two of the more recent campaigns, Ghosts: The Button House Archives and The Rest is History, “performed exceptionally well on X, partly due to pre-existing, established fandoms, as well as each book’s content suiting the platform”.

He said that Bloomsbury believes Mastodon and Blue Sky are “currently too complicated for the general user to have wider popular appeal at least at the moment”. He added: “Our social media management platform, Sprout Social, does not currently allow us to schedule posts on these two platforms. With all of this in mind, we have put more energy into our Instagram and TikTok channels. Though content usually takes longer to produce, we are seeing excellent returns on engagements and impressions. As a company, we also have direct relationships with Meta and TikTok, and are able to solve any issues that may affect our accounts.”

“The social media landscape has always changed very quickly, but, since Musk’s takeover of X, it is even more unstable than it ever has been before. We have a large, and engaged, social media following on Meta, TikTok and X; it is still there where we see our key audience.”

A Bonnier Books UK spokesperson said: “We’re continuing to use Twitter/X across a number of our imprints, and so far it is proving fairly resilient with an active community of readers, media and influencers. Ultimately, we’re committed to going where our readers take us, and to ensure that we offer our community the space and the content to connect, debate and celebrate their love of stories – whatever the platform.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG suggests that, regardless of social media platform, traditional publishers are going to be small fish compared with real celebrities, tech companies or just about anyone else with the slightest bit of talent. For one thing, a talented social media influencer can maker significantly more money than the CEO of a book publisher.

He’s pressed for time at the moment, but feel free to compare the number of X followers of publishers with television networks, online news sites, newspapers, popular authors or just about any other provider of information or entertainment and post your discoveries in the comments.

Taking Pushkin off his pedestal

From Engelsberg Ideas:

On the evening of February 24, 2022, a few hours after Vladimir Putin ordered his army into Ukraine, thousands of Russians, most of them young, came out onto Pushkin Square in central Moscow. They stood around the statue of Alexander Pushkin, holding placards saying ‘No to War’ for a few minutes before their protest was dispersed by the police. By rallying next to the monument to the curly-haired poet, they were perpetuating a tradition dating back to Soviet times.

Five weeks later, Ukrainian forces recaptured the town of Chernihiv north of Kyiv, which had suffered grievously from a month of Russian occupation and where hundreds had died. A Russian air strike had killed 47 civilians, a war crime that Amnesty International termed ‘a merciless, indiscriminate attack’. On April 30 Ukrainian soldiers took down a bust of Pushkin which had stood in the centre of the liberated town since 1900 and removed it to the local museum.

Across Ukraine at least two dozen Pushkin statues have been removed from their pedestals since the war began. Ukrainians say they are dethroning a Russian imperialist. They cited one of Pushkin’s poems in particular, ‘To the Slanderers of Russia,’ a jingoistic text, in which he castigates Europeans for opposing the Russian army’s suppression of the Polish uprising of 1830. It wasn’t just Ukrainians. In early 2022, Russia’s invading forces in Ukraine, also invoked an imperial Pushkin, putting up placards with his portrait in towns they had captured, such as Kherson, where the poet had lived.

Many Russian liberals who opposed the war in Ukraine were aghast at such actions. Their Pushkin was the one who was sent to southern Ukraine as a political exile and who was, in the nineteenth century, called ‘the bard of freedom’. He was the man who had written ‘I lauded freedom in a cruel age,’ a line which is inscribed on the pedestal of his statue in Moscow.

The Ukraine war has sparked a debate about the relationship of Russia’s literature and culture to its neo-imperial war. Ukrainians and others have called for the ‘de-colonisation’ of Russian literature as part of the fabric of the imperial state. Others have argued that Russian literature is part of an alternative narrative to that of the authorities. In a recent New Yorker article, Elif Batuman writes, ‘Literature, in short, looks different depending on where you read it,’ saying, more or less, that a nineteenth-century Russian text read in twenty-first century Georgia or Ukraine carries a menace that she had previously missed.

Pushkin stands in the middle of this debate. Partly because of his work because, in a pure literary sense, all modern Russian literature flows from him. But even more so because of what he is seen to represent – because of his statues. A few decades after he died in 1837 aged only 37, he was elevated to the status of ‘Russia’s national writer’. That makes him a synecdoche for Russian culture as a whole: take down Pushkin’s statue and you are challenging Russia as a whole.

The Pushkin statue debate reveals different understandings of what ‘freedom’ means to different readers in Russia and its former imperial lands.

For Ukrainians the word ‘freedom’ now means a life-and-death struggle. Having experienced violence perpetrated by Russia in 2014 in the east of the country and then wholesale in 2022, the vast majority of Ukrainians now feel an existential need to emancipate themselves from Russia in most forms. To the educated class, that now includes the desire to disassociate themselves from Russian texts and films that have for centuries either explicitly or – more commonly, implicitly– denied Ukrainians agency in their own historical story. The ‘Pushkin Must Fall’ campaign, however crudely expressed at times, is part of this process.

Then there is the seemingly Sisyphean task of a large segment of Russians to win freedom from their own abusive rulers. Alexander Etkind employs the term ‘internal colonisation’ to describe the peculiar nature of Russian imperialism in being directed equally towards its own heartlands and to its captured territories. Putin’s war is also directed inwards, towards crushing the tentative freedoms that Russians had acquired in the last three decades since the Gorbachev era. If Russian literature has little or nothing to offer Ukrainians at the moment, much of it remains a sustained critique of this ‘internal colonisation’ of Russian minds and bodies, and inspires Russians to resist it.

But the repeated failure of this educated class to make a political difference asks some serious questions of them. Too often ‘Great Russian literature’ is fetishised. It also needs emancipation. Its classic literature needs to be freed from efforts to co-opt, and commodify it as an axiomatic model of ‘civilisation’ with all the assumptions of cultural superiority that entails.

That process should begin with Pushkin, whose works are still the victim of official curating, 200 years after they were first censored. If he was sometimes the imperialist, his most frequent poetic mode is a mocking irreverence that talks everyone, including himself, down from their pedestals. Pushkin deserves to be stripped of his official veneration to reveal the irreverent poet underneath.

. . . .

Pushkin is a many-sided writer, open to multiple readings. Isaiah Berlin, in his essay about hedgehogs (who know one thing) and foxes (who know many things) called Pushkin ‘an arch-fox, the greatest in the nineteenth century’ and wrote of ‘the many varied provinces of Pushkin’s protean genius’. His greatest work, the novel in verse Eugene Onegin, was reduced to melodrama by Tchaikovsky. The original gives all sides of his varied personality, pulling off the trick of being both casually intimate and profound. Among the many Pushkins are the exile, the rebel, the libertine, the historian, the servant of empire, the African. For the average Russian reader he is first of all the lover, the author of dozens of uninhibited love lyrics that are instantly learned by heart.

Pushkin continually returns to the theme of ‘freedom’. He was a friend of the Decembrists who staged an abortive coup d’etat against autocracy in 1825 in the name of constitutional rule. In his youth, he wrote politically seditious poems, including one, ‘The Dagger’, that celebrates regicide and caused him to be sent into exile. He later dropped his revolutionary stance but remained strongly anti-clerical and critical of autocracy. Pushkin’s mature personal philosophy was a kind of individualism that eschewed Romantic egoism. He wrote in a poem of 1836 to which he gave the title ‘From Pindemonte’ (pretending it was a translation to try and bamboozle the censor): ‘Whom shall we serve – the people or the State?/The poet does not care – so let them wait./To give account to none, to be one’s own/vassal and liege, to please oneself alone,/to bend neither one’s neck nor inner schemes/nor conscience for obtaining that which seems/power but is a flunkey’s coat.’

This Pushkin was for many Russian and Soviet readers a kind of blueprint on how to maintain dignity in spite of the state. In a lecture on Descartes and Pushkin, given in 1981, the Georgian philosopher Merab Mamardashvili said, ‘In the history of Russian literature there is also, it is true, a single but well-known example for us of a naturally free person. That is Pushkin.’ Mamardashvili elaborated that he meant neither a freedom from moral obligation, nor the kind of withdrawal into an avant-garde underground that some Russian intellectuals were resorting to in that era. Pushkin was an exemplar on how to inhabit a free private and civic space, but not retreat from society.

Yet Pushkin was also a child of empire. In 1924 the émigré critic Giorgy Fedotov named him ‘Bard of Empire and Freedom’, in an essay that locates him in Russia’s imperial history. Pushkin was a Russian patriot – although he also exposed that sentiment to mockery and said, ‘Of course, I despise my fatherland from head to foot but I feel upset when a foreigner shares my feelings.’ He was a man brought up among and by the imperial elite, who believed in Russia’s mission civilisatrice. He frequently returned to the figure of Peter the Great as a man of both vision and cruelty, who tried to transform a backward Russian society into a modern European state.

The poet of empire is most brazenly on show in his Romantic poem, ‘Prisoner of the Caucasus’, written during his exile in the south of the empire in 1820-1. The main body of the poem itself is a Byronic Orientalising tale of a native woman’s doomed love affair with a Russian soldier. Pushkin shows empathy for his native protagonist, but then undermines it with a jingoistic epilogue that praises imperial bayonets and the Russian conquest of the mountain peoples of the Caucasus. Some of his friends and contemporaries, such as the politically liberal Pyotr Vyazemsky, were confounded. How could he could defend the freedom of Greek revolutionaries or African slaves and not that of Russian colonial subjects?

Link to the rest at Engelsberg Ideas 

Enjoying success

Enjoying success requires the ability to adapt. Only by being open to change will you have a true opportunity to get the most from your talent.

Nolan Ryan

Business Musings: All Good Things

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I should have seen it coming when I couldn’t figure out how to write the year-end blogs. I found a dozen topics that fit, but none really interested me. They’re all important from different perspectives. The perspectives are so different from each other that they no longer feel like part of the same industry.

For example, traditionally published writers claim they care about craft, but really, they care about old-fashioned readership—which has been declining through the trade channels for the past five years or more. Bestselling books published by traditional publishers sell half of what they sold in 2009, and that was already down by another third from 1999.

Traditional publishers don’t help writers get an audience. Traditional publishers buy up copyright for the term of the copyright so that they can have assets on their accounting books. They take years to publish something, which is often unrecognizable from what the author initially intended.

Still, traditional writers hope for “legitimacy,” whatever that means, and strive to get agents, even though book agents take 15% of the book for the life of the book and do very little work (as well as often practicing law without a license).

Traditional publishing has changed for the worse in the decade plus since I started this blog, and still writers get sucked into trad pub. I was done about five years ago writing for writers who want to go that route, because I hate to see their dreams crushed.

Just this week, I watched a writer whom I respect, who should know better, try to find a new agent because the writer’s partner, also a writer, has a New York Times notable book (which is also a bestseller), and can’t get their book agent to return phone calls.

How discouraging. When someone else (not me) suggested hiring an attorney instead of a book agent, the writer (whom I respect a bit less now) essentially called that someone an ignorant idiot.

That same interchange could have happened in 2015 or 2009. No one learns on that side of the fence, and very few people change. They don’t want to.

On the indie side of the fence, learning is essential. Writers share knowledge and ideas, all while writing the books of their hearts (to use the romance term). Some writers go awry because they get caught up in analytics or trying to write “what sells” but writers have always been like that.

The problem with indie these days is that there are so many good ways to make a living that there’s no longer one path.

Okay…that’s not a problem. That’s a good thing.

I started writing this weekly blog at the advent of the indie movement, mostly to remind myself that this is a viable career path. Now I can’t imagine existing without indie publishing. Going back to traditional wouldn’t be possible for me.

It was barely possible in 2009. The contracts got worse, the editors were a nightmare, and I wasn’t about to give my copyright to some corporation for a mere five figures, when I knew the copyright on a single book could bring in licenses worth tens of thousands of dollars.

I wasn’t that desperate in 2009 and I’m certainly not that desperate now. As I noted in some recent blogs, my books are all in print. The books of my traditional friends? Not in print at all. Or if they are in print, my friends aren’t making a dime off of them.

It’s discouraging, but as I’ve seen over the past few years, people have dug in. It doesn’t matter that traditional writers now have to get a “real” job to make a living. Or that the changes in indie have made it possible for those of us who understand business to make a good living while writing what we love.

We’ve changed.

The world has changed.

And honestly, I’m not that interested in writing about the publishing industry weekly. There is no publishing industry anymore. There are different aspects of book publishing, all of which fascinate me, and none of which make me want to pontificate for a few thousand words every single week.

Then there’s my writing itself. In the spring, I made a list of the books clamoring to get out of my brain. The series that need finishing right now, the standalones I’ve been dying to write, the books I’ve intended to write since the turn of the century if not longer, as well as the short stories that rise to the top of my to-do list because I read an inspiring article or saw an amazing play.

I will have time to write all of that if I double down on my fiction writing. Or triple down. When I write fiction, I write a minimum of 1,000 new words per hour. The blog takes a minimum of 10 hours per week from idea to page, including the audio (which is maybe 20 minutes of that 10 hours). I love the audio. It’s fun.

The blog, not so much.

In fact it had become such a drag that I put it off until the last minute, and then have to give up even more fiction writing time to get it down.

And while the blog makes me more money per month than someone would earn making minimum wage (not counting all the nonfiction books I get out of it or the other perks), I could make more money if I write three novellas a year, whether I sell them to traditional markets or not.

The blog is self-sustaining financially, but it’s actively costing me money. My earnings as a fiction writer have gone up dramatically in the past fourteen years.

The earnings—for those of you who still have a traditional publishing dream—do not come when a book or story is released but slowly over the course of a year. I used to say that indie writers don’t get advances, but with presales and the rise of Kickstarter, indie writers make money before the book comes out. Sometimes that money is more than a typical book advance. Sometimes it’s less.

But it’s always at the beginning—and then the writer goes on to sell copies of the book for years, rather than a few months as it happens in traditional.

So each moment I spend writing fiction brings me more money than I made even five years ago. I used to clock my writing time at $500 per hour, but it’s more like $1000 per hour…and that doesn’t count other licenses like sales of related merchandise or movie options. I haven’t done that math.

Thirty dollars per hour writing a blog post that has little resale value or $1000 per hour writing stories that can sell for decades. It’s really a no brainer.

I never really worried about that when I needed the blog to explain the changes in the publishing industry to myself. I just wanted the blog to pay me for my time. I did turn the posts into many books, some of which sell really well and some of which need massive updating. But I don’t want to update them. I have other things to do.

Yes, you’re beginning to understand where this is going. The weekly blog on my website is going away. I will be using the time to write more stories, finish some book projects, do other book projects and, oddly enough, do a lot more promotion of my existing work.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG will miss seeing the thoughts Kris shares on a regular basis and hopes she posts her thoughts and insights from time to time even if they don’t appear as frequently as they have in the past.

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.

What Makes a Great WordPress Theme for Authors?

From The Book Designer:

Before we get to the 10 best WordPress themes for authors, let’s get one thing out of the way.

Yes, you need an author website!

Too much enthusiasm? I think not. 

Over the years  I’ve seen way too many authors miss out on opportunities to engage with their audience and even sell more books because they don’t believe that they need a website, or they feel that being on social media is enough. Or, they don’t want to be on the internet at all. I kind of understand the reasoning behind the last one, but you still need a house, even if you’re never at home. 

. . . .

Now let’s talk about the best WordPress themes for authors and finding the best one for your author website.

When it comes to author websites, any ol’ template won’t work. As writers and authors, we have specific needs that not every template provides. For this list, I selected themes that met the following criteria:

  • Multiple layout options: You don’t want your website to look like your author neighbor across the internet street. 
  • Shop/Store option: Having an easy way to sell your books directly to your readers built into the theme (even if you don’t need it at first) will make life easier. 
  • Theme Support: It’s tough when you have questions but can’t find anyone to answer them.
  • Blog style options: An author has to write, so please give her some options.
  • At least a 4 out of 5-star rating (at the time of this article.)
  • Regularly updated
  • Detailed documentation

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

After the excerpt above, the OP goes through each of his Ten Best WordPress Templates.

PG has his opinions, but, since he’s not an author, share your opinions and selections in the comments.

Why This Ghostwriter Loves His Haters

From Publishers Weekly:

Whenever someone chooses to leave social media, you hear the same refrain: it’s gotten so negative, I can’t stand it. To me, that’s a reason to stay.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather hang out with people who like me in real life, and I’d certainly rather hear praise than criticism. But when it comes to building an audience online, it’s better to be hated than loved. For better or worse, social media rewards engagement, and negativity fuels engagement.

You may have heard the old saying, “All publicity is good publicity.” But I’m here to tell you that the best publicity of all is absolute hatred. Your online haters can inadvertently give you effective marketing, spread your name to new groups, give you opportunities to respond persuasively, and sharpen your brand.

Once you recognize this, haters also lose some of their power. They may try to bring you down by making you feel small or unworthy. If they make you feel bad, provoke you into an ill-tempered response, or drive you offline, they win. But once you realize they’re inadvertently boosting you, it’s an opportunity to turn that dynamic around.

I’ll give you an example: the online trick shot group Dude Perfect. These five guys have filmed themselves doing everything from calling and making a hole in one to sinking a basketball from a skyscraper. They’re good, and their online comments reflect viewers’ utter disbelief. And not just stunned amazement or polite questions about the veracity of videos—they deal with everything from scorn to conspiracy theories. This is a level of mastery everyone should aspire to and something I write about in my book So Good They Call You a Fake.

In an interview on Good Morning America, Dude Perfect member Cody Jones said the group loves it when people call their shots fake because it makes what they do “seem even more ridiculously impossible,” leading to more publicity and clicks on YouTube. Online haters are literally putting money in their pockets.

Now, not all online hate is created equal. When people are responding to you with racial hate and bigotry, their comments obviously provide no value. It’s best to report and block these people rather than engage with them.

The haters I’m talking about are people who come at you because of what you do. They’re the ones who criticize you because you’re talented or smart or successful—and they simply can’t stand it. For that reason, they try to cast doubt on your achievements and minimize your talents. These haters and trolls, who tend to move in packs, will latch onto something you say and begin circulating it among themselves, adding their own put-downs. But their attacks merely serve to elevate your standing online.

I’ll give an example from my social media feed. Last year, I was musing on the flaws of some popular movies, which could help authors more effectively write books. I went onto what was then still called Twitter, and shared a thread of my observations about how Captain Marvel, Rey from Star Wars, and Bo Peep from Toy Story were examples of what fans call a Mary Sue—a character with no flaws or weaknesses. I argued that this robs them of narrative arcs and obstacles to overcome, and ultimately is a disservice to viewers who want to see a strong female character.

My core audience—people who want to improve their writing or just enjoy well-told stories—loved my posts, but soon a new audience of haters found them and were determined to argue with me because I had criticized popular female characters. These haters seemed to be responding more to one another than to anything I’d written, high-fiving one another with each withering reply.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Since PG had never heard of Dude Perfect, he did a little investigation for the benefit of visitors to TPV.

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus Entry: Bad Influence

From Writers Helping Writers:

DESCRIPTION: This character compromises others and leads them down the wrong path. They could be villainous, deliberately attempting to misguide others, or may be the friend who’s always getting people into trouble.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Grima Wormtongue (the Lord of the Rings series), Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind), Amy Dunne (Gone Girl), Faith LeHane (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

COMMON STRENGTHS: Adaptable, Adventurous, Ambitious, Analytical, Bold, Charming, Creative, Decisive, Focused, Independent, Industrious, Intelligent, Observant, Persistent, Persuasive, Resourceful

COMMON WEAKNESSES: Controlling, Devious, Dishonest, Hypocritical, Impatient, Impulsive, Irresponsible, Jealous, Manipulative, Melodramatic, Mischievous, Pushy, Rebellious, Reckless, Selfish, Spoiled, Stubborn, Uncooperative

Manipulating and controlling others
Having a charismatic presence
Breaking social norms
Advocating for and taking shortcuts
Using bribes to entice others to their way of thinking
Encouraging risky or destructive behaviors
Shifting blame to others
Being cunning
Identifying threats or risks before they become a problem
Homing in on others’ weaknesses
Knowing how to exploit others’ desires to their own advantage

Being confronted by someone they’ve wronged and having to deal with the consequences
Encountering a cunning rival and having to up their game to outmaneuver them
Becoming friends with a positive role model who seeks to make the character better

Is being manipulated into manipulating others by a behind-the-scenes puppet master
Isn’t overtly trying to be a bad influence

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he “felt impelled” to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: “[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.” You see, he “feels impelled” to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Euphemism and exaggeration are both dangers to language

From The Economist:

George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language”, published in 1946, took aim at the bureaucrats, academics and hacks who obfuscated their misdeeds in vague, jargon-packed writing. Abstractions, euphemisms and clichés all served as “the defence of the indefensible”. Orwell lamented how “Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.”

If Orwell were writing today, he would find plenty of euphemisms to complain about. On October 7th an open letter from a clutch of student groups at Harvard University vaguely described the “unfolding violence” in Israel without ascribing blame to Hamas. Abstract brutality “unfolding” shocks rather less than a clearer description of Hamas slaughtering 1,200 Israelis, nearly all civilians, including many children.

As a onetime contributor to the bbc, it is easy to imagine Orwell defying the broadcaster’s refusal to use the word “terrorism”. Orwell had no trouble doling out his medicine to both sides; he would have also had harsh words for those describing the “collateral damage” buried in Gazan rubble, another abstraction designed to prevent readers picturing dead children. Around 13,000 Palestinians have died since October 7th.

Orwell’s famous essay had a long lead time: he was paid in December, and it appeared in print the next April. Today, however, billions of people can publish their thoughts instantaneously. The desire to grab attention seems to incentivise stylistic sin. The social-mediafication of writing has steered the tone from the offence of euphemism to its twin offence of exaggeration.

Taking what they no doubt believe to be an Orwellian starting point—the danger of being too soft in their language—keyboard warriors cannot resist the temptation to reach for the most inflammatory words available. What used to be called chauvinism, then sexism, is now “misogyny”, a word once reserved for actual hatred of women. Those who do not ascribe to left-wing views on race are accused not of bias, prejudice or even racism, but of “white supremacy”, a phrase that just a decade ago was reserved for neo-Nazis.

Call it the “dysphemism treadmill”. In its opposite, the “euphemism treadmill” (a term coined by Steven Pinker, a professor at Harvard), people run from one polite banality to another. They referred to people as “idiotic” until that became pejorative; then they opted for “retarded”, which became unsayable; and then they devised “special”, which is now a taunt too. The dysphemism treadmill works the other way round: “prejudiced” seems too mild so is replaced with “racist”, which then suffers the same fate and must be swapped out for “white supremacist”.

As is true of many modern trends, the most extreme words have radiated from America, where “communist” and “fascist” have nothing to do with sickles or swastikas and are sometimes applied to anyone you disagree with. Social media, the “great awokening” on the left and the magafication of the right have contributed to a verbal crescendo.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Law firms are throwing legal spaghetti at the wall to take down gen-AI, but judges are so far unimpressed

From The New Publishing Standard:

Law suits against AI companies abound, and no question there are some valid issues that need settling in court, but already it’s beginning to feel like lawyers are just throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping some strands stick.
Is this really what the publishing industry wants or needs?

Over at Publishers Weekly this week, Andrew Albanese summarises two on-going law suits against the alleged AI copyright thieves, and in both cases a judge has thrown out parts of the claims because they have no merit.

While the judge in one case has left the door open for revised claims – perhaps a nod to the fact that the law as stands was never written with AI in mind – the quick dismissal of some of the claims is a severe blow to the many in the AI Resistance camp who are citing as fact allegations of copyright theft, despite, as Albanese notes, many lawyers stating well in advance that the claims were not well-grounded in law.

From PW back in July:

Multiple copyright lawyers told PW on background that the claims likely face an uphill battle in court. Even if the suits get past the threshold issues associated with the alleged copying at issue and how AI training actually works—which is no sure thing—lawyers say there is ample case law to suggest fair use.”

PW offers several examples of why, that in the interests of the fair use clause I’ll leave to you to click through and read, and instead conclude the summary of that PW article with this quote:

 ‘I just don’t see how these cases have legs,’ one copyright lawyer bluntly told PW. ‘Look, I get it. Somebody has to make a test case. Otherwise there’s nothing but blogging and opinion pieces and stance-taking by proponents on either side. But I just think there’s too much established case law to support this kind of transformative use as a fair use.’ “

The July lawsuit came under scrutiny from TNPS at the time.

. . . .

The proposed class action suit before Chhabria was filed on July 7 by the Joseph Saveri Law Firm on behalf of authors Christopher Golden, Richard Kadrey, and comedian Sarah Silverman, just days after the Saveri firm filed a similar suit on behalf of authors against Open AI, with authors Paul Tremblay and Mona Awad as named plaintiffs.”

. . . .

In each case the law suits make the spurious claim that AI is generating writing in the style of an author or providing in-depth analysis of a published book, and that it does so by illegally copying an original work for its “training.”

For anyone who isn’t irrationally opposed to the very concept of AI and therefore clutching at any straw to attack it, the idea that it is a crime for an author to write in the style of another is as laughable as the idea that an author who learned their trade by reading other authors’ books has committed a crime.

What next? A lawsuit claiming an author has no spelling mistakes so they must have plagiarised a dictionary?

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Yahdon Israel Pulls Back the Curtain on Publishing

From Publishers Weekly:

In March 2021, days after he was hired as a senior editor at Simon & Schuster, Yahdon Israel went on Instagram Live to tell his thousands of followers what kind of books he was looking to acquire—essentially a call for submissions, which Big Five editors rarely put out.

He would be acquiring eight to 12 books per year, he said, and briefly rattled off the genres he was looking for. But for most of the livestream, he painted a picture of the sort of writer he wanted to work with: writers with strong senses of selves as well as business acumen, who understand that their art is also a product and that their work doesn’t end with turning in manuscripts. He encouraged anyone who fit the bill to email him directly.

Later that day, he received an email from a self-taught, unagented writer named Aaliyah Bilal with the manuscript for a debut short story collection about the lives of Black Muslims in America. It was titled Temple Folk.

“This book is the proof of concept of what hiring someone like me could mean for this industry,” Israel said of Temple Folk, which was a finalist for this year’s National Book Award. As an editor, Israel is keen to circumvent traditional channels—for instance, he hosts livestreams instead of lunching with agents—to engage directly with writers outside of the literary establishment. Temple Folk showed that alternative methods of acquisition can yield extraordinary results.

“She knew who she was and she knew who she wanted to be as a writer,” he said of Bilal. “But how would an agent have found her?” For Israel, looking for authors outside of their usual habitats—your Iowa Writers Workshops, your Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences—creates a healthier literary ecosystem.

“There are people who don’t have an agent, don’t have MFAs, and are probably writing something fire—and there’s actually no way to get to that person,” he said. “You’re trusting—or you’re hoping—that the cream rises to the top, but that only works if there are reliable and consistent factors that are finding cream in all its forms.” The onus, he said, is on the publishing industry to actively seek out talent, whether it be authors or employees, in unconventional places: “If you look for it, you’ll find it.”

Israel himself came to S&S without a traditional publishing background. Though he had long been deeply involved in the literary world—he served on the board of the National Book Critics Circle and the selection committee for the Aspen Words Literary Prize, taught at CUNY’s MFA program and the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and founded the Literaryswag Book Club, among other endeavors—he had never before worked at a publisher.

But the circumstances of his hiring, he stressed, were “an anomaly.” In late February 2021, Israel reached out to Kathryn Belden—a friend and Scribner’s editorial director—to let her know he was looking for a job in publishing, hopeful it might lead to an informational interview. Within a week, he was being courted by S&S CEO Jonathan Karp and then-publisher Dana Canedy. To his surprise, they offered him a senior editor role, despite him being prepared to start in an entry-level position. “Without those people,” he said of Belden, Karp, and Canedy, “I’d still be circling the outer perimeter of the industry.”

At every opportunity, Israel gives due credit to his colleagues—a personal practice that encapsulates the philosophy behind his social media presence. He’s become known for using Instagram to demystify the publishing process, and in doing so, he hopes to show readers—especially those who might balk at the prices on hardcovers—just how much work and how many people are needed to publish a book.

“Part of that transparency is about getting consumers to really think about, well, why does this book cost so much?” he said. “Because there’s a lot of labor from a lot of people that contributes to what you’re reading. It’s about getting people to appreciate labor that they don’t see, to think about the entire process that extends beyond and in addition to an author.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

When the Museum of Memory Becomes a Haunted House

From Electric Lit:

Jiordan Castle’s memoir-in-verse Disappearing Act follows the teen-version of herself as she lives through the arrest, court proceedings, and subsequent incarceration of her father while navigating the fraught years of the transition from girlhood to adolescence. Through mostly narrative poems‚ Castle invites us into her world as it’s changing faster than her mind can keep up.

The book’s dedication—”For me then, and for you now” —immediately signals to the reader a rare intimacy; that we will be led—sometimes smiling, sometimes wincing—into a moment in time not often shared beyond the performed facade of the nuclear family. Disappearing Act begins mid-story—following an FBI raid, Jiordan’s father’s suicide attempt, bad news from the attorney, Jiordan’s refuge with her best friend and their endless online personality quizzes (it being the early aughts)—the book progresses in a mostly chronological order.

In books about prison and “crime,” readers often desire—feel entitled to, even—grizzly details (look no further than the proliferation of true-crime podcasts and TV series). Castle deftly subverts this expectation: in Disappearing Act, we learn more context than content—her father’s mood swings; her mother’s torn support; her older sisters’ balancing of their own lives—though the reader does get a vague understanding that the father is guilty and the crime is money-related. This is not an attempt to hide or minimize the father’s actions, but is instead mimetic of a teenager toggling dizzyingly between an “adult,” “mature” perspective and the innocent confusion, sadness, anger, and helplessness of a young child.

Castle and I discussed her experience of crafting this book from painful memories; the role of the self in grand themes of “crime” and “punishment,” and how she navigated the personal and the secret when disclosing sensitive information.

Leigh Sugar: Disappearing Act is written in the voice of an early teenage you. What was it like writing the then-you, as the now-you?

Jiordan Castle: I have this sense of an inner child and a secret self when I write about myself, my life, no matter the when or the topic. To pull something not too grisly from True Detective, I think time, to me, probably is a flat circle. The person who lived this book is also the person who wrote it, but in time traveling through memory, I got to look at the character of myself as a kind of younger sister. I got to be generous and real and mean and thoughtful about the realities of coming of age in a way you can’t when you’re in it.

LS: That’s so interesting to me, because I realized recently I don’t have a strong connection to my inner child; I don’t really experience my life as continuous; it feels very disconnected. How did you get yourself in—and especially, out—of that inner-child/secret self headspace?

JC: For most of us, I think the hard-hearted memories live right at the surface. But that’s not all there is. I remember the funniest things, the sweet things. And when you’re a child, you’re feeling everything for the first time. Everything is, in some sense, the end of the world. And the beginning of a new one. I still feel that about that time, so it was easy enough for me to drop into character in a way and let myself feel the too-much-ness of that time. I remember presents and fights and how certain shirts looked and felt.

It also helped for me to create a playlist from that time in my life, and a playlist that’s more like what writing the book felt like to me. Having the two in conversation with each other is something special.

LS: What is different about this version than, say, a version for an “adult” audience?

JC: It’s so complicated because I do consider this book to be what I call “YA+” as if it’s for young adults and the dot dot dot of adults reconnecting with that version of themselves. Because this story still lives in me, I know it lives in other adults with similar experiences. The people I love talking to now, after readings, are teenagers who have a loved one in prison or have a friend who does, but also mother-daughter pairings. I find that so interesting. And it reminds me that maybe if we just allowed ourselves—and each other—to love what we love in earnest, without shame or bias, we would come to a place of more “we” than “I.” I’m looking for that “we” more and more these days.

I can’t ignore the fact though that if I had written, let’s say, a chronological, prose memoir looking back at the past in past tense—an adult lens on a teen experience—I would have a radically different book. I can’t say whether it would be better or worse (or whatever that means), but I do think it would pull me as the narrator further from the story I most wanted to convey.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

For some reason as he read the OP, the original definition of geek drifted into PG’s mind:

a carnival worker who was so unskilled that the only thing the worker could do at the carnival to entice an audience was to bite off the heads of live animals

Perhaps, it’s unfair to the author, the book and the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, but that’s what occurred.

The Desolate Wilderness

From an account of the Pilgrims’ journey to Plymouth in 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton – Via The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page each Thanksgiving day:

Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford, sometime governor thereof:

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits.

When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.

The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other’s heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.

If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Today is Thanksgiving Day, a major holiday in the United States, so PG won’t be making any more posts today. He’ll be back tomorrow after his body finishes processing an overdose of tryptophan from today’s turkey dinner with extended family.

Education is not confined to books

Education is not confined to books, and the finest characters often graduate from no college, but make experience their master, and life their book. [Some care] only for the mental culture, and [are] in danger of over-studying, under the delusion . . . that learning must be had at all costs, forgetting that health and real wisdom are better.

Louisa May Alcott

Readings for Writers: How to Avoid Grifters; Or, Why the Humanities Matter

From Writer Unboxed:

“Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law.” The line, written in 1764, belongs to Oliver Goldsmith, an English poet and novelist barely anyone reads anymore. His words could have served as an epigraph to Nathan Heller’s essay, “The End of the English Major,” which appeared in The New Yorker in February of this year. But these days, who lingers over an epigraph? And who would dare make the counter-intuitive argument that “underserved” students of every race and ethnicity should pursue a degree in the Humanities?

I would.

About a million years ago, I was an English major. On breaks, I worked at the up-town dress boutique where my mother, the seamstress who spoke broken English, knelt before wealthy women, pinning up hemlines. Their husbands, often retired leaders of industry, sat in plush chairs waiting for their spendthrift wives, killing time asking me whether I could sew and why I had no accent. When I told them I was an English major at a private university, they snorted and hiccupped, amused that a working-class Cuban immigrant would take such a ludicrous, impractical path.

I had no conscious understanding then about my drive to conquer the language that had conquered my parents, separating us from family and culture. All I had was a heart ignited against tyranny and the will to intervene between my parents and those members of the English-speaking world who mocked them.

“I can’t understand you,” the woman on the other side of the notions counter sneered at my mother.

“I think you can,” I countered.

Embarrassed, the woman counted out the zippers and buttons, the packets of sew-on snaps and spools of hem tape my mother had requested. She had never expected anyone like me, like my mother, to challenge her assumptions about the humanity of others.

In a recent Substack post, the self-styled Democratic populist, Jim Hightower, calls out right-wing politicians in North Carolina, Alaska, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, and Mississippi for doing their best to eliminate the Humanities from university curricula:

“The right-wing’s shriveled view,” Hightower writes, “is not about expanding one’s horizon and enriching America’s democratic society—but solely about training students to fit into a corporate workforce, sacrificing the possibility of a fuller life for the possibility of a fatter paycheck.” (11/14/2023)

Hightower is correct, though the shift from teaching students to think, as opposed to teaching them how to make a widget, is at least three decades old now. I have witnessed that shift from the podium at the front of a college classroom.

The decline in the Humanities began the day a rapacious politician, masquerading as an intellectual (“thought leader”), defined higher education as an “economic engine.” Suddenly the process of education became a cumbersome means to a lucrative end, the fastest possible monetization of a young student. The question of how we develop a thoughtful, well-rounded, contributing member of society was dispatched, usurped by a different question. How will the graduate, degree in hand, serve the interests of specific business sectors?

With far too few exceptions, exceptions that break along economic class, we are no longer teaching students to think or asking them about the distance between how the world is and how it could be. We are training students to serve as cogs in a great economic engine. The difficult and slow process of helping them understand their humanity, their position in relation to the past and the future, has been shunted aside. Only students who will never have to worry about money, about steady work, can afford to study literature and philosophy, music and art history, modern languages and the performing arts, to name only a few disciplines within the arc of the Humanities.

I hold to the now quaint idea that education is a means to emancipation. Emancipation is more than physical freedom. Southern slave owners knew that. That’s why slaves caught learning to read and write were beaten to within an inch of their lives, their fingers often amputated. That’s why Frederick Douglass, after risking his life to escape physical shackles, set his sights on the dangerous venture of clear thinking and clear expression. In divisive times, moral persuasion requires full and eloquent sentences; it requires minds broad enough to consider facts and to recognize the corrosive sentimentality and fear that drives so much disinformation.

It has always been difficult to make the grubby, materialistic world care about beautifully balanced periodic sentences or the droll brevity of heroic couplets. No news there, especially not for contemporary writers who, try as they might, cannot make a living writing full time. But a materialistic world without the counterweight of the Humanities is a world with fewer readers interested in complexity, interested in more challenging, less formulaic literary forms. So if anyone should be advocating for the Humanities, it is writers in search of an audience, and isn’t that most of us so much of the time?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG generally agrees with the OP, but he’ll add that the huge increase in the cost of higher education means that a great many students end up owing a zillion dollars in student loans these days. Paying off such loans while living in an expensive city absent family wealth can be a steep hill to climb.

It’s not irrational for a student to regard college as an overpriced luxury absent college delivering a meaningful contribution toward gaining more remunerative employment.

There are a variety of ways of “learning to think” that don’t involve paying tens of thousands of dollars to a college or university.

Toward the Next Literary Mafia

From Public Books:

Imagine a US literary culture—perhaps in the year 2030—in which African Americans are the editors of the New Yorker and the Atlantic MonthlyPoetry, the Paris Review, and n+1; the editors in chief of Random House and Simon & Schuster and W. W. Norton and Graywolf; the editors of the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books; as well as the founders and editors in chief of a handful of new, thriving, and critically acclaimed publications and publishing houses (whether independent or bought out by the conglomerates), and upwards of 30 or 40 percent of all employees throughout the industry as a whole. Or imagine the same scenario, with the people in those positions all being instead, say, Cuban Americans or Vietnamese Americans.

We’re hardly on track for such a transformation of the field. But if something like this were to come to pass, it wouldn’t be without precedent.

In the first decade of the 20th century, it was both virtually impossible and virtually unheard of for a Jewish person, irrespective of their individual talents, to be hired for any job at a major American publishing company—even if they were Ivy League graduates, heirs to family fortunes, and had brilliant literary minds. They couldn’t get hired on the editorial staff of a widely circulated American magazine, or be granted a professorship in an English department at a prestigious university, either. But all that started to change in the decades after the 1910s, when Jews entered the industry en masse. In addition to founding many of the today’s largest publishing companies, Jews became so influential throughout the industry that by the 1960s American writers as different as Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac, Katherine Anne Porter, and Mario Puzo began to complain about a “Jewish literary mafia.” In short, a minority group went from almost complete exclusion to full literary enfranchisement in a matter of decades.

Understanding that history can help us to understand what will be necessary if we’re serious about finally having a more diverse, less exclusionary publishing industry.

If you read articles about publishing in the US, you’re already aware that a lack of diversity is a pressing problem right now. You may have seen the hashtags #publishingsowhite and #publishingpaidme; read the many essays, perused the surveys, and cringed admiringly through recent novels, like Zakiya Dalila Harris’ The Other Black Girl and Uwem Akpan’s New York, My Village, which serve up publishing’s unbearable whiteness for our edification and horror. You may also have noticed recent efforts to bring some long-overdue diversity into the companies that produce the books we read, like the hiring of Lisa Lucas to lead Pantheon/Schocken. And, as an extensive, wildly important PEN America report by James Tager and Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, published last October documents, as well intentioned as these recent efforts to address the problem may be, those of us who want to see a more diverse publishing industry have reasons to be skeptical.

We’ve been here before. More than thirty years ago, the Association of American Publishers surveyed its members and found that “out of a total of 69,550 employees, 9.3% were African Americans, and 20.8% could be considered minorities,” mostly “in clerical categories.” An extensive 1994 report in Publishers Weekly remarked that “no one … dispute[s] the fact that the book publishing industry lacks representative numbers of African American, Asian and Hispanic employees.” Two years later, a New York Times article reported that even while African American consumers bought hundreds of millions of books each year, only “3.4 percent of the managers, editors and professionals who choose the nation’s popular literature” were African American. The article also noted that “there are so few Hispanic employees … that it’s not unusual that a major publishing house like HarperCollins … runs its new Libros line of Hispanic literature without a Hispanic editor involved in the project.”

By the 1990s, then, at least according to those articles, increased diversity in publishing was already a widely shared goal. And, at that time, a variety of initiatives, including new imprints and companies, were created to pursue this goal. As Publishers Weekly phrased it at the time: “Everyone agrees that there should be more minorities in the business.”

Why then, some thirty years later, haven’t those efforts made much of a difference? Why did it feel, in the mid-2010s, like the conversation was starting from scratch—and why, as the PEN America report phrased it, has “the debate over the lack of diversity in publishing … seemed to stagnate, or to progress only in fits and starts”? Most importantly, how can we make sure that the efforts being made right now to increase the diversity of publishing will actually increase the diversity of publishing?

To answer those questions, we have to understand not just the fact that American Jews overcame prejudice to thrive in the publishing industry, but how that happened.

First, it’s important to acknowledge just how drastic the transformation was. Publishing, and US literary culture in general, was, once upon a time, viciously and openly antisemitic. While a few Jews had already succeeded as writers and in other culture industries, it is 1912—when Alfred Knopf got a job with the accounting department of Doubleday, Page, & Company—that is generally recognized as the first time an American Jew was offered employment by a major US publishing house.

Anti-Jewish discrimination didn’t disappear then. But, over the half century that followed, American Jews flourished in the book business. They founded Random House (later Penguin Random House) and Simon & Schuster, the two mammoth companies whose merger was recently stymied by the government. They also founded Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; Boni & Liveright; Viking; Pantheon; Farrar, Straus and Company; Basic Books; Grove Press; and many others.

Along with founding their own firms, around midcentury Jews also began to be hired, and began rising to leadership positions, at the major US publishing houses founded by non-Jews in the 19th century, like Doubleday, Harper, and Wiley. Jews were instrumental in innovations like the Book-of-the-Month Club and the popularization of mass-market and trade paperbacks. In the postwar decades, elite English departments finally began to hire them, and by the 1970s one estimate suggested that 13 percent of all English professors at the leading American universities were Jewish. Jews were even more conspicuous among the editors and critics whose reviews helped books get attention. There wasn’t ever an actual “Jewish literary mafia,” but it’s true that by the 1970s discrimination against Jews in US literary culture had become a thing of the past. 

. . . .

How can we explain this wholesale eradication of antisemitic prejudice in the publishing industry, when other forms of exclusion, like structural racism and patriarchy, have been so resilient in so many areas of American life?

There are several ways to answer that question, but one of the most compelling explanations has to do with the way that a minority group enters an industry. When minorities join a field gradually, in small numbers, they tend to suffer from what the sociologist Rosabeth Moss Kanter famously described as “tokenism,” on the basis of her study of an American corporation in the 1970s. Here’s how she describes tokenism:

Women who were few in number among male peers [in their departments] … sometimes … had the advantages of those who are “different” and thus were highly visible in a system where success is tied to becoming known … [but more often] they faced the loneliness of the outsider, of the stranger who intrudes upon an alien culture and may become self-estranged in the process of assimilation [and so] their turnover and “failure rate” were known to be much higher than those of men in entry and early grade positions.

In Kanter’s view, at least, this experience was not primarily the effect of gender or misogyny, per se, but of minority status. She argues that “any situation where proportions of significant types of people are highly skewed can produce similar themes and processes.”

But that’s not inevitable: a minority group can enter an industry in a different way. Economists have shown that if they enter a field together—and establish themselves as a significant cohort within it—members of a minority group can derive substantial benefits: better information sharing, tools for building and strengthening trust, more effective sanctions, and so on. The structural advantages that accrue to members of ethnic niches explain the many surprising concentrations of minority groups in contemporary American industries and fields—the fact that, for example, “one-third of all U.S. motels are owned by Gujarati Indians” and that “the concentration of Korean self-employment in dry cleaners is 34 times greater than other immigrant groups.” While discrimination clearly contributes to minority employment patterns, too, this vein of economic argument suggests that concentrations allow members of an ethnic niche to prosper within a field.

The Jews who entered publishing beginning in the 1910s did so, emphatically, not as tokens, but as a niche. Alfred Knopf worked only briefly at Doubleday, where he would have been the token Jew, but he quickly left that position to found a company with his Jewish wife and father and other Jewish employees, where he was part of a niche. Within a decade, this Jewish niche in publishing expanded, with many of the personnel across the different firms related through family or social ties. Thomas Seltzer, who published books first on his own and then at Viking, was Alfred Boni’s uncle; the founders of Random House and Simon & Schuster were young Jewish men who had previously worked at Boni and Liveright; and on and on. Even when they were hired at historically antisemitic and majority non-Jewish firms, departments, and publications, Jews could rely on their connections to their Jewish relatives, professors, and contacts elsewhere in the literary world for support. The Jewish ethnic niche that emerged allowed individual Jews in publishing not to suffer from tokenism but, on the contrary, to benefit from their minority status. And, as they flourished, they transformed the field, introducing or popularizing many elements of literary culture that now seem quintessentially American.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Yet another reason to avoid Big Publishing, it’s run by racists.

How a Fervent Belief Split Silicon Valley—and Fueled the Blowup at OpenAI

From The Wall Street Journal:

Over the past few years, the social movement known as effective altruism has divided employees and executives at artificial-intelligence companies across Silicon Valley, pitting believers against nonbelievers.

The blowup at OpenAI showed its influence—and the triumphant return of chief executive Sam Altman revealed hard limits, capping a bruising year for the divisive philosophy.

Coming just weeks after effective altruism’s most prominent backer, Sam Bankman-Fried, was convicted of fraud, the OpenAI meltdown delivered another blow to the movement, which believes that carefully crafted artificial-intelligence systems, imbued with the correct human values, will yield a Golden Age—and failure to do so could have apocalyptic consequences.

OpenAI, which released ChatGPT a year ago, was formed in part on the principles of effective altruism, a broad social and moral philosophy that influences the AI research community in Silicon Valley and beyond. Some followers live in private group homes, where they can brainstorm ideas, engage in philosophical debates and relax playing a four-person variant of chess known as Bughouse. The movement includes people devoted to animal rights and climate change, drawing ideas from rationalist philosophers, mathematicians and forecasters of the future.

Supercharged by hundreds of millions of dollars in tech-titan donations, effective altruists believe a headlong rush into artificial intelligence could destroy mankind. They favor safety over speed for AI development. The movement, which includes people who helped shape the generative-AI boom, is insular and multifaceted but shares a belief in doing good in the world—even if that means simply making a lot of money and giving it to worthy recipients.

Altman, who was fired by the board Friday, clashed with the company’s chief scientist and board member Ilya Sutskever over AI-safety issues that mirrored effective-altruism concerns, according to people familiar with the dispute.

Voting with Sutskever, who led the coup, were board members Tasha McCauley, a tech executive and board member for the effective-altruism charity Effective Ventures, and Helen Toner, an executive with Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, which is backed by a philanthropy dedicated to effective-altruism causes. They made up three of the four votes needed to oust Altman, people familiar with the matter said. The board said he failed to be “consistently candid.”

The company announced Wednesday that Altman would return as chief executive and Sutskever, McCauley and Toner would be replaced. Emmett Shear, a tech executive favoring a slowdown in AI development and recruited as the interim CEO, was out.

Altman’s dismissal had triggered a company revolt that threatened OpenAI’s future. More than 700 of about 770 employees had called for Altman’s return and threatened to jump ship to Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest investor. Sutskever said Monday he regretted his vote.

“OpenAI’s board members’ religion of ‘effective altruism’ and its misapplication could have set back the world’s path to the tremendous benefits of artificial intelligence,” venture capitalist and OpenAI investor Vinod Khosla wrote in an opinion piece for The Information.

Altman toured the world this spring warning that AI could cause serious harm. He also called effective altruism an “incredibly flawed movement” that showed “very weird emergent behavior.”

The effective-altruism community has spent vast sums promoting the idea that AI poses an existential risk. But it was the release of ChatGPT that drew broad attention to how quickly AI had advanced, said Scott Aaronson, a computer scientist at the University of Texas, Austin, who works on AI safety at OpenAI. The chatbot’s surprising capabilities worried people who had previously brushed off concerns, he said.

The movement has spread among the armies of tech-industry scientists, investors and executives racing to create AI systems to mimic and eventually surpass human ability. AI can bring global prosperity, but it first must be prevented from wreaking havoc, according to those in the movement.

. . . .

Google and other companies are trying to be the first to roll out AI systems that can match the human brain. They largely regard artificial intelligence as a tool to advance work and economies at great profit.

The movement’s high-profile supporters include Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook, and Jann Tallinn, the billionaire founder of Skype, who have pledged billions of dollars to effective-altruism research. Before his fall, Bankman-Fried had also pledged billions. Elon Musk has called the writings of effective altruism’s co-founder William MacAskill “a close match for my philosophy.”

Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and Garry Tan, chief executive of the startup incubator Y Combinator, have criticized the movement. Tan called it an insubstantial “virtue signal philosophy” that should be abandoned to “solve real problems that create human abundance.”

Urgent fear among effective-altruists that AI will destroy humanity “clouds their ability to take in critique from outside the culture,” said Shazeda Ahmed, a researcher who led a Princeton University team that studied the movement. “That is never good for any community trying to solve any trenchant problem.”

The turmoil at OpenAI exposes the behind-the-scenes contest in Silicon Valley between people who put their faith in markets and effective altruists who believe ethics, reason, mathematics and finely tuned machines should guide the future.

. . . .

One fall day last year, thousands of paper clips in the shape of OpenAI’s logo arrived at the company’s San Francisco office. No one seemed to know where they were from, but everybody knew what they meant.

The paper clip has become a symbol of doom in the AI community. The idea is that an artificial-intelligence system told to build as many paper clips as possible might destroy all of humanity in its drive to maximize production.

The prank was done by an employee at crosstown rival, Anthropic, which itself sprang from divisions over AI safety.

Dario Amodei, OpenAI’s top research scientist, split from the company, joined by several company executives in early 2021. They started Anthropic, an AI research company friendly to effective altruists.

Bankman-Fried had been one of Anthropic’s largest investors and supported the company’s mission, which favored AI safety over growth and profits. 

. . . .

The fear of futuristic AI systems hasn’t stopped even those worried about safety from trying to build artificial general intelligence or AGI—advanced systems that match or outdo the human brain. 

At OpenAI’s holiday party last December, Sutskever addressed hundreds of employees and their guests at the California Academy of Science in San Francisco, not far from the museum’s dioramas of stuffed zebras, antelopes and lions.

“Our goal is to make a mankind-loving AGI,” said Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist.

“Feel the AGI,” he said. “Repeat after me. Feel the AGI.”

Effective altruists say they can build safer AI systems because they are willing to invest in what they call alignment: making sure employees can control the technology they create and ensure it comports with a set of human values. So far, no AI company has said what those values should be.

At Google, the merging this year of its two artificial intelligence units—DeepMind and Google Brain—triggered a split over how effective-altruism principles are applied, according to current and former employees.

DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis, who has long hired people aligned with the movement, is in charge of the combined units.

Google Brain employees say they have largely ignored effective altruism and instead explore practical uses of artificial intelligence and the potential misuse of AI tools, according to people familiar with the matter.

One former employee compared the merger with DeepMind to a forced marriage, “making many people squirm at Brain.”

. . . .

Arjun Panickssery, a 21-year-old AI safety researcher, lives with other effective altruists at Andromeda House, a five-bedroom, three-story home a few blocks from the University of California, Berkeley campus.

They host dinners, and visitors are sometimes asked to reveal their P(doom)—estimates of the chances of an AI catastrophe. 

Berkeley, Calif., is an epicenter of effective altruism in the Bay Area, Panickssery said. Some houses designate “no-AI” zones to give people an escape from constant talk about artificial intelligence. 

Open Philanthropy’s then-CEO Holden Karnofsky had once lived with two senior OpenAI executives, according to Open Philanthropy’s website. Since 2015, Open Philanthropy, a nonprofit that supports effective-altruism causes—has given away $327 million to AI-related causes, including $30 million to OpenAI, its website shows. 

When Karnofsky was engaged to Daniela Amodei, now Anthropic’s president, they were roommates with Amodei’s brother Dario, now Anthropic’s CEO.

In August 2017, Karnofsky and Daniela Amodei married in an effective-altruism-theme ceremony. Wedding guests were encouraged to donate to causes recommended by Karnofsky’s effective-altruism charity, GiveWell, and to read a 457-page tome by German philosopher Jürgen Habermas beforehand. 

“This is necessary context for understanding our wedding,” the couple wrote on a website for the event.

. . . .

The effective-altruism movement dates back roughly two decades, when a group of Oxford University philosophers and those they identified as “super-hardcore do-gooders,” were looking for a marketing term to promote their utilitarian version of philanthropy.

Adherents believe in maximizing the amount of good they do with their time. They can earn as much money as possible, then give much of it away to attack problems that government and traditional nonprofits are ignoring or haven’t solved. They focus on ideas that deliver the biggest impact or help the largest number of people per dollar spent. 

Bankman-Fried, who was convicted this month, said he was building his fortune only to give most of it away.

. . . .

The gatherings and events, held around the world, are often closed to outsiders. Organizers of a recent effective-altruism conference in New York declined the request of a Wall Street Journal reporter to attend, saying in an email that there was “a high bar for admissions.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Intelligence is the ability to learn from your mistakes. Wisdom is the ability to learn from the mistakes of others.

Author Unknown

He’s an intelligent man, but it takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

Hubris is interesting, because you get people who are often very clever, very powerful, have achieved great things, and then something goes wrong – they just don’t know when to stop.

Margaret MacMillan

Hubris and science are incompatible.

Douglas Preston

Hubris calls for nemesis, and in one form or another it’s going to get it, not as a punishment from outside but as the completion of a pattern already started.

Mary Midgley

Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald


Compare and contrast the novels of Ernest Hemingway with the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, including excerpts from the writings of each.


Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald are two of the most acclaimed American authors of the 20th century, known for their distinct literary styles and thematic explorations. Their works reflect the complexities and changes in American society during the early to mid-20th century, but their approaches and thematic focuses have notable differences.

Ernest Hemingway

  1. Writing Style: Hemingway is famous for his concise, straightforward, and unadorned prose, often referred to as the “Iceberg Theory” or “Theory of Omission”. He believed in saying as little as possible and leaving much to the reader’s interpretation.
  2. Themes: Hemingway’s works often revolve around themes of stoicism, masculinity, and the human struggle against the natural world. His characters typically face physical or emotional trials that test their courage and moral integrity.
  3. Notable Works:
    • “The Old Man and the Sea”
    • “A Farewell to Arms”
    • “For Whom the Bell Tolls”
  4. Excerpt: From “The Old Man and the Sea” -“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

  1. Writing Style: Fitzgerald’s style is often more elaborate and richly descriptive compared to Hemingway’s. He is known for his lyrical, flowing prose and his ability to capture the mood of the Jazz Age.
  2. Themes: Fitzgerald’s novels commonly address themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, and the disillusionment of the American Dream. His works often depict the high life of the 1920s and the moral emptiness that can accompany wealth and status.
  3. Notable Works:
    • “The Great Gatsby”
    • “Tender is the Night”
    • “This Side of Paradise”
  4. Excerpt: From “The Great Gatsby” -“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


  • Writing Style: Hemingway’s minimalist, understated style contrasts sharply with Fitzgerald’s ornate and poetic approach. While Hemingway focuses on directness and simplicity, Fitzgerald employs a more decorative language to create mood and tone.
  • Themes: Both explore themes related to the human condition, but their focal points differ. Hemingway often delves into the raw aspects of human nature and survival, whereas Fitzgerald tends to focus on societal issues, particularly the moral implications of the American Dream.
  • Contextual Influence: The era they lived in greatly influenced both writers. The aftermath of World War I, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression are reflected distinctly in their works. Hemingway’s experiences as a war correspondent and ambulance driver in World War I influenced his themes of heroism and human endurance, while Fitzgerald’s portrayal of the Jazz Age reflects his fascination with wealth and celebrity.


Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald offer two contrasting windows into American literature. Hemingway’s terse prose and focus on existential struggles stand in contrast to Fitzgerald’s lyrical exploration of social mores and disillusionment. Both, however, remain quintessential in their portrayal of their respective eras, capturing the spirit and challenges of early 20th-century America.

New ways generative AI can help you find holiday gifts

From Google The Key Word:

Technology has improved so many aspects of the way we shop, like how we research, find inspiration, try out products and look for deals. And now, as we approach the busiest shopping weeks of the year, technology — especially generative AI — is making it much easier to find gifts for others (and ourselves).

Read on for more about our new shopping experiences and opt into Search Labsat

Get AI-generated gift ideas

Search Generative Experience (SGE), which brings generative AI capabilities into Search, is designed to help you understand topics in faster, easier ways and uncover new insights — which can be especially useful for gift-giving. And today we’re rolling out a new capability within SGE to help holiday shoppers more easily get inspired and find that perfect holiday gift.

Let’s say you’re looking for a present for the budding chef in your life and don’t know where to start. Search “great gifts for home cooks”, and you’ll now see a wide variety of subcategories to explore — like specialty tools, artisanal ingredients, culinary subscriptions and even experiences like cooking classes — with options from brands large and small. Just tap into a category to browse shoppable gift options and select a product to buy.

. . . .

Shop what’s (literally) on your mind

‘Tis the season for giving, but about half of people actually shop for themselves over the holidays.1 Shoppers, especially apparel shoppers, also often have a very specific vision in mind: In fact, 20% of apparel queries are five words or longer.2 So we’re introducing a new way to put the item that’s on your mind right into your shopping cart with AI-powered image generation for shopping.

We’re connecting our image generation technology with more than 35 billion listings in our Shopping Graph to help you better visualize and find the style you’re looking for. Soon when you use SGE to look for apparel, you’ll have the option to generate photorealistic images inspired by the words you search — and shop products that match those images.

Let’s say you want a new winter coat — a colorful, patterned puffer jacket — but you haven’t found quite what you’re looking for. With generative AI in Search, just look for that style and tap “Generate images” to see photorealistic images that match your vision. And if you want to make an adjustment, like if you’d prefer a colorful metallic jacket instead of a patterned one, just enter that refinement in the text box to see a new set of images. Once you’ve found one you like, scroll down to see similar shoppable products.

Link to the rest at Google The Key Word

PG wonders what’s going to happen when this capability is integrated with online dating apps.

Raskolnikov Updated


Provide a detailed character sketch of Rodion Raskolnikov updated for 2023

From GPT4:

Updating the character of Rodion Raskolnikov from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” for a 2023 context involves reimagining his background, motivations, and conflicts to resonate with contemporary themes and issues. Here’s a detailed character sketch for a modern-day Raskolnikov:

Name: Rodion “Rodya” Raskolnikov


  • Age: Late 20s.
  • Education: A brilliant former student of psychology, who dropped out of a prestigious university due to financial constraints and disillusionment with the academic system.
  • Family: Comes from a lower-middle-class family. His mother is a school teacher, and he has a younger sister who is struggling to find her footing in a competitive job market.
  • Location: Lives in a modest apartment in a large, culturally diverse city.

Personality Traits

  • Intellectually Gifted: Possesses a sharp intellect and often engages in philosophical musings about society and morality.
  • Isolated: Tends to isolate himself from others, preferring his own company and thoughts.
  • Altruistic Yet Egotistical: Displays moments of genuine compassion, especially towards his family, but is also deeply egocentric, believing himself to be morally and intellectually superior.
  • Anxious and Paranoid: Exhibits signs of anxiety and paranoia, particularly after committing his crime.

Modern Adaptation

  • Occupation: Works part-time in a mundane job, possibly in data entry or as a delivery driver, which he finds unfulfilling. In his spare time, he writes blogs and essays on social and ethical issues.
  • Financial Struggles: His financial difficulties are a significant source of stress, driving him to question the social structures and disparities in wealth and power.
  • Crime: Raskolnikov’s crime in 2023 could involve hacking into a corrupt corporation’s system or committing a cybercrime against a morally dubious business tycoon, believing his actions are justified to expose or dismantle corrupt power structures.
  • Mental Health: Struggles with his mental health, experiencing guilt and internal conflict post-crime, which leads him into a psychological downward spiral.


  • Family: Feels a deep sense of responsibility and guilt over his inability to financially support his mother and sister.
  • Friends: Has few close friends but maintains some online connections with individuals who share his ideological views.
  • Romantic Interest: Could have a complicated relationship with a character akin to Sonya, who in this adaptation might be a social worker or counselor, representing empathy and moral clarity.


  • Internal: Grapples with guilt, moral justification of his actions, and a sense of isolation from society.
  • External: Faces the consequences of his crime in the digital age, dealing with law enforcement and the societal fallout of his actions.


  • Journey: Raskolnikov’s journey involves confronting the reality of his actions, grappling with the moral and ethical implications, and ultimately seeking redemption.
  • Resolution: His resolution could involve turning himself in and accepting the legal consequences of his actions, symbolizing his acceptance of societal laws and moral boundaries.

In this 2023 adaptation, Raskolnikov is a complex character who embodies the struggles of modern society, including financial instability, the ethical dilemmas posed by technology, and the quest for moral grounding in an increasingly complex world. His story reflects contemporary issues of social justice, mental health, and the search for meaning in a digital age.

End of GPT4

As he reviewed the AI’s response, PG had to admit that his detailed recollection of Raskolnikov’s character traits had faded into the mists of time.

He’ll need to rely on the colorfast recollections of visitors to TPV to assess how GPT4 did with this challenge. He understands several movies based on the novel have been released, but hasn’t seen any of those either, so his mind is tabula rasa on the plot.

Gone with the Wind – 2023

Prompt: Prepare a detailed outline of an adaptation of Gone with the Wind set in 2023

From ChatGPT4:

Adapting “Gone with the Wind” to a contemporary setting of 2023 requires thoughtful reimagining while maintaining the essence of the original story. Here’s a detailed outline for such an adaptation:

Title: “Gone with the Wind: 2023”


  • Location: Atlanta, Georgia, and surrounding areas, with a modern urban and suburban backdrop.
  • Time: Present day, focusing on the social, economic, and political dynamics of 2023.


  • Scarlett O’Hara: A young, ambitious entrepreneur in the tech industry, known for her beauty, intelligence, and relentless drive.
  • Rhett Butler: A charismatic venture capitalist with a mysterious past and a knack for risk-taking in both business and personal life.
  • Ashley Wilkes: An idealistic environmental activist and Scarlett’s long-time crush, who struggles to balance his ideals with practicality.
  • Melanie Hamilton: A compassionate, understanding social worker, married to Ashley, and a close friend to Scarlett.

Plot Overview

  1. Introduction:
    • Scarlett’s World: Introduce Scarlett’s life in modern Atlanta, her tech startup, and her unrequited love for Ashley.
    • Social Context: Touch on contemporary issues such as climate change, economic inequality, and technological advancements.
  2. Rising Tensions:
    • Business and Romance: Scarlett’s company faces financial difficulties. She meets Rhett at a fundraising event, sparking a complicated relationship.
    • Ashley’s Dilemma: Ashley is torn between his environmental activism and the pressures to conform to a more traditional career path.
  3. Climax:
    • Business Crisis: Scarlett’s company is on the brink of collapse. She turns to Rhett for help, leading to a controversial business deal.
    • Romantic Conflicts: Scarlett’s feelings for Ashley resurface, causing tension with Rhett and Melanie.
  4. Falling Action:
    • Personal Growth: Scarlett starts to realize the importance of balancing ambition with ethics and compassion.
    • Relationship Strains: Rhett feels neglected by Scarlett’s obsession with Ashley and her career.
  5. Conclusion:
    • Resolution: Scarlett makes a significant decision about her professional and personal life, choosing her own path over her longstanding pursuit of Ashley.
    • Rhett’s Departure: Rhett decides to leave Scarlett, leading to her famous realization of self-reliance and determination to rebuild her life.


  • Modern Feminism: Exploration of a woman’s role in a high-powered, male-dominated business world.
  • Technology vs. Environment: The clash between technological advancement and environmental conservation.
  • Personal vs. Professional Life: The struggle to maintain personal relationships while pursuing ambitious career goals.
  • Adaptation and Resilience: How characters adapt to the rapidly changing world around them.

Visual Style

  • Cinematography: A mix of sleek, modern cityscapes and lush, natural landscapes to contrast the worlds of technology and environmentalism.
  • Costume Design: Contemporary fashion, reflecting the status and personalities of characters in a modern setting.


  • A blend of modern and classical music, capturing the emotional depth and complexities of the story in a contemporary context.

This adaptation maintains the core narrative of “Gone with the Wind” while updating its setting and themes to reflect modern societal and cultural issues.

End of ChatGPT4

PG will allow visitors to determine if the outline shows a useful amount of creativity or not.

If he had tasked himself to produce a similar document, PG admits he would not have considered the Soundtrack.

Sarah Silverman Hits Stumbling Block in AI Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against Meta

From The Hollywood Reporter:

A federal judge has dismissed most of Sarah Silverman‘s lawsuit against Meta over the unauthorized use of authors’ copyrighted books to train its generative artificial intelligence model, marking the second ruling from a court siding with AI firms on novel intellectual property questions presented in the legal battle.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria on Monday offered a full-throated denial of one of the authors’ core theories that Meta’s AI system is itself an infringing derivative work made possible only by information extracted from copyrighted material. “This is nonsensical,” he wrote in the order. “There is no way to understand the LLaMA models themselves as a recasting or adaptation of any of the plaintiffs’ books.”

Another of Silverman’s arguments that every result produced by Meta’s AI tools constitutes copyright infringement was dismissed because she didn’t offer evidence that any of the outputs “could be understood as recasting, transforming, or adapting the plaintiffs’ books.” Chhabria gave her lawyers a chance to replead the claim, along with five others that weren’t allowed to advance.

Notably, Meta didn’t move to dismiss the allegation that the copying of books for purposes of training its AI model rises to the level of copyright infringement.

The ruling builds upon findings from another federal judge overseeing a lawsuit from artists suing AI art generators over the use of billions of images downloaded from the Internet as training data. In that case, U.S. District Judge William Orrick similarly delivered a blow to fundamental contentions in the lawsuit by questioning whether artists can substantiate copyright infringement in the absence of identical material created by the AI tools. He called the allegations “defective in numerous respects.”

Some of the issues presented in the litigation could decide whether creators are compensated for the use of their material to train human-mimicking chatbots that have the potential to undercut their labor. AI companies maintain that they don’t have to secure licenses because they’re protected by the fair use defense to copyright infringement.

According to the complaint filed in July, Meta’s AI model “copies each piece of text in the training dataset” and then “progressively adjusts its output to more closely resemble” expression extracted from the training dataset. The lawsuit revolved around the claim that the entire purpose of LLaMA is to imitate copyrighted expression and that the entire model should be considered an infringing derivative work.

But Chhabria called the argument “not viable” in the absence of allegations or evidence suggesting that LLaMA, short for Large Language Model Meta AI, has been “recast, transformed, or adapted” based on a preexisting, copyrighted work.

Another of Silverman’s main theories — along with other creators suing AI firms – was that every output produced by AI models are infringing derivatives, with the companies benefiting from every answer initiated by third-party users allegedly constituting an act of vicarious infringement. The judge concluded that her lawyers, who also represent the artists suing StabilityAI, DeviantArt and Midjourney, are “wrong to say that”  — because their books were duplicated in full as part of the LLaMA training process — evidence of substantially similar outputs isn’t necessary.

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter

Editing Racist Language

From Writer Unboxed,

Once again, serendipity gave me this month’s topic.  Not long after I put up last month’s piece on cultural appropriation, the New York Times published an article on the controversy around plans to rewrite the works of Georgette Heyer.  Ms. Heyer, who wrote from the 1920s to the 1970s, essentially created the modern Regency romance.

She’s delightful to read in a lot of ways.  I love her use of early 19th century language, but her Jewish characters are cruel stereotypes.  Her estate has agreed to a new edition of her books with the anti-Semitism edited out.  It’s about time.

The NY Times article argued both sides of the question.  Readers are generally smart enough to see that things were different in the past, so posthumous rewriting to fit more modern sensibilities is unfair to the author.  On the other side, the racist language of the past may be so offensive that some readers will be unable to read it at all.

In Ms.Heyers’ case, the offensive characters are relatively minor and easily rewritten to erase any antisemitism.  In fact, because the characters are stereotypes, the book is stronger without them.

In other cases, the racism is so interwoven in the narrative that the story can’t be saved.  For instance, I couldn’t get through Gone With the Wind.  I mean, yes, great characters, wonderful romance, historic sweep, all of that.  But I couldn’t get past the Lost Cause narrative – that the Confederacy may have lost the war, but, gosh darn it, they were right all along.  The book can be taught in academic settings, where a teacher can give the cultural context, but by now it is more a historical document about the bad old days than popular entertainment.

Then there’s Booth Tarkington.

The house I grew up in didn’t have many books, and I think I read all of them – my older sister’s Bobbsey Twins collection, Oliver Twist (when I was far too young to follow it), a 19th-century edition of Pilgrim’s Progress, with woodcuts.  And Penrod and Sam, a collection of short stories by Booth Tarkington.  Later in life, I got hold of the first book in the series, Penrod.

Both books tell stories of Penrod Schofield, a boy growing up somewhere in the Midwest just after the turn of the 20th century.  Two of Penrod’s friends were black, the brothers Herman and Verman.  (That is correctly spelled, by the way.  As Herman explains when they first meet Penrod, their parents just like rhyming names — they also have an older brother Sherman.)  Because Tarkington was a product of his time, the brothers are often described using racist language.  But . . .

In one of the stories from Penrod, Penrod has to stay in town while most of his friends visit relatives in the country to escape the summer city heat.  While on his own, Penrod meets a bully, Rupe Collins, who menaces and humiliates him.  And in one of the nice bits of characterization that make Tarkington worth reading, Penrod falls straight into hero worship.  He starts spending more time with Rupe and emulating him.  When Sam returns from the country and runs into Rupe and Penrod, Penrod encourages Rupe to bully Sam the way Rupe bullied him.  Rupe is happy to comply by putting Sam in a headlock.

Into this scene walk Herman and Verman.  Their immediate reaction is to tell Rupe to leave their friends alone.  Rupe orders Penrod to throw them out of the carriage house where they’d been playing, referring to them with a racial slur.  Herman takes even more exception to this.  Rupe responds by towering over him and threatening him, much as he had threatened Penrod.

And then Herman and Verman just beat the sweet bejesus out of him.

Again, the language is extremely, unfortunately racist.  I remember one reference to Verman hitting Rupe with a rake, as hard as he could, tines down, “because, in his simple, straightforward, African way, he wished to kill his enemy and kill him as quickly as possible.”  And I can certainly appreciate why many readers wouldn’t be able to get past the language.  But the story’s stuck with me all these years because what the brothers actually do is brave and honorable and done in defense of their own dignity.

Especially since Tarkington is completely behind them.  They are the heroes of the story, full stop.  When they send Rupe packing, they are justifiably exultant with no hint of guilt or regret.  And their attack breaks Penrod’s hero worship, helping their friend get back to normal.  Despite the language, I find it hard to be offended by a story in which two black boys are celebrated for beating the stuffing out of a white racist.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG could argue the case that sanitizing the wording of old books to suit present-day mores is a form of whitewashing racist, etc., attitudes from an earlier time.

Is it not more instructive for students and others to understand how easily and readily writers and establishment publishers fell into the odious practice of using offensive racist terms to describe other human beings?

Are readers and society at large to assume that the American establishment has always been pristinely free of bad racist habits? One of the benefits of studying history, including literary and publishing history, warts and all, is to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana

Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Winston Churchill

X remains primary social media platform for publishers

From The Bookseller:

Publishers say most of their social engagement still comes through X, formerly known as Twitter, though they are now actively engaging with alternatives such as Threads, BlueSky and Mastodon.  

Since business magnate Elon Musk completed his buyout of the networking site in 2022, there have been a number of changes, notably to the platform’s verification policies, stripping verified blue ticks from accounts which hadn’t signed up for its paid-for subscription service. Links to articles also changed to only show the associated image without the headline, making it difficult to share news. This has prompted the book community’s use of the platform to dissipate, but most publishers still see X as their main social media platform as it still has the largest number of active users and newer alternatives are not yet set up for scheduling. 

Jack Birch, senior digital marketing manager at Bloomsbury, told The Bookseller: “The users that have left Twitter/X since Musk’s takeover have not gone to a specific destination; they have fragmented across different platforms such as Blue Sky, Mastodon and Threads, as well as other platforms. As a company, we felt that Threads had the potential to be the biggest competitor to X, given Meta’s history of running successful social media apps and an existing audience that they could convert (cleverly linking Instagram followers to Threads at the click of a button). We hoped Instagram and Facebook users could pivot to a text-based social network, as well as pick up people leaving Musk’s X. However, after initial enthusiasm, interactions and impressions have dropped off a cliff.” 

He believes that despite the press for dwindling numbers on Twitter/X, it remains the place for “influential media figures” such as journalists and celebrities and is still where “news breaks first”. Birch also cited how two of the more recent campaigns, Ghosts: The Button House Archives and The Rest is History, “performed exceptionally well on X, partly due to pre-existing, established fandoms, as well as each book’s content suiting the platform”.

He said that Bloomsbury believes Mastodon and Blue Sky are “currently too complicated for the general user to have wider popular appeal at least at the moment”. He added: “Our social media management platform, Sprout Social, does not currently allow us to schedule posts on these two platforms. With all of this in mind, we have put more energy into our Instagram and TikTok channels. Though content usually takes longer to produce, we are seeing excellent returns on engagements and impressions. As a company, we also have direct relationships with Meta and TikTok, and are able to solve any issues that may affect our accounts.”   

“The social media landscape has always changed very quickly, but, since Musk’s takeover of X, it is even more unstable than it ever has been before. We have a large, and engaged, social media following on Meta, TikTok and X; it is still there where we see our key audience.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

ACLU, Parents, and Students Sue Alaska School District Over Book Bans

From Publishers Weekly:

On November 17, a group of eight local plaintiffs joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and advocacy group the Northern Justice project filed suit against Matanuska-Susitna Borough (Mat-Su) school district north of Anchorage, seeking the return of 56 books said to be improperly banned from school shelves. The suit was filed on behalf of six parents of minor children and two Mat-Su students who are over the age of 18, who claim that the actions of the school board violated their “First and Fourteenth Amendment rights” to free speech and political expression.

“On April 21, 2023, the School Board ordered the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District to remove 56 books from all of its school libraries because the books contained ideas or concepts that either the Board or some members of the public did not like. The District carried out this removal of books,” the complaint states. While acknowledging that “school districts have broad discretion in the management of school affairs,” the suit argues that “such broad discretion is still bounded by the protections of the U.S. Constitution” and that the districts removal of the books infringes on students First Amendment right “to receive ideas and information as a necessary predicate to their meaningful exercise of the rights of speech, press, and political freedom.”

The books ordered removed by the board include classics such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. The removed books also include books “with protagonists of color or LGBTQ+ protagonists” and “nonfiction reference materials discussing adolescent health and development.”

The plaintiffs seek “an injunction, declaratory relief, and nominal damages against the Board’s unconstitutional removal of books, to protect their right and freedom to explore a wide range of ideas.”

In a statement, ACLU of Alaska legal director Ruth Botstein, said the Mat-Su board put “its personal views” ahead of the rights of students and parents it serves. “Removing classic reads and award-winning literature from bookshelves violates students’ rights to receive ideas and information. This is a foundational component of the rights of young Alaskans to exercise freedom of speech, press, and political expression. Book banning in any public setting is unacceptable.”

The suit in Alaska is the latest in a legal effort to turn back an ongoing, politically-organized nationwide wave of book banning. In addition to the action in Alaska, an ACLU suit is currently pending in Missouri, challenging Senate Bill 775, a school library obscenity law that opponents say forces librarians to censor their collections under the “threat of arbitrary enforcement of imprisonment or fines.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly


PG has always liked interesting Typography.

First a definition:

Typography is the art of arranging letters and text in a way that makes the copy legible, clear, and visually appealing to the reader.

It involves font style, appearance, and structure, which aims to elicit certain emotions and convey specific messages. In short, typography is what brings the text to life.

From Typographic Design:

Link to the rest at Typographic Design