If we’re lucky

If we’re lucky, writer and reader alike, we’ll finish the last line or two of a short story and then just sit for a minute, quietly. Ideally, we’ll ponder what we’ve just written or read; maybe our hearts or intellects will have been moved off the peg just a little from where they were before. Our body temperature will have gone up, or down, by a degree. Then, breathing evenly and steadily once more, we’ll collect ourselves, writers and readers alike, get up, “created of warm blood and nerves” as a Chekhov character puts it, and go on to the next thing: Life. Always life.
— Raymond Carver

Reading Patients, Writing Care

We turned her every couple of hours in the end, though somehow the procedure seemed more incessant than that. At times, it felt like a peculiarly brutal routine to inflict upon someone under your watch. But there was no room for compromise in the instruction we’d been told to follow: pressure sores can be deadly. And to have any chance of preventing them, we had to subject my grandmother to regular, distressing turns, which couldn’t be done fluently due to the effort involved; turns that demolished whatever quantum of peace only morphine could supply her in repose.

Before long, the task inevitably acquired a regimental punctuality. Yet it remained too intimate ever to be entirely functional. Nor did it become any easier with practice. By design, the whole process is rarely seamless. One hasty move can be torturous. Equally, though, overcautiousness carries its own perils: repositioning someone in slow motion prolongs the risk of aggravating existing abrasions. However tightly we policed our complacencies, there was always room for agony; and however inescapable such pain is, we weren’t about to absolve ourselves of the additional suffering we alone seemed to be inflicting. If it appeared as though we were destined to fail, this was hardly an acceptable compensation. The constant glare of anticipatory grief leaves the labor of care bleached of self-forgiveness.

The house in which my mother had been born and where she now once again lived—on account of poverty, not out of choice—became the place where she would see her own mother die. This symmetry was a privilege amid formidable sadness: “Most people want to die at home,” observes dementia campaigner and novelist Nicci Gerrard, yet “most die in hospital.” And while the majority of terminally ill people “want to be with family,” too “often they are alone with strangers.” How fortunate we were to be bucking that trend.

It is caregiving’s emotional and physical contours that are illuminated throughout Rachel Clarke’s Dear Life: A Doctor’s Story of Love and Loss. Although the book centers on the remarkable work of professional hospice staff—who ensure that people who don’t spend their final hours at home are at least surrounded by dignity, calm, even consolation—Clarke’s vision of care’s complex entwinements of torment and fulfillment is unconfined to specialist practitioners. As such, she reads distinct end-of-life experiences in medical settings for what they reveal about our common sentiments toward illness and dying; sentiments that imbue countless, apparently unexceptional, yet affectively multifaceted acts of caregiving that take place outside clinical environments too.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Who’s afraid of the big (good) Second Life Book Club?

From The Bookseller:

On average I devour 120 books per year, mostly literary and genre novels. I have time to do this because I don’t watch TV and my Facebook account has been deactivated years ago.

Reading is my meditation. It grounds me. But e-Books are verboten. For me, it’s strictly paper books. This may seem contradictory for someone who spends a significant portion of his life working with and engaged in technology. Specifically, a virtual world where my avatar (Draxtor Despres) runs a book community called the Second Life Book Club.

The Second Life Book Club’s flagship offering is an hour-long program every Wednesday at 12 pm Pacific Time (8pm UK time), where I have conversations with writers about their work, the craft and the business. The book club venue “seats” an audience of 50 in-world, and reaches an average of 3000 viewers through simultaneous live broadcasts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

The conversation is followed by a “post-game hangout”, where writers and audience members can converse. Since April 2020 my guests have included Charles Yu (National Book Award Finalist with Interior Chinatown), Yvonne Battle-Felton (longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 with Remembered), famed children’s book illustrator from Syria, Nadine Kaadan, and star of Indian speculative fiction, Samit Basu.

The book club grew out of the collaborative effort of Second Life Maker Linden Lab and myself, a Linden Lab contractor, as a way to demonstrate the viability of a virtual book tour in response to the impact of Covid-19 lockdown measures on the publishing industry.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller, including links to all the programs, sites, etc., mentioned in the excerpt.

PG hadn’t heard bout the Second Life Book Club before, perhaps because he has been sheltering in place from the US Presidential Election and the bits and pieces flying off therefrom and bouncing around the internet.

Has anyone ever listened to, watched, seen, streamed, etc., the Second Life Book Club?

If so, what has been your reaction?

The indie book platform trying to take on Amazon

From CNN:

New bookselling platform Bookshop is pitching itself as a way for independent bookstores to claw back sales from Amazon, which controls a lion’s share of a market worth nearly $26 billion in the US alone.

Bookshop, launched by literary publisher Andy Hunter in January, claims to be a “socially conscious” alternative to Amazon. A spokesperson for the enterprise also said it has already earned more than $7.5 million for US indie bookshops and taken 2 percent of Amazon’s share of the market in its first year.

The platform allows booksellers to create their own digital stores and receive the full profit margin (30 percent) from each sale through their page. 10 percent of sales through Bookshop also go towards a fund that is divided between indie bookshops whether or not they are part of the platform. Chris Doeblin, the owner of three Book Culture locations in New York, said he saw his sales plummet by half as Amazon grew in popularity in the late 1990s. “We’ve barely held on. It’s been horrible,” Doeblin said in a telephone interview. “Independent bookshops do wonderful things for a community — they populate the storefronts, they offer a place to go.”

Link to the rest at CNN and thanks to N. for the tip

PG was prepared to wish this start-up well until he hit the “socially conscious alternative to Amazon” part of the OP.

For the record, PG is socially conscious. Mrs. PG is socially conscious. All the PG offspring and their friends are socially conscious.

And we’ve all used Amazon even more than ever during the Age of Covid.

Plus, referencing the OP, “populating the storefronts” is a community service that doesn’t require books. One populator fills up the space pretty much as well as another. PG suspects a retail establishment selling beer and liquor might generate more customer traffic and pay more state and local taxes to help the community than your typical indie bookstore would.

On the Brink of a Nervous Breakdown

For visitors to TPV from outside of the United States, a great many people in the US are displaying characteristics indicating high stress levels due to the current election for the Presidency.

PG is, of course, as placid as a summer stream.

However, so far as PG has observed, a great many commentators on the book biz and writing in general appear to be in a state of suspended animation, looking at their televisions/smartphones/tablets, etc., or, perhaps anxiety-texting, so PG has not found much new content of interest to authors so far today.

He’ll do further looking from blogs operated by people who live outside of the US to see if he is able to unearth anything.

In the meantime, a bit of Rolling Stones.

Can You Care for Others Without Destroying Yourself?

From Electric Lit:

Women providing care––and the ways in which care can be made murky by expectations related to gender, religion, and tied unfairly at times to a means of proving love—is a significant theme in Lynn Coady’s latest novel, Watching You Without Me.

After Karen’s mother Irene passes away, Karen returns to her childhood home in order to process the complicated relationship she had with her mother, sift through the detritus of her former life, and make decisions about how best to support her sister Kelli, who is disabled. These reckonings lead to questions, both for Karen and the reader: How much can –– and should –– we care for others without losing ourselves in the process? What happens when caregivers burn out? What lines can and should exist between caregivers and the people they care for, and what harms are caused when these lines are blurred? 

In our current climate, one in which women are shouldering childcare duties while also attempting to maintain work (spoiler: it’s impossible), and parents are being told they are no longer allowed to care for children at home while they work (a policy arguably disproportionately affecting women), Coady’s book, one unapologetically written about women’s lives, for women, serves both as a balm and guide. And while the characters do grapple with significant issues related to self-preservation and complicated familial relationships, there’s also a compelling note of tension that rises to crescendo, rendering this a deliciously layered read.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG will limit himself to two comments:

  1. Any employer which has the gall to prohibit a mother or father, aunt, uncle, etc., from watching children who otherwise might be poorly-tended while working at home during something like the Covid Pandemic should suffer public shaming and, perhaps, the employee who made such a decision should also be identified and disdained to the max.
  2. The answer to the OP’s title – Can You Care for Others Without Destroying Yourself? – is, of course, yes.

People have been doing this for as long as children and aged relatives have existed. No reasonable person would contend that it’s easy and, perhaps, some people don’t have the necessary physical, mental and emotional stamina to do this sort of thing, but, without a doubt, it can be done without destroying oneself.

Indeed, more than a few caregivers have found the task to be highly rewarding. There is a bond that forms when one person serves another’s needs over an extended period of time that may not be entirely replicable in other contexts.

The following is but one of many, many expressions of that bond:

Love is not about what I am going to get, but what I am going to give. People make a mistake in thinking that you give to those whom you love, the real answer is, you love those to whom you give.

– Abraham Twerski

Lost in a Gallup

From The Wall Street Journal:

Griping about polling goes back a long time, even to the days before George Gallup published the first random-sample opinion poll in October 1935—as many years away from us in 2020 as that first poll was from the Compromise of 1850. And truth to tell, it doesn’t seem intuitively obvious that the responses of a randomly chosen group of 800 people should come reasonably close, in 19 cases out of 20, to those you’d get if you could interview everyone in a nation of 209 million adults. Even sharp math students don’t always know much about statistics and probability. So the griping goes on.

Some of it reflects a misunderstanding of what polling is. It’s not prediction: Polls are a snapshot taken at a point in time, not a movie preview of what you’ll see later. That fundamental point is often lost or at least misplaced by W.Joseph Campbell in “Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in U.S. Presidential Elections,” an otherwise fast-moving narrative history of some attempts to gauge public opinion amid electoral politics. “Election polls are not always accurate prophecies,” Mr. Campbell writes early on. He notes that “polling failures tend to produce broadly similar effects—surprise, anger, bewilderment and frustration at their failing to provide the American public with accurate clues about the most consequential of all U.S. elections.” Surprise, anger, bewilderment, frustration: This sounds like the response to the result of the 2016 election in the city where Mr. Campbell teaches, Washington (which voted 91% for Hillary Clinton and 4% for Donald Trump).

But Mr. Campbell’s gaze goes far beyond the Beltway and back further in history than the astonishing election night four years ago. He is well aware that the national polls in 2016 were close to the results; the pre-election Real Clear Politics average showed Hillary Clinton ahead by 3.3%, close to her 2.1% plurality in the popular vote. Polls in some states were further off. Still, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight gave Donald Trump a 29% chance of winning, and 29% chances happen about one-third of the time. Mr. Campbell quotes RCP’s Sean Trende saying, rightly, that 2016 “wasn’t a failure of the polls. . . . It was a failure of punditry.”

The subject of “Lost in a Gallup” is not so much election polling as its effects on political journalism. Mr. Campbell, a prolific author and a communications professor at American University, admits up front that he is not concerned with “jargon and the opaque methodological arcana that pollsters and polling experts are keen to invoke.” The book is a history of mistakes and overcompensating for mistakes. Polling pioneers Gallup, Elmo Roper and Alexander Crossley, after bragging how closely the past three elections matched their poll numbers, all showed Thomas Dewey leading Harry Truman in 1948. Having got that wrong, they fudged their results to project a close race in 1952. Wrong again!

. . . .

Mr. Campbell devotes much attention, justifiably, to the 1980 election. For months, polls showed a close race between incumbent Jimmy Carter and elderly (age 69) challenger Ronald Reagan. But when the exit polls—invented by polling innovator Warren Mitofsky, also the inventor of random digit-dialing phone interviewing—showed Reagan well ahead, NBC projected his victory, to almost everyone’s astonishment.

But were the polls actually wrong? The author quotes the Carter and Reagan pollsters, Patrick Caddell and Richard Wirthlin, saying that opinion shifted strongly to Reagan after the candidates’ single debate seven days before the election and after Mr. Carter’s return to Washington the next weekend to tend to the Iran hostage crisis. Both pollsters told me the same thing back in the 1980s. Their story makes sense. Reagan’s “are you better off than you were four years ago?” debate line (stolen, though no one then realized it, from Franklin Roosevelt’s 1934 pre-election fireside chat) worked in his favor, and Mr. Carter’s job rating, buoyed upward all year by his efforts to free the hostages, was liable to collapse when he failed.

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

The Discovery of a Rare Pink Diamond

From CrimeReads:

A pink diamond is a key into the human heart, where it unlocks the store of delight, love, treachery, and greed that distinguishes us from other animals. I’m a sucker for a pink.

When I lived in London I would go blocks out of my way to check out Laurence Graff’s window in New Bond Street. There they’d be, at least one or two tiny pink stones twinkling away behind the thick glass with stupefying price tags. They looked so delicate—as if someone had leaned in and puffed a mist of pale-pink air into the heart of the jewel. But they’re not delicate. They’re stone-cold crazy. When I decided to switch from reportage to fiction, of course that’s where I’d start.

I knew a pair of South Africans who ran a barge on the Chicapa River in northeastern Angola during the civil war. They suctioned up the diamond-rich gravels by day and traded rocket fire with rebel guerrillas by night. One day in 1995 they hoovered up a 24-carat pink. They chartered a Learjet and took it straight to Johannesburg and sold it on the Bourse for $4.8 million. The buyer flipped it in New York for $10 million and the stone got polished into matching pears that were promptly sold, according to the street, to the Sultan of Brunei’s bother. He paid $20 million. If he’s ever short of cash, he’s in luck. He could flog them now for a quarter of a million dollars a carat. Better than owning shares in Google!

And for what? Nobody’s even sure what makes them pink. The color doesn’t come from the presence of trace minerals, like the boron that turns a diamond blue. Instead, some deformation of the crystal lattice happens while the stone is riding up from the depths in the kind of volcano called a diamond pipe. That imperfection can make a diamond pink. But, boy—not often.

So rare are pinks that the discovery of a big one galvanizes the whole diamond world, and when an 81-carater plonked onto the sorting screen of a barge on one of Brazil’s great diamond rivers—people, I booked my ticket.

I flew overnight to São Paulo and caught the connector to Belo Horizonte. In Belo, an Australian mining engineer named Steve Fabian picked me up. Steve ran a small mining company called Black Swan that had some diamond properties. Black Swan had bought a piece of the pink, and Steve had convinced his partners to let me see it.

We drove out into the beautiful countryside of Minas Gerais. Brazil was once the world’s leading diamond producer. Although its glory days are past, diamond people still love the place. Who wouldn’t? Brazil’s diamond rivers have coughed up eye-popping jewels. Just take the Rio Abate, where the pink I was going to see had been found. Pinks weighing 275 carats and 120 carats have come out of its muddy waters.

When Steve and I got to Patos de Minas, he called his partners, the Campos brothers, to tell them we’d arrived. They gave him a street corner where we were to wait. “They’re going to check you out,” Steve said. We stood outside the car and waited. It was the youngest brother, Geraldo, who finally arrived.

He was a fit, athletic-looking man in his early thirties. He wore the soccer jersey of the local team, faded jeans and immaculate Adidas running shoes. We chatted for a minute, he decided I wasn’t a bandit, and we drove to a three-story apartment building and climbed to the top floor, where Gisnei, the middle brother waited. Gisnei sat down beside me, peered meaningfully at my open notebook, and told me how it was going to be.

“Put down that Gilmar saw it first,” Gisnei told me, identifying the oldest brother. “Put down that Gilmar got to the Abaete first, and was the first to see the stone.”

In fact Geraldo got there first. He got out of his car and the men handed him the stone. He took out his loupe and studied it, then looked away to clear his head, took a deep breath and looked again. “I felt great emotion,” he said, “my feelings were very great.” When Gilmar, the senior brother, arrived, Geraldo handed him the stone. Gilmar, a hard man in his forties, took one look and began to cry. When the pink arrived at the apartment that day in Patos, I could understand why.

It was a knockout—strong color and cuttable shape. It had the frosted skin that river stones get from being rolled around in the rocks for a million years. But there was a great view into the interior. The brothers had polished off an unsightly protuberance on the edge, making a clean window into the stone.

. . . .

Diamond lore is full of stories of a cutter making his way through a pink when, suddenly, as if the diamond thought it had endured enough, the color faded from strong to faint, draining tens of thousands of dollars a carat from the stone before the cutter’s eyes. Steve arranged for a London expert to rate the cutting options. He thought it would remain a strong ink, and said their bottom price should be $130,000 a carat.

Sadly for me, the stone disappeared, a common fate for a multimillion-dollar liquid asset that doesn’t leave a banking trail. No one would tell me who had bought it or how much they’d paid. I dogged the rumor trail to a Hong Kong construction company, but after a few emails they slammed the door and I never heard another word until last year, when a thirty-carat intense pink polished diamond showed up in Los Angeles at a gem show at the natural history museum.

The curator of gems there wrote to ask if I thought the pink in his exhibition might have come from the Brazilian pink. The lender, he said, was uncertain of its provenance.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

Branding 101

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

Does the idea of “branding” yourself or your work make you cringe? (I’m an artist, dammit—not a corporate sleaze bag!) Are you confused by what “branding” for novelists, essayists, poets, or even general non-fiction writers even means? Or, conversely, are you sold on the necessity of branding your writing and excited about the opportunity, but completely intimidated by how exactly to go about it? 

I confess I was solidly in the cringe camp for much of my early writing life when discussing authors as brands. But that’s because I was (as my above “corporate sleaze bag” comment might have hinted!) operating under misconceptions about what branding is (and possibly being unkind to sleaze bags too . . . but I digress).

. . . .

In a nutshell, [James Patterson] says to think of “brand” as a relationship you have with your readers. What can readers turn to your books for—and never be disappointed? What can they depend on you for that you will always deliver?

I also really benefited from Mike Loomis’ take that “personal branding does not mean a fake façade.” Rather it’s “the public expression of your calling.”

Thinking of brand that way—as a promise and a commitment rather than a hard sell—eased my concerns about seeming overly “salesy” or gimmicky.

. . . .

Why YOU (and every author) needs a brand

First and foremost, having a clear brand finds you readers—who then, hopefully, become loyal, voracious fans.

Regardless of genre or form, Trad published or Indie, the biggest struggle authors face is getting noticed and not having their book(s) fall into obscurity.

Knowing precisely what your brand is (what you offer readers!) gives you an action plan to attract readers, gain visibility, and stand out in a very crowded marketplace.

A strong, clear, consistent brand is:

  • a magnet to new readers (Ooooh, this looks and sounds like my kind of book!)
  • a reassurance to return readers (I really liked his last book—and this one is awesome too!)
  • a comfort to true fans (Insert YOUR name never disappoints!) that keeps them coming back to you book after book

Two side benefits of knowing your brand:

1. It makes almost all aspects of marketing and promotion easier.

. . . .

2. It is a map for deciding future projects. 

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

Regarding James Patterson, PG will note that the first 25 years of his career was spent working at a very large New York advertising agency. One of the things ad agencies do for their clients is to help the client to create a high-quality and memorable brand.

A good brand is worth a lot of money, whether it’s Coca-Cola (what’s the price difference at your local grocery store between a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola and a 2 liter bottle of generic cola that may taste pretty much the same?) or James Patterson or JK Rowling?

How much did JK make on her first book during the first six months after its release? How much does she make now when she releases a new book of almost any sort? What about the difference in the advance she received then and receives now?

You’ll also note that Ms. Rowling is very picky about what products are associated with Harry Potter and friends. Has anyone seen a Harry Potter drag strip? A line of heavy construction equipment named after Harry?

One way to receive a strong letter from a large law firm is to use Apple’s or Coca-Cola’s brand without permission.

Should you ignore the letter and go ahead regardless, you’ll want to have a very good group of attorneys lined up ahead of time. They won’t work for free. A great many top-quality attorneys will turn you down flat absent a huge retainer fee paid upfront because they know how hard Apple or Coca-Cola will work to not only slap you down, but to make an example of you that will intimidate anyone who thinks about following in your footsteps.

On a regular basis Forbes magazine publishes a detailed evaluation of The World’s Most Valuable Brands. The article includes a description of the methodology they use to separate brand value from the overall value of the corporation that owns the brand. It’s definitely a quantitative process.

Here are the top ten on Forbes’ latest list:

RankBrandBrand Value1-Yr Value ChangeBrand RevenueIndustry
1Apple$241.2 B17%$260.2 BTechnology
2Google$207.5 B24%$145.6 BTechnology
3Microsoft$162.9 B30%$125.8 BTechnology
4Amazon$135.4 B40%$260.5 BTechnology
5Facebook$70.3 B-21%$49.7 BTechnology
6Coca-Cola$64.4 B9%$25.2 BBeverages
7Disney$61.3 B18%$38.7 BLeisure
8Samsung$50.4 B-5%$209.5 BTechnology
9Louis Vuitton$47.2 B20%$15 BLuxury
10McDonald’s$46.1 B5%$100.2 BRestaurants

How to Dress for the Apocalypse

From The Wall Street Journal:

Most apocalyptic movies play out like this: First humanity falls, then the sweaters get torn. OK, maybe it’s not quite that simple. But in nearly every catastrophic film of the past few decades—from 1997’s corny clunker “The Postman” to 1999’s hallowed chronicle “The Matrix,” to the sorta-schmaltzy, sorta-stirring “Hunger Games” trilogy (2012-2015)—hole-ridden, wholly beaten-up sweaters have served as the foundation for the character’s costumes.

“It almost makes you laugh,” said Nancy Deihl, director of the Costume Studies program at New York University’s Steinhardt School, of the tattered-knit trope. Though the pandemic has delayed many movies’ release dates, distressed clothes continue to punctuate the apocalyptic epics that have reached cinemas or are on deck. In the South Korean zombie-apocalypse film “Peninsula,” which came out in America this August, the characters battle the undead in threadbare sweaters, coats and shirts. In the trailer for “A Quiet Place Part II,” which is now slated to hit theaters next April, the knits remain intact (if in need of a good wash) but the T-shirt Cillian Murphy’s character wears is sufficiently sliced.

. . . .

The urge to shred has even begun to bleed over into the costume design for movies and TV shows that only glancingly concern the end-of-days. If you see a distressed sweater in any drama, it unmistakably signals misfortune. In the recently released HBO miniseries “The Third Day,” the drab, downtrodden sweater that Sam (Jude Law) wears as he explores an eerie British island is a dead giveaway that his journey will end tragically.

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

PG notes that there are a great many images that may provide some fashion clues about how one should dress for The Apocolypse (or maybe, An Apocolypse if it’s worthy of a TV seriesss).

“Death on the Pale Horse,” painted by the American artist Benjamin West in 1796
Karl Briullov: The Last Day of Pompeii, 1830-1833
John Martin: The Fall of Babylon, a mezzotint with etching, 1831
Allegory of the Apocalypse is a painting by Joseph Heintz the Younger c.1600-1678
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Arturo Souto, 1937 via Wikimedia Commons,  
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

If you’ve made it this far, PG suggests a couple of contemporary fashion accessories for the, an, the 2020, etc., Apocalypse.

Choose whichever suits your whims.

There was a time when I thought I loved my first wife

There was a time when I thought I loved my first wife more than life itself. But now I hate her guts. I do. How do you explain that? What happened to that love? What happened to it, is what I’d like to know. I wish someone could tell me.
— Raymond Carver

Reading literary versus popular fiction promotes different socio-cognitive processes, study suggests

From PsyPost:

A study published in PLOS One suggests that the type of fiction a person reads affects their social cognition in different ways. Specifically, literary fiction was associated with increased attributional complexity and accuracy in predicting social attitudes, while popular fiction was linked to increased egocentric bias.

“We learn a lot about ourselves, interpersonal relations, how institutions work, etc., from fiction. In other words, fiction impacts what we think about the world. But in my research, I am interested in the ways in which fiction shapes how we think,” explained study author Emanuele Castano of the University of Trento and the National Research Council in Italy.

. . . .

“We distinguished between literary (e.g. Don Delillo, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Munroe) and popular fiction (e.g. Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, Jackie Collins), and showed that it is by reading literary fiction that you enhance your mindreading abilities — you are better at inferring and representing what other people think, feel, their intentions, etc.”

Link to the rest at PsyPost

PG wonders, at least in the current (and likely post-election) political environment in the US, if more mindreading purporting to discover other people’s (perhaps hidden) thoughts and motives is a good idea or not.

The Strand Shouldn’t Have to Beg Us Not to Die

From Slate:

On Friday, New York City’s legendary Strand bookstore announced it was in trouble. With revenue down 70 percent because of the pandemic, owner Nancy Bass Wyden warned in a post on social media, the “loans and cash reserves that have kept us afloat these past months are depleted,” and the 93-year-old landmark is fighting for its survival.

Just as so many businesses and institutions have since March, Bass Wyden turned to her loyal customers for help, asking them to spend their money and spread the word, using the hashtag #SaveThe Strand. But alongside encomia from celebrities and Slate’s former editor in chief, another chorus arose, asking why Bass Wyden, a multimillionaire who is also the wife of a U.S. senator, was passing the hat rather than raiding her own piggy bank. As an article in the Baffler laid out in detail last month, the store received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of between $1 million and 2 million in April with the purpose of protecting the 212 jobs spread across its three locations, including the 188 workers Bass Wyden laid off in late March. Ultimately fewer than two dozen union jobs were restored, and Bass Wyden put her personal fortune to work purchasing stock in Amazon, a mortal enemy of brick-and-mortar booksellers she described as a necessary step toward keeping the Strand afloat.

. . . .

The Strand is a literary mecca, so beloved that the novelist in Sofia Coppola’s new movie On the Rocks sports two separate tote bags with its logo during the course of the film. But bad bosses suck, especially ones who use economic exigency as an excuse to gut union staff. Yet the infuriating thing about the Strand controversy isn’t not knowing which side to pick. (As a union employee myself, that part is pretty easy.) It’s that we even have to have this conversation.

More than seven months after the first lockdowns, American small businesses have been left to twist in the wind. The PPP, as Slate’s Jordan Weissman wrote back in July, was a bust, a poorly administered half-measure. But that policy blunder pales in comparison to how badly the federal government has managed the pandemic as a whole—not to mention how many cultural institutions will likely be diminished or destroyed as a result of the government’s failures.

. . . .

My guess is that the Strand, with its iconic status and well-heeled supporters, will end up being fine. San Francisco’s similarly storied City Lights raised more than half a million dollars in April to help it get through the pandemic. But what about all the other bookstores who don’t have their name recognition or the ability to fundraise outside their own neighborhoods—or simply those in neighborhoods where people are too concerned with keeping themselves afloat to even think of giving money away? 

Link to the rest at Slate

PG gently suggests the Pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already well underway before anybody had heard about Covid.

HC signs book for stressed women

From The Bookseller:

HarperCollins has acquired a guide to help women beat stress, Stressilient, by clinical psychologist Dr Sam Akbar.

World English language rights for Stressilient: How to Beat Stress and Build Resilience were acquired by PR and publishing director Michelle Kane at Fourth Estate from Claudia Young at Greene & Heaton. Publication is scheduled for spring 2022.

In the book, Dr Akbar will draw on her own professional expertise–with over 10 years’ experience as a clinical psychologist–providing “sensitive guidance and practical tools for women who are looking to feel calmer, less stressed and more resilient to life’s challenges”.

Kane said: “While life affirming insta-quotes might provide a quick fix, now, more than ever, we need the voices of experts to help us deal with our mental wellbeing in the long term. Sam’s professional experience positions her as a real voice we can trust in and this essential little book will provide tools that the reader will use for life!”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The Golden Age of Book Adaptations for TV

From Publishers Weekly:

Though many novelists yearn for film adaptations of their books, they quite often wind up dissatisfied with the results, and the same holds true for those novelists’ devoted fans. Movie adaptations tend to be unsatisfying. Not every author’s work gets the runtime Margaret Mitchell got for Gone with the Wind, and even that movie had readers disappointed over scenes from the book that hadn’t been included.

The truth is that a movie cannot hope to capture everything in a novel that readers enjoyed. There is simply not enough time, nor is there enough production money. Basic things like locations, supporting characters, and so-called big money shots will be radically modified or even eliminated from film versions of novels. And films are subject to scriptwriters’ and directors’ interpretations of their source material, not to mention the input of some very hands-on producers.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

In the movie business, a screenwriter is not in charge of much of anything. The producer hires the screenwriter, sometimes in consultation with the director, and can fire him/her at any time and bring someone else in to do or finish the job.

The author of a book being adapted for television or motion picture purposes has even less control over what happens unless her name is JK Rowling and maybe not even then.

If the author is traditionally-published, the standard industry publishing agreement gives the publisher the sole right to decide how to exploit/sell movie or TV rights. (Regardless of whether the publisher has ever sold movie/TV/performance rights before.)

The author is just along for the ride. PG is familiar with a couple of cases in which the publisher forgot to notify the author or the publisher notified the author’s agent who forgot to contact the author and the author learned about a movie being made based on the author’s book about the same time as the rest of the world did.

Amazon Literary Partnership Opens for 2021 Submissions

From Publishing Perspectives:

In May, as you’ll recall, we announced that the Amazon Literary Partnership program of grants had announced more than US$1 million in funding to a total 66 nonprofit organizations.

That program has now opened its application submissions process for its 2021 grants.

“As in previous years,” organizers of the program write, the effort is “to fund organizations working to champion diverse, marginalized, and unrepresented authors and storytellers.

“Supporting [recipients] with more than US$13 million in grant funding since the Amazon Literary Partnership began in 2009, our previous grant recipients represent institutions large and small, national and local, and include nonprofit writing centers, residencies, fellowships, after-school classes, literary magazines, national organizations supporting storytelling and free speech, and internationally acclaimed publishers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

“We are excited to work again with the Academy of American Poets for our Poetry Fund, as well as the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) for our Literary Magazine Fund.”

. . . .

In announcing the 2020 awards in May, the current director of the program, Alexandra Woodworth, said, “Given the impact that COVID-19 has had on the literary community, we’re proud to continue to fund these remarkable organizations sustaining literary culture in our communities now and for the future.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

It’s so frustrating to some when Amazon fails to act like a villain.

PG will keep his eyes open for similar announcements from Random House, Macmillan, etc.

To Hold Up the Sky

From The Wall Street Journal:

Cixin Liu’s “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy, which began with “The Three-Body Problem,” is arguably the most significant work of science fiction so far this century: full of ideas, full of optimism, enormous in scale. But, with more than 1,000 pages across three books, the series demands a high level of commitment from readers. Mr. Liu’s new story collection, “To Hold Up the Sky” (Tor, 334 pages, $27.99), shows us where he’s coming from, and how far he’s come.

The 11 stories here were all first published in China, some as long as 20 years ago. In his introduction, Mr. Liu denies that there is any systemic difference between Chinese and Western sci-fi. Both have the same underlying theme: the immense difference between the scale of humans as individuals and the scale of the universe around us. This shows in the first story, “The Village Teacher.” Its scenes shift from a mountain village, where a primary-school teacher lies on his deathbed, explaining Newton with his last breath, to a million-warship galactic war, in which Earth and humanity are about to be destroyed. Unless, that is, randomly selected samples, who happen to be from the old teacher’s last class, can prove humanity’s intelligence. Can the small, for once, confound the great?

The poverty scenes in this collection are moving in a way not normally found in sci-fi, but one has to say that the “casual elimination by aliens” trope was old by the time of “Hitchhiker’s Guide.” In “Full-Spectrum Barrage Jamming,” Mr. Liu imagines the final shootout between Russia and NATO, as it might have seemed back in 2001, when the story was first published. It’s a battlefield full of Abrams and T-90 tanks, as well as Comanche helicopters and a Russian orbital fort—but all of them are rendered useless by electronic counter-measures. So it’s back to bayonets. Done well, but the same development was at the heart of Gordon Dickson’s “Dorsai” stories a long generation ago.

. . . .

Mr. Liu’s strength is narrowing the large-scale tech down to agonizing issues for individuals. That could be us. 

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

Dreams

Dreams, you know, are what you wake up from.
— Raymond Carver

Parlez moi D’amour

PG was intrigued by the origin of the title of one of books by Raymond Carver about whom PG posted yesterday.

Lucienne Boyer

It appears the title of Carver’s book is taken from a popular French song from the 1930’s, Parlez moi D’amour. The French singer who performed as Lucienne Boyer was born in 1901 in Paris and learned to sing in the cabarets of Montparnasse. She made Parlez moi D’amour her trademark in the 1930’s.

In 1939, Ms. Boyer married another cabaret singer, Jacques Pills, who was Jewish. They had a child, Jacqueline, born in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1941 and stayed in the city throughout the war. In 1951, they divorced and Pills married Édith Piaf the following year.

Lucienne continued her successful singing career through the 1970’s and died in 1983.

In the movie, Casablanca, Sam, the piano player, is playing Parlez moi D’amour in the background when Ingrid Bergman enters Rick’s Café Américain for the first time.

It appears that the title and lyrics may fall into the category of “You can’t really understand unless you speak French and have a bone-deep knowledge of the culture and the times in which it was composed and performed.”

Here are the original French lyrics followed by two English translations which PG located online:

Parlez-moi d’amour
Redites-moi des choses tendres
Votre beau discours
Mon coeur n’est pas las de l’entendre
Pourvu que toujours
Vous répétiez ces mots suprêmes :
“Je vous aime”

Vous savez bien
Que dans le fond je n’en crois rien
Mais cependant je veux encore
Écouter ce mot que j’adore
Votre voix aux sons caressants
Qui le murmure en frémissant
Me berce de sa belle histoire
Et malgré moi je veux y croire

Il est si doux
Mon cher trésor, d’être un peu fou
La vie est parfois trop amère
Si l’on ne croit pas aux chimères
Le chagrin est vite apaisé
Et se console d’un baiser
Du coeur on guérit la blessure
Par un serment qui le rassure

en anglais – 1

Speak to me of love
tell me tender things once more
your beautiful speech
my heart doesn’t get tired of listening to it
provided that you always
repeat those supreme words:
“I love you”

You know well
that deep inside me I don’t believe any of them
but nonetheless I still want to
listen to those words which I adore
your voice with its caressing sounds
which whisper tremblingly
deludes me with its beautiful story
and despite myself, I want to believe in it

[Refrain]

He’s so sweet
my beloved treasure, he’s a bit crazy
life is sometimes too bitter
if we don’t believe in chimeras
grief is soothed quickly
and consoles itself with a kiss
we heal the wound of our heart
with an oath which reassures it

en anglais – 2

Speak to me of love
And say what I’m longing to hear
Tender words of love
Repeat them again
I implore you speak to me of love
Whisper these words to me, dear
I adore you.

I want to hear,
to hear those words that are so dear
I want to hear you say I love you
By all the little stars above you
Your voice is like a fun caress
It thrills me till I must confess
I long to hear the voice that brings me
Such thrilling love and happines

Each translation is from https://lyricstranslate.com

The following video features Ms. Boyer singing her trademark song. PG picked the video because of its inclusion of some grainy and scratched clips from post-war and 1960’s French cinema.

Winning NaNoWriMo with Scrivener

From Writer Unboxed:

Whether you’re plotting in advance or completely winging it, Scrivener can help you win National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Here are some of my favorite features to help you hit 50K in November, or whatever your writing goal is, any month of the year.

Handling Ideas, or the Lack Thereof

When you’re writing for speed, you can’t afford to be slowed down by ideas for future scenes, or get stuck trying to conjure the perfect piece of dialog. Nor do you have time for additional research.

Instead, make a note and get back to writing. Scrivener offers several options for leaving notes.

Annotations and Comments: These are notes you can leave at a particular point in your text, which makes them great for reminders about fixing a bad description, looking up precise medical details for an injury, or anything else that’s spot-specific.

. . . .

Documents: For manuscript-level notes and ideas, you might instead create a document to jot down things as they occur to you. I also like the idea of having a Change Log document for notes on scenes I’ve already written, so I’m not tempted to fix them when I should be writing new material.

Another use for documents is to create one when you have an idea for a future scene, and use it as a placeholder. You can enter a brief description of what you think will happen in the Synopsis card, or maybe quickly write out the conversation or piece of action that came to you before you forget. When you get to that point in the manuscript, the scene will already be waiting.

. . . .

Synopsis: For those who plot—either the whole book in advance, or each scene immediately before you write it—the Synopsis . . . is a great place to keep a reminder of what’s supposed to happen, in case you forget. If you don’t plot at all, you can add a short description of what happened after you write the scene, to help you keep track as your story builds.

The Corkboard lets you view the synopsis cards storyboard-style. If this is your thing, I recommend not grouping your documents into folders until you’re done using the Corkboard to view, plot, and reorder your story.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG hadn’t thought about Scrivener for a long time.

Long ago, he tried out an earlier iteration for creating legal documents, but decided it wasn’t going to improve his efficiency.

PG would be interested in what real authors think about Scrivener these days (if they think about it at all). Feel free to comment.

Disssecting a Scam: The Literary Scout Impersonator

From Writer Beware:

I’ve written several posts about a fairly new phenomenon in the world of writing scams: scammers that falsely use the names of reputable publishing professionals, including literary agents and publishers, to lure writers into paying large amounts of money for worthless, substandard, and/or never-delivered services.

This time, I’m breaking down a very similar scam that, capitalizing on the pandemic-fueled popularity of Netflix and other streaming services (as well as the eternal writerly dream of having one’s book translated into film), is appropriating the name of Clare Richardson, Senior Scout for film and TV at the New York office of Maria B. Campbell Associates, to hoodwink writers in an unusually complicated–and expensive–scheme.

. . . .

Warning signs abound. First, it’s Maria B. Campbell Associates, not Maria Campbell Associates (a small error, but it’s unlikely a real literary scout would get the name of their own agency wrong). Second, the scammer uses a gmail address (mariacampbellassociates@gmail.com), which not only is implausible for an agency with its own web domain, but doesn’t match the email address on the agency website (info@mbcbook.com). Third, not only are such out-of-the-blue approaches rare, a real literary scout won’t offer to act as your social media broker, or to hook you up with book video providers. That’s not what scouts do.

However, an eager writer–especially an inexperienced one, their head spinning with visions of Netflix fame and fortune–could be pardoned for missing these hints of bogosity. The scammer is counting on it.

. . . .

Like a reputable literary agent, a reputable literary scout won’t ask for upfront money, or make buying some sort of service a condition of working with them. Also, “Clare’s” description of the representation process is 100% not how it works–a real literary scout sends out writers’ books or manuscripts, not video trailers and screenplays written by random, un-named “professional content writers”. And anytime someone who offers to represent you tells you that you don’t need a contract, run like hell. 

. . . .

At this point, Mia takes over–by phone this time, since phone calls are a better persuader than emails. No bookseller, she claims, will place an order unless the author has insurance and is “registered” with Ingram. If you want to sell books, you really don’t have a choice. It’ll cost you nearly $6,000, but don’t faint: Tamara’s amazing book order will not only cover the expense, but make sure there’s a profit! (The scammer is hoping the writer isn’t aware of how bookstores actually buy and sell books.) Of course, Mia will handle all the arrangements, so you don’t need to worry about where to send your money. Just wire it to Chapters Media.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

Let’s Polarize Together

From Public Books:

We may have only one world, but life unfolds in many layers. A good way to understand our multitiered reality is through three seemingly unconnected cases: the flightless birds of the Aldabra atoll in the Indian Ocean; the inhabitants of China Miéville’s science-fiction classic The City & The City, whom we might call “the people & the people”; and, drawn from my own work, the world-dominating tech giants known as net states.

. . . .

There’s this bird, the white-throated rail. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, a bunch of them flew the 260 miles from their home in Madagascar to the coral atoll Aldabra, part of the Seychelles. The island had a lot to offer, including—most importantly, for the birds—no predators. Absent major threats, the Aldabran white-throated rail evolved to become flightless.

Then, two events occurred. First, about 136,000 years ago, a massive flood hit the islands of Aldabra. The Aldabran white-throated rail was wiped out; these flightless birds became extinct. However, as time passed, the atoll eventually resurfaced. And a new crop of Madagascan white-throated rails, for whatever reason, once again made the epic trek to Aldabra, resettling into a threat-free existence. And once again, without any predators to worry about, the new batch of Aldabran rails also evolved to be flightless.

This matters, because birds are sort of known for their ability to fly. Flight is, I would argue, their defining characteristic. The conditions of the Aldabra atoll—an expanse of 60 square miles stretched out across 46 islands, with no predatory creatures save, today, its 12 or so (nominally peaceful) human researchers—had the same effect on the same species of bird, twice: the loss of their most significant power, flight.

This raises the question: In the same situation—facing the same, threatless opportunity—how would humans evolve? What, indeed, is our most defining characteristic, our most significant power? What would we lose, if we had nothing to struggle against?

The answer may be found, as so many are, in science fiction. Specifically, Miéville’s award-winning 2009 novel, The City & The City. In this book, reality is wholly defined by what people choose to see or to actively not see. Two cities share exactly the same physical space, their inhabitants adapting to the same physical environment. However, the people of the two cities live entirely separate lives.

For the two cities’ residents, existence is perilously maintained. They’re only free to go about their lives so long as they rigorously maintain their governments’ requirements to literally only see their own cities’ people, places, and things—despite sharing the same streets and shops and air and space. So, they learn to see only what they are allowed to see, becoming so expert at the act that they eventually lose their ability to see anything else.

Like the white-throated rails, these two groups of people adapt to their surroundings. Separate from one another yet molded by the same environmental conditions, the people & the people wind up at separate but parallel inglorious ends: partial but consistent blindness.

Link to the rest at Public Books

FWIW, PG read The City & The City some time ago and found it interesting and and engaging. Like more than one science fiction (and fantasy) novel, China Miéville creates an engaging thought experiment and drops an interesting character or two into the middle of it.

However, for PG, it was well-written fiction, not a likely future for any world PG expects he or his offspring will inhabit.

For PG, the OP is a certain style of essay that begins with the author’s feelings or concerns which are then compared and contrasted with the situation in which fictitious characters are involved in a novel.

This genre often continues into a comparison of the way the essayist feels about one or more things that are happening to them or that they are thinking and imagines the extension of those perceptions and feelings into some sort of future existence, almost invariably novelish and dystopian in character.

Perhaps PG is particularly world-weary today, but that essay style seems quite predictable to him and he often perceives a bit of “poor me” or “poor us” in the author’s motivations.

PG is jaded about a number of things and, perhaps, is treating the OP more harshly than it deserves. However, as mentioned, he’s a bit tired of this class of self-expression because he has read so many lately.

Covid and its accompanying political reactions and counter-reactions seem to be a fertile breeding ground for projections of an author’s feelings onto a dark future for the world and every intelligent being inhabiting it.

Unfortunately, history amply records that horrible things happen to humanity from time to time. Some are less bad, some are bad and some are very bad. Covid is certainly not as great a tragedy as the wars of the 20th century or its plagues.

An estimated 20 million people died in World War I. World War II killed an estimated 70–85 million people.

The Spanish Flu infected approximately 1/3 of the world’s population and killed an estimated 50 million people in 1918, far more deaths than were caused by World War I — at the time, the greatest and most destructive war ever fought (at least between Western nations).

There are still an estimated 21 million cases of Typhoid fever and 200,000 deaths worldwide each year. AIDS/HIV, the cause of which was discovered in 1983, has killed an estimated 25–40 million people world-wide.

Without minimizing the suffering, deaths and disrupted lives involved with Covid (currently 1.8 million deaths world-wide according to internet numbers), the first twenty years of the 21st Century have been a walk in the park compared to the first twenty years of the 20th Century.

Perhaps PG is too much of an optimist, but he thinks we’ll come through Covid (and the US Presidential election which is its own bundle of insanity and dementia) in good shape, notwithstanding current concerns.

Humankind has survived and thrived through much worse times than those in which we are living at the moment.

It’s possible

It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power.”
— Raymond Carver

So Your Favorite Children’s Books Didn’t Age Well

From HuffPost:

Many parents love reading with their kids; it’s a bonding experience — one that promotes learning and a love of storytelling.

But what happens when you’re reading a beloved favorite from childhood with your kids only to realize it hasn’t aged so well? Recently, I was excited to reread “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” with my older son. I quickly discovered, though, that it features fat-phobic language and has downright racist and sexist undertones. In the moment, I wondered, “How should I handle reading this and other books like it with my kid?”

And I’m not alone. “Even as a librarian, I’ve struggled to find appropriate read alouds for my children,” said Rosemary D’Urso, who runs a book blog and Instagram account called LibraryMom. “Like many people, I have naturally gravitated toward books that I loved as a child or stories that are considered classics. Reading them as an adult, however, has left me feeling uncomfortable at times.”

. . . .

Margret Aldrich of the Little Free Library agreed, advocating that parents address the words or themes “head-on.” She added, “We recommend parents talk about each section that depicts hurtful stereotypes or racist themes, going in depth as to why those ideas are not OK. If you do encounter a questionable passage, pause to talk to your child about why it’s wrong and antiquated, how the world has changed, and what your family does to be an ally to others.”

Indeed, taking the time to explain how times have changed is important, no matter the activity.

LaNesha Tabb, a kindergarten teacher who also runs the successful Instagram Education With an Apron, explained how she talks to her kids about problematic books.

“For me, racist depictions in illustrations because ‘the story is so cute’ is a hard pass. However, a fairy tale with strong ‘wait on a man to rescue a woman’ or ‘appearance over everything’ vibes could be a teachable moment,” she said. “I can read the story and ask my children how they feel. Then, I can intentionally ask them questions that might cause them to think about the story in a different light. A nice part of living in this day and age is the fact that fairy tales, while not perfect, offer children characters that are smart, level-headed and independent. I might ask a fairy tale-loving child how Cinderella differs from Elsa, then we can discuss how being viewed as a ‘hero’ is different in both stories. This is a great chance to develop your child’s critical thinking skills.”

Link to the rest at HuffPost

PG was going to opine, but decided not to do so.

He’s happy to hear from visitors to TPV on this topic, however.

Little Free Library Launches Read in Color Diversity Initiative

From Publishers Weekly:

Little Free Library, the nonprofit organization that promotes literacy through unconventional projects, has launched of its newest initiative. Working with Colle McVoy, a Minneapolis creative agency, Read in Color will distribute books on racism and social justice, as well as books amplifying BIPOC and GLBTQ voices, through LFL’s mounted containers. Read in Color is being launched in Minneapolis because LFL is headquartered in the greater metro area, but also because of the city’s association with George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. Pending local funding and community support, LFL intends to expand Read in Color to other metro areas nationwide.

There are four components to the Read in Color initiative: the caretakers (called stewards) of LFL-branded book boxes as well as patrons are encouraged to sign a pledge to read and share diverse books; stewards can apply to receive free books appropriate to this initiative for stocking their library boxes – although this component currently is available only in the Twin Cities metro area; book lists being made available representing Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, Muslim and LGBTQ voices for all ages that were developed by LFL’s Diverse Books Advisory Group; and LFL will maintain little free library boxes filled with culturally relevant books in high-need communities in the metro areas participating in Read in Color.

The first dedicated Read in Color little free library box was unveiled on October 14 outside Urban Ventures, a Minneapolis nonprofit working to end poverty that is headquartered in South Minneapolis. “We are excited to partner with LFL as we look forward to aligning our mission around literacy,” Benny Roberts, Urban Ventures’ v-p of youth development stated in a release. “We’ll have community members seeing themselves as protagonists in books. It’s a beautiful thing to envision having books that reflect the community they’re in.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

For those unfamiliar with the Little Free Library program, if you want to participate, you build a box to hold books and put it where people can see it from the street. (Depending on location, a rain-proof box is sometimes a good idea.) A lot of Little Free Library boxes are located in places where people have front yards and a mailbox out by the street. The LFL box is often installed on a post not far from the mailbox.

Then you put some books in the box, likely books you have already read and, via a sign on the box, invite others to borrow or take them and put any books they would like to share with others into your box as well. It’s sort of a mini-neighborhood center for children and adults to explore for used treasures.

If you would like to improve the visibility of your Little Free Library box of books, you can sign up online and your address will be added to the organization’s collection of locations so more people in your area will be able to discover your box of books and borrow/take some.

See the Little Free Library website for more info and pics.

Here’s an example of a Little Free Library:

Photo via Wikipedia

PG has always thought this was a lovely, neighborly idea.

However, the OP raised the specter of Little Free Library content police checking the contents of boxes in their neighborhood.

PG suspects many of the people who put up Little Free Libraries in front of their house did not expect front-door harangues about the books that were found in their tiny free public library. The response of at least some homeowners might be to remove the LFL to avoid the possibility of future lectures.

PG thinks that would be a sad outcome and, likely, at least some of the most disappointed would be children in the neighborhood who enjoyed peaking into the box.

I could hear my heart beating

I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.
— Raymond Carver

As long-time visitors to TPV know, from time to time, PG goes on a quote binge with quotes from a single author.

Most of his prior binges have been with Raymond Chandler quotes, but he recently discovered another Raymond.

Carter, Raymond Carter, has a unique voice that isn’t Chandler, but carries some of the cynical and exhausted tones that PG enjoys from many of Raymond Chandler quotes.

For the record, PG isn’t cynical and exhausted himself (although he does look forward to the end of this year’s interminable and noirish-Covid presidential election season), but he enjoys a little noir now and then.

Do not expect

Do not expect more from the truth than it actually contains.

Russian Proverb

Stalin: Passage to Revolution

The information card on “I. V. Stalin”, from the files of the Imperial police in Saint Petersburg, 1911
via Wikipedia

From The Wall Street Journal:

Not surprisingly, Joseph Stalin has been the subject of many biographical studies, in recent years in particular, when formerly closed Soviet archives became open to students of history. Decades before, Leon Trotsky, Isaac Deutscher, Adam Ulam and Robert Tucker, to name a handful of prominent authors, wrote hefty volumes on Stalin’s life, attempting to tell the story with limited information. Their work has been surpassed by another generation of scholars, led by Dmitri Volkogonov, Robert Service, Oleg Khlevniuk and Stephen Kotkin. They have plumbed the archives and benefited from a host of memoirs that have deepened our understanding of a murderous dictator whose legacy, nearly 70 years after his death, still haunts the countries he once ruled.

Ronald Grigor Suny’s “Stalin: Passage to Revolution” is a worthy contribution to this continuing enterprise. “The telling of Stalin’s life has always been more than biography,” Mr. Suny writes. “There is wonder at the achievement—the son of a Georgian cobbler ascending the heights of world power, the architect of an industrial revolution and the destruction of millions of the people he ruled, the leader of the state that stopped the bloody expansion of fascism.” It is the story of how the Romanov dynasty, convinced of its own divine right to rule the Russian Empire, confronted “a newly emerging social class” of industrial workers, a clash that “exploded into violence, bloodshed, and eventually revolution.” Reading Mr. Suny’s chronicle, one can’t help recalling John F. Kennedy’s remark, in a 1962 speech, that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

. . . .

Mr. Suny’s focus is Stalin’s early decades, from his birth and education to the eve of revolution in 1917. Born in 1878 in the Georgian town of Gori, on the southern periphery of the Russian Empire, Ioseb Jughashvili, as he was christened, was raised in a poor family. His father scratched out a living as a cobbler; his mother was a religious woman who worked as a seamstress. The couple had lost their first two sons in infancy, driving his father to become “violent, erratic, and drunk,” Mr. Suny says, and to abandon the family. Convinced of Joseph’s abilities, his mother worked to gain his admission to a seminary so that he could become a priest.

Using his access to archives in Georgia, Mr. Suny describes the milieu in which the young Joseph grew up—the children’s games he enjoyed and the literature and myths that animated his imagination. It was at the seminary in the Georgian capital of Tiflis that the teenage Joseph confronted the obstinacy of his teachers, who denigrated Georgian culture and insisted on the primacy of Russian language and history. Life at the seminary, Mr. Suny writes, was “colorless and monotonous . . . , a strict routine designed to inculcate obedience and deference.” It proved to be as much a “crucible for revolutionaries as for priests” and pushed “an intelligent but still quite ordinary adolescent into opposition.” At the seminary, Joseph “came to socialism through reading and the fellowship of classmates.”

. . . .

Stalin, known as Koba to his comrades, made a name for himself as a party organizer in the Caucasus, among miners and oil workers. Here confrontations with czarist officials were violent and bloody, marked by heists and assassinations.

Stalin closely studied the works of Marx and, not least, the writings of Lenin before he met the Bolshevik leader in 1905, an encounter that began a close and fateful association. Mr. Suny’s close study of these years uncovers the traits of suspicion and intrigue that came to define Stalin in power. Koba, he writes, “was not above using dubious means against comrades with whom he disagreed,” lying about them behind their backs to compromise their standing. In his encounters with Mensheviks, he indulged in anti-Semitic insults, knowing that there were more Jews among them than among the Bolsheviks he favored.

Mr. Suny’s account of the tensions between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks is spirited and compelling, especially when he describes these ostensible allies splitting into “antagonistic cultures,” each demonizing the other over their motives, making reconciliation ever less likely. Lenin is often at the center of this story, engaging in vicious polemics against his ideological adversaries. 

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

50 Raymond Carver Covers from Around the World

From The Literary Hub:

Raymond Carver, master of the short story, patron saint of many a creative writing program, regular of many a bar, was born on May 25, 1938. Since then, thousands of aspiring writers all over the world have carried his collections under their arms, displayed them on their bedside tables, and probably even read them. I’ve often been particularly charmed by the Carver covers I have come across, which seem as enigmatic and withdrawn as the writing itself. 

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

The truth is

The truth is, everyone likes to look down on someone. If your favorites are all avant-garde writers who throw in Sanskrit and German, you can look down on everyone. If your favorites are all Oprah Book Club books, you can at least look down on mystery readers. Mystery readers have sci-fi readers. Sci-fi can look down on fantasy. And yes, fantasy readers have their own snobbishness.

I’ll bet this, though: in a hundred years, people will be writing a lot more dissertations on Harry Potter than on John Updike. Look, Charles Dickens wrote popular fiction. Shakespeare wrote popular fiction—until he wrote his sonnets, desperate to show the literati of his day that he was real artist. Edgar Allan Poe tied himself in knots because no one realized he was a genius.

The core of the problem is how we want to define “literature”. The Latin root simply means “letters”. Those letters are either delivered—they connect with an audience—or they don’t. For some, that audience is a few thousand college professors and some critics. For others, its twenty million women desperate for romance in their lives.

Those connections happen because the books successfully communicate something real about the human experience. Sure, there are trashy books that do really well, but that’s because there are trashy facets of humanity. What people value in their books—and thus what they count as literature—really tells you more about them than it does about the book.

Brent Weeks

A Guide to Conquering Your Demons with 5 Mathematical Sci-Fi Books

From Book Riot:

Mathematical science fiction books use mathematics in world-building to advance the plot and build characters. Building on Clarke’s three laws, Mathematical Fiction allows readers to discover the appeal of solvable questions. The right math can solve any problem, outsmart any foe, or conquer any demon. STEM fields that may not interest readers in real life become fascinating in fiction. I’m a math novice at best, but I always love it when mathematics explains impossible feats of heroism in sci-fi. I have compiled an action-packed list filled with suspense, romance, and silliness as well as advanced mathematics.

. . . .

The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

Welcome readers, to a little romantic locked room mystery novella from the dual perspectives of Trinity Jordan and Li Wei. Trinity is a self-proclaimed homebody recovering from an accident that took away her old life. Meanwhile, in the apartment across the hall, Li Wei is relearning what it means to be an almost-human A.I. unit. He uses statistical analysis and observation to acclimate to his new environment, developing a fascination for his gorgeous neighbor Trinity. With the help of Trinity’s friends, Li’s aunt, and Penny, a particularly capable Home A.I. Personal Assistant, they remember the truth. The feeling of wrongness is always on the tip of your tongue, just waiting for you to taste the rancid foundation Trinity and Li’s safety is built on. This Mathematical Sci-Fi novella is very boy-next-door meets Skynet and I love it.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

As someone who took just enough math to get a respectable SAT Math score, then stopped forever, Mathematical Sci-Fi sounds a bit intimidating, but perhaps PG needs to give it a try.

He can’t rule out the possibility that math has changed since the invention of the decimal point.

French Publishers Appeal to Government: Leave Our Bookstores Open

From Publishing Perspectives:

In an extraordinary appeal to the Emmanuel Macron government today (October 28), France’s publishers’ association, the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE), has joined with two of its associated organizations in issuing a “solemn, united, and responsible” request that French bookstores be allowed to remain open despite the anticipated announcement of new pandemic lockdown restrictions.

Perhaps the most compelling part of their letter: “We are ready to assume our cultural and health responsibilities.”

. . . .

Emmanuel Macron has been expected to make a televised address to the French people this evening, announcing new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that may go as far as a second national lockdown. Lauren Chadwick at EuroNews writes that such a confinement would not be expected to be as stringent as the spring lockdown but Kim Willsher’s write at The Guardian agrees with other press reports that the new constraint could be set to last as long as four weeks.

A curfew already has been imposed for at least eight major urban centers in the country, and the Worldometer tracking regime reflects the soaring numbers of new cases being registered in the French market. 

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Learning to Write vs Becoming a Writer

From Dave Farland:

I know a lot of people who know how to write well but who aren’t writers. For example, a few years ago I met a gentleman who had penned five novels. He’s been a huge mainstream success, hit high on the New York Times Bestseller List, and then gave it all up and went into advertising.

The same happens with people who don’t pursue their dreams. There are skillful authors who choose to wait tables in fancy restaurants, practice law or dentistry, and take any number of other occupations.

As a writing instructor, I find that most of the time when writers teach classes, we focus on teaching people how to write, not how to be a writer.

They’re distinct skill sets. You can know how to write a great chapter and never write one. I know authors who don’t know how to keep themselves motivated. Other authors can’t seem to avoid distraction. Others put things off.

Last year, I was considering this problem. I find that I know a lot of good writers who are “working on a novel” for entirely too long. Does it take a month to write a book, or six months, or six years?

There are a lot of things you need to do to become a writer. Most cases of writer’s block are caused by stupidity. The author sits down to write and doesn’t know what to do next. How do you handle this scene or that character?

The writer might be proficient at a different kind of story, but not know how to handle the one they’re working on. For example, the author might know how to pen a romance but be unsure how to write a mystery.

This problem might be easily fixed if the author read more widely and studied craft for the genre in question. It might be easily solved if the writer could discuss it with someone else with similar interests. Just brainstorming the coming scene with another writer is often the key.

Or what about accountability? Many people who want to write find themselves easily distracted. I’ve known professional writers whose careers were destroyed when they became addicted to videogames, or gardening, or writing to friends on social media.

. . . .

There are rare writers who are solitary creatures who manage to go into their attics and pump out manuscript after manuscript, but those are about as rare as unicorns.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

Here’s a link to Dave Farland’s books. If you like the writing advice Dave provides, you might want to check out his writing.

Neofeudalism: The End of Capitalism?

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:


IN CAPITAL IS DEAD, McKenzie Wark asks: What if we’re not in capitalism anymore but something worse? The question is provocative, sacrilegious, unsettling as it forces anti-capitalists to confront an unacknowledged attachment to capitalism. Communism was supposed to come after capitalism and it’s not here, so doesn’t that mean we are still in capitalism? Left unquestioned, this assumption hinders political analysis. If we’ve rejected strict historical determinism, we should be able to consider the possibility that capitalism has mutated into something qualitatively different. Wark’s question invites a thought experiment: what tendencies in the present indicate that capitalism is transforming itself into something worse?

Over the past decade, “neofeudalism” has emerged to name tendencies associated with extreme inequality, generalized precarity, monopoly power, and changes at the level of the state. Drawing from libertarian economist Tyler Cowen’s emphasis on the permanence of extreme inequality in the global, automated economy, the conservative geographer Joel Kotkin envisions the US future as mass serfdom. A property-less underclass will survive by servicing the needs of high earners as personal assistants, trainers, child-minders, cooks, cleaners, et cetera. The only way to avoid this neofeudal nightmare is by subsidizing and deregulating the high-employment industries that make the American lifestyle of suburban home ownership and the open road possible — construction and real estate; oil, gas, and automobiles; and corporate agribusiness. Unlike the specter of serfdom haunting Friedrich Hayek’s attack on socialism, Kotkin locates the adversary within capitalism. High tech, finance, and globalization are creating “a new social order that in some ways more closely resembles feudal structure — with its often unassailable barriers to mobility — than the chaotic emergence of industrial capitalism.” In this libertarian/conservative imaginary, feudalism occupies the place of the enemy formerly held by communism. The threat of centralization and the threat to private property are the ideological elements that remain the same.

A number of technology commentators share the libertarian/conservative critique of technology’s role in contemporary feudalization even as they don’t embrace fossil fuels and suburbia. Already in 2010, in his influential book, You Are Not a Gadget, tech guru Jaron Lanier observed the emergence of peasants and lords of the internet. This theme has increased in prominence as a handful of tech companies have become ever richer and more extractive, turning their owners into billionaires on the basis of the cheap labor of their workers, the free labor of their users, and the tax breaks bestowed on them by cities desperate to attract jobs. Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet (the parent company name for Google) together are worth more than most every country in the world (except the United States, China, Germany, and Japan). The economic scale and impact of these tech super giants, or, overlords, is greater than that of most so-called sovereign states. Evgeny Morozov describes their dominance as a “hyper-modern form of feudalism.”

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG will remind one and all that he does not necessarily agree with everything he posts here.

He hopes this is not happening at a lot of other places around the world, but large portions of urban America appear to have fallen into an endless Doom/Gloom cycle, sort of a Doom/Gloom wallow.

PG will note that, when he prepared this post yesterday, the book mentioned in the OP had an Amazon Sales Rank of #143,149 in Kindle Store. The LARB article is dated May 12, 2020, so whatever sales bump the book received from the review apparently didn’t last very long.

Even though the title of the book implies that capitalism is dead, apparently the publisher and author had no problem offering it for sale through an enterprise that is one of the greatest capitalist successes of the last twenty years. Maybe Amazon is on the brink of collapse, but PG wouldn’t bet on that.

(PG was going to put this post in the Non-Fiction category, but decided not to do so.)

How to Respectfully Disagree in Writing

From Grammarly:

It happens all the time—you and someone you know disagree about something more important than who has the best curry in town, and you need to hash it out. Whether it’s a peer, your boss, your landlord, or your kid’s teacher, you want to err on the side of delicacy and professionalism.

So how do you do that in a way that’s respectful—and ultimately productive? You want to make your perspective clear, confident, and compelling without anyone feeling attacked or at cross purposes. Below, we’ll suggest a few handy phrases and strategies to help you disagree respectfully.

. . . .

Is this the place?

Occasionally, the best way to respectfully disagree isn’t in writing at all. A live conversation may be a better way to ask and answer questions, exchange thoughts, and build consensus. Consider this before getting carried away with a long draft enumerating your righteous points.

It may even turn out what seemed like a disagreement was more of a misunderstanding. Phew.

. . . .

Keep it tight; empathize

Suppose your landlord emails to say while they’d hoped to upgrade your kitchen windows next month, it’s now looking more likely the month after. You could detail your displeasure in a three-page tirade, but that sounds exhausting and may make you seem irrational. One or two sentences should suffice:

“Thanks for the update, Daryl. That’s later than we’d hoped, and I don’t imagine having this process drag on is any fun for you, either.”

Note how that last part acknowledges Daryl has feelings and a point of view in this, too. This shows respect and is key to resolving your disagreement—as is this next item.

. . . .

Ask questions; empathize some more

Questions can politely point to what you want without seeming unduly demanding or unkind. Picking up where we left off with your landlord above, you might next ask this:

“Is there any way to expedite the installation? If not, could we negotiate a reduction to our rent or our portion of the heating bill in the meantime, since our kitchen is so drafty?”

Questions also keep the conversation moving forward and show you value the other person’s input. And if you’re worried the many questions you’re asking will become annoying, a concise way to acknowledge as much is, “Not to belabor this, but…” (That said, do try to read the vibe and avoid belaboring anything you don’t have to.)

Link to the rest at at Grammarly

PG completely endorses the approaches Grammarly recommends.

Unless you suspect a dispute may be coming down the road.

PG isn’t talking about a polite disagreement about when the new stove will be installed, but rather what happens if the new stove is never installed or if it’s installed by an idiot and starts a fire.

In other words, if some sort of a legal dispute is foreseeable.

If there’s a fight that ends up in Small Claims Court or if each side lawyers-up, a statement made for the purpose of smoothing ruffled feathers might be subject to a different interpretation.

In social situations, when discussing a past event with friends, PG might be inclined to say something like, “I might be wrong, but I remember that Chipper had too much to drink and took the first swing, but perhaps I’m confused about what happened.”

If PG were later asked about Chipper, his state of mind and what he did in some sort of formal setting, perhaps with a judge nearby, if he said something like, “Chipper was drunk and tried to punch Buzz in the nose,” Chipper’s counsel might ask if PG had admitted he might be confused or wrong on a prior occasion.

Penney Dreadfuls & Murder Broadsides

From I Love Typography:

[A] new kind of serialized fiction . . . first appeared in London in the 1830s. It wasn’t Charles Dickens or Mary Shelley but it was cheap — only a penny — easy to read, entertaining, and extraordinarily popular.

. . . .

The emergence of the penny dreadful in England coincided with improved literacy. Nationwide educational reforms launched in the 1830s aimed to eventually provide universal, free, and compulsory state-funded education. In England, when printing was introduced in the 1470s, literacy was likely under 10%. By the 1830s, literacy rates were about 66% and 50% for men and women, respectively. By 1900 the literacy rate had risen to 97%. What’s more, in the nineteenth century there was sustained and unprecedented population growth. In England, between 1800 and 1850 the population doubled; it then doubled again between 1850 and 1900! That growth was accompanied by a marked demographic shift: already by the 1820s almost half of the UK’s population was under 20! Not only did the period mark an almost exponential increase in mass-produced and cheap print, on scales inconceivable prior to the Industrial Revolution, but it found a global mass market of readers — an increasingly large number of whom were young and literate. It’s in this environment that the penny dreadful made its debut.

. . . .

Before the nineteenth century, there wasn’t much in the way of fun and entertaining reading material for children. In fact, children’s literature as a genre was a pretty late starter, only getting off the ground in the eighteenth century, and even then it was usually didactic, pious, and moralizing — not particularly fun. The first children’s periodical, The Lilliputian Magazine, published by John Newbery, didn’t appear until 1751. By the late 1790s, Churches and religious organizations had begun to publish children’s periodicals and Sunday School magazines, but again they were rather stuffy and conservative, not really the kind of thing that children were excited to read. But that was about to change.

. . . .

In summing up the nineteenth-century ‘reading revolution’, historian Dr Mary Hammond writes: ‘The period 1830–1914 saw some of the greatest changes in readerships and the types and availability of reading material ever experienced in the Western world.’* By the start of that period, serialized fiction was already becoming hugely popular. It’s how Charles Dickens got his start with the serialization of The Pickwick Papers in 1836–37. But most early serialized fiction was intended for adult readers. What’s more, although books were now cheaper than they’d ever been, they were still beyond a working child’s meagre wages; for example, The Pickwick Papers was published in twenty 32-page installments, but at 5 shillings (1 shilling = 12 pennies) per installment, it was far too expensive for most working class adults, let alone children.

. . . .

Enter the penny dreadful, typically eight or sixteen pages, printed on cheap paper, taking its serialized story cues from gothic thrillers of the previous century. Most of the stories are now forgotten, but one notable exception is everyone’s favorite homicidal barber, Sweeney Todd. Before he appeared in the pages of a book, he was butchering his victims and selling their remains as meat pies next door in a penny dreadful serial, ‘The String of Pearls: A Romance’, published in The People’s Periodical in 1846.

Link to the rest at I Love Typography

There are lots of images taken from Penney Dreadfuls at the OP.

Here’s a page from Sweeney Todd from Wikipedia:

via Wikipedia

For reasons of high aesthetic principle

For reasons of high aesthetic principle, I do not write on a computer. Writing on a computer makes saving what’s been written too easy. Pretentious lead sentences are kept, not tossed. Instead of sitting surrounded by crumpled paper, the computerized writer has his mistakes neatly stored in digital memory.

P.J. O’Rourke

The Ministry for the Future

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

IT SEEMS PERVERSELY easier to tell a science fictional story about a world centuries in the future than the one just a few years away. Somehow we have become collectively convinced that massive world-historical changes are something that cannot happen in the short term, even as the last five years alone have seen the coronavirus pandemic; the emergence of CRISPR gene editing; too many droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires to count; the legalization of gay marriage in many countries, including the United States; mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting; the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements; the emergence of self-driving cars; Brexit; and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. We are living through historic times — the most widely tumultuous period of transformation and catastrophe for the planet since the end of World War II, with overlapping political, social, economic, and ecological crises that threaten to turn the coming decades into hell on Earth — but it has not helped us to think historically, or to understand that no matter how hard we vote things are never going to “get back to normal.” Everything is different now.

Everything is always different, yes, fine — but everything is really different now.

The Ministry for the Future is Kim Stanley Robinson’s grimmest book since 2015’s Aurora, and likely the grimmest book he has written to date — but it is also one of his most ambitious, as he seeks to tell the story of how, given what science and history both tell us to be true, the rest of our lives could be anything but an endless nightmare. It is not an easy read, with none of the strategies of spatial or temporal distancing that make Mars or the Moon or the New York of 2140 feel like spaces of optimistic historical possibility; it’s a book that calls on us instead to imagine living through a revolution ourselves, as we are, in the here and now. Robinson, our culture’s last great utopian, hasn’t lost heart exactly — but he’s definitely getting deep down into the muck of things this time.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG will note that, given the pace of traditional publishing, the ms. for this book was probably created a year or two ago.

As the Vote Nears: High Season for US Political Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

How can we have published so many books about a man who doesn’t read them? Before you can even begin to sort that out, another such title will land. David Rothkopf’s Traitor: A History of American Betrayal from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump is being released Tuesday (October 27) by Macmillan’s Thomas Dunne Books, exactly one week to the feverishly awaited November 3 United States general election.

Was there ever a better moment for bicycle mobile libraries like the ones spotted sometimes in Europe? Polling-place regulations and COVID-19 precautions allowing, they could pedal around this week’s long queues of America’s early voters, offering pertinent reading options to these resolute patriots as they wait for hours to vote in their record-smashing numbers.

The Rothkopf book arrives with particularly strong endorsements. David Frum (author of HarperCollins’ Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy from May) commends Rothkopf’s “elegantly controlled fury” and “scorching accusation.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

For those visitors to TPV from outside the United States, PG doesn’t remember a presidential election season which felt like it dragged on for as long as the present one.

PG also suspects that if “None of the Above” were an option on the presidential ballot, it might win.

Regarding the OP, is there anyone in the US who is clamoring for bicycle mobile libraries? Particularly if they are filled with books about current political topics?

More Job Openings at Amazon

From BusinessWire:

Amazon today announced it has promoted more than 35,000 Operations employees in 2020, that 30,000 employees have taken advantage of Amazon’s Career Choice program, and that it’s creating an additional 100,000 seasonal jobs. With more than 12 million Americans out of work according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics1 these new seasonal roles in several locations across the US and Canada will complement its regular full- and part-time positions. Amazon offers jobs for people of all backgrounds and skill levels, and these 100,000 new, seasonal jobs offer opportunities for pay incentives, benefits, and a path to a longer-term career, or can simply provide extra income and flexibility during the holiday season.

Amazon today announced it has promoted more than 35,000 Operations employees in 2020, that 30,000 employees have taken advantage of Amazon’s Career Choice program, and that it’s creating an additional 100,000 seasonal jobs. With more than 12 million Americans out of work according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics these new seasonal roles in several locations across the US and Canada will complement its regular full- and part-time positions. Amazon offers jobs for people of all backgrounds and skill levels, and these 100,000 new, seasonal jobs offer opportunities for pay incentives, benefits, and a path to a longer-term career, or can simply provide extra income and flexibility during the holiday season.

. . . .

Amazon has invested more than $60 million in Career Choice—an innovative program designed to help upskill people who are interested in pursuing a future in a high-demand field. With more than half of participants from underrepresented minority groups, the program offers courses covering 20 different career paths, including computer support specialist, web developer, nurse, aircraft mechanic, commercial trucker, paralegal/legal assistant, IT security assistant, and network technician, among others. Amazon has partnered with more than 85 education partners and community colleges in the U.S. and continues to grow its educator network.

. . . .

Patricia Soto is a former Amazon employee who went through Career Choice and is now a certified clinical medical assistant at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation.

“I had worked in a warehouse setting for years but knew I wanted to help people and had been curious about healthcare. In just nine months, I became a certified clinical medical assistant while working at Amazon in Tracy, California, thanks to Career Choice,” she said. “A career in healthcare would have been difficult to obtain without tuition support from Amazon and an internship opportunity to apply my new skills. For anyone thinking about it, you only have something to gain from participating in the Career Choice program.”

Link to the rest at Business Wire

To be clear, this is an Amazon press release, not a story written by a reporter for an independent news organization.

That said, since Amazon is a public company, the company’s executives face potential lawsuits from individual shareholders if they permit whoever is in charge of creating and issuing a press release like this one to release information that isn’t factually accurate.

In addition to outside fact-checkers employed by news organizations and labor unions who are waiting to pounce on anything the Zon says, there are law firms that spend a lot of time suing corporate officials on behalf of shareholders for making or permitting the issuance of such false or misleading statements and, the larger the company the larger the potential payoff.

In a company the size of Amazon, it is likely that a press release such as the OP goes through several layers of review and fact-checking for accuracy, including by inside counsel, before it is issued.

So, those who believe you can’t trust anything Amazon says are probably not correct about criticisms that this type of press release is just more corporate happy talk and deceit.

For PG, after months of news about business closures and layoffs in the United States, the Amazon release is a breath of fresh air.

PG has mentioned some of the following before, but not recently.

Operations is a part of Amazon that includes its warehouses and fulfillment centers. Northwestern MBA’s are unlikely to apply for a job working at an Amazon warehouse. For most employees, it involves manual labor and hard work.

A lot of people earn their living doing manual labor that is hard work.

PG worked in a production facility and warehouse one summer while he was in college. This warehouse was much, much less automated than Amazon’s warehouses are.

During PG’s shifts, much of the work in the warehouse was powered by PG’s back, arms and legs. It wasn’t terribly dangerous, but PG got cut a few times and could have been more severely injured if he had been careless. Whatever temperature it was outside, it was 5-10 degrees warmer inside. Ventilation consisted of one open door that a delivery truck could back through.

Since PG grew up on ranches and farms, he was quite familiar with heavy manual labor under difficult circumstances. When one is wrestling and stacking hay bales that weigh 35-40 pounds each in an enclosed barn loft with no fan of any sort for 10-12 hours with a couple of short breaks and it’s close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside, one learns something about manual labor.

At the end of such a day, after removing one’s shoes and socks (stacking hay is a shirt-optional job) and leaving them on the back porch, one also enjoys hosing all sorts of dirt, grit, hay flakes and sweat off of oneself from head to toe with ice-cold well water from a garden hose outside before entering an unfinished basement featuring a concrete floor, clothes washer and shower. After disrobing and spending some time in the shower, one then must ask Mom to throw some clean jeans and underwear down the basement stairs and remember to say, “Please” and “Thank you.”

The warehouse job and stacking hay bales in the loft weren’t the hardest jobs PG had.

If PG needed any additional incentive to graduate from college and law school so he could make a lot more money with his fingers on a computer keyboard and his voice speaking with people in person, on the phone or in a courtroom, his experience with many different jobs where he earned his pay with his back and arms and legs provided it.

If PG complained about being tired from doing farm work, his father would sometimes reply, “Go to college!”

To be clear, PG held some hard jobs, but lots of people in the US have harder ones and have had to work at them for a lot longer than PG had to work at his summer and farm jobs. PG is just demonstrating that he has first-hand experience with manual labor, the type of labor Amazon warehouse workers (and a great many other people) do every day to support themselves and their families.

He’s not an effete lawyer snob who had everything given to him on a silver platter. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t remember when he first saw a silver platter. It definitely wasn’t while he was living at home with his parents. If he’s turned into an effete lawyer now, he hasn’t always been that way.

Back to Amazon’s warehouses, the current minimum wage under US law is $7.25 per hour. Some states have laws setting a higher minimum wage. California’s current minimum wage is $12 per hour. In the State of New York, the minimum wage is currently $11.10 per hour. In some states, individual municipalities are permitted to set higher minimum wages.

It is safe to say that, when choosing locations for warehouse or factory sites that will be employing a significant number of unskilled laborers, the minimum wage is an important factor.

Nevada’s minimum wage is currently $8.25 per hour. If you know where to look, you will find quite a lot of large warehouses in Nevada that are close to the California border and also close to major highways that will allow large trucks to pick up goods at a Nevada warehouse and quickly haul them into California where they will be sold.

In the world of warehouse jobs, PG suspects it is very difficult to find very many jobs that pay a starting salary of $15 per hour, the lowest wage Amazon pays anyone working in its warehouses, at least in the US. The job also provide health, dental, and vision insurance, 401K with 50 percent company match on day 1. Again, depending upon state laws, some employers are not required to provide any of those benefits or may offer such benefits, but require employees to pay all or most of the costs of such benefits.

Suffice to say, if you’re a high school graduate or a high school dropout and have the physical ability to work hard in a climate-controlled environment (no 40 pound hay bales at 100 degrees), an Amazon warehouse job is quite likely to offer the best compensation and benefits you can find almost anywhere.

PG isn’t claiming that Amazon is a perfect company. No large company with a zillion employees is.

However, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon does treat authors and warehouse workers better than any other large company does.

Writer’s Block

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.

Terry Pratchett

The Alignment Problem

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the mid-1990s, a group of software developers applied the latest computer learning to tackle a problem that emergency-room doctors were routinely facing: which of the patients who showed up with pneumonia should be admitted and which could be sent home to recover there? An algorithm analyzed more than 15,000 patients and came up with a series of predictions intended to optimize patient survival. There was, however, an oddity—the computer concluded that asthmatics with pneumonia were low-risk and could be treated as outpatients. The programmers were skeptical.

Their doubts proved correct. As clinicians later explained, when asthmatics show up to an emergency room with pneumonia, they are considered so high-risk that they tend to be triaged immediately to more intensive care. It was this policy that accounted for their lower-than-expected mortality, the outcome that the computer was trying to optimize. The algorithm, in other words, provided the wrong recommendation, but it was doing exactly what it had been programmed to do.

The disconnect between intention and results—between what mathematician Norbert Wiener described as “the purpose put into the machine” and “the purpose we really desire”—defines the essence of “the alignment problem.” Brian Christian, an accomplished technology writer, offers a nuanced and captivating exploration of this white-hot topic, giving us along the way a survey of the state of machine learning and of the challenges it faces.

The alignment problem, Mr. Christian notes, is as old as the earliest attempts to persuade machines to reason, but recent advances in data-capture and computational power have given it a new prominence. To show the limits of even the most sophisticated algorithms, he describes what happened when a vast database of human language was harvested from published books and the internet. It enabled the mathematical analysis of language—facilitating dramatically improved word translations and creating opportunities to express linguistic relationships as simple arithmetical expressions. Type in “King-Man+Woman” and you got “Queen.” But if you tried “Doctor-Man+Woman,” out popped “Nurse.” “Shopkeeper-Man+Woman” produced “Housewife.” Here the math reflected, and risked perpetuating, historical sexism in language use. Another misalignment example: When an algorithm was trained on a data set of millions of labeled images, it was able to sort photos into categories as fine-grained as “Graduation”—yet classified people of color as “Gorillas.” This problem was rooted in deficiencies in the data set on which the model was trained. In both cases, the programmers had failed to recognize, much less seriously consider, the shortcomings of their models.

We are attracted, Mr. Christian observes, to the idea “that society can be made more consistent, more accurate, and more fair by replacing idiosyncratic human judgment with numerical models.” But we may be expecting too much of our software. A computer program intended to guide parole decisions, for example, delivered guidance that distilled and arguably propagated underlying racial inequalities. Is this the algorithm’s fault, or ours?

To answer this question and others, Mr. Christian devotes much of “The Alignment Problem” to the challenges of teaching computers to do what we want them to do. A computer seeking to maximize its score through trial and error, for example, can quickly figure out shoot-’em-up videogames like “Space Invaders” but struggles with Indiana Jones-style adventure games like “Montezuma’s Revenge,” where rewards are sparse and you need to swing across a pit and climb a ladder before you start to score. Human gamers are instinctively driven to explore and figure out what’s behind the next door, but the computer wasn’t—until a “curiosity” incentive was provided.

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

When PG was in high school, The Mother of PG aka Mom, made PG take a typing class. Learning how to type and type quickly might have been the most useful thing PG learned in high school.

PG earned money in college by typing papers for other students who couldn’t type. He charged a high per-page rate and collected it because he specialized in typing for procrastinators. If you finished your rough draft at midnight, PG would show up with his portable typewriter and turn it into something your professor would accept at 8:00 am the next morning.

PG kept typing through law school, typing all his law school exams and whatever parts of the bar exam that could be typed.

When PG was a baby lawyer, he had a client who was also working with a fancy law firm in Los Angeles. He went over to the fancy law firm on occasion to meet with the fancy lawyers who worked there (He rode up the elevator to the law firm’s offices with Marlon Brando one time and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar another time. Kareem looked a lot less dissipated than Marlon.)

The fancy law firm had the first word-processing computers PG had ever seen. The firm had eight of these computers and they were operated by the fastest and most-accurate typists PG has ever seen. The machines and operators were in their own glass-walled room and at least a couple of typists were on duty 24 hours a day. (PG was there at midnight to pick up a rush project and one of them delivered a finished contract to him at midnight.) PG just checked and each of the computerized word processors cost over $180,000 in 2020 dollars.

PG was the first lawyer he knew who bought a personal computer for his law office. Fortunately, personal computers could also be used for playing videogames, so the price had come way, way, way, way down from $180,000.

Because he could still type fast, PG learned how a word processing program worked. Plus a bunch of other programs. He quickly started using his PC for legal work. Why type a document you used for a lot of different clients over and over when you could just type it once for Client A, save a copy, then use the copy as the basis for Clients B-Z?

PC’s were evolving quickly, so when a more powerful PC was released, PG bought one and moved his prior PC to his secretary’s desk and showed her how to use the word processing program.

Since PG always hired the smartest secretaries he could find, within a couple of weeks, she was better with the word processor than PG was.

For a variety of different reasons, PG started doing a lot of divorces for people who didn’t have a lot of money (the local Legal Aid office thought he did a good job and sent a lot of clients his way).

In order to make money doing divorces for people who didn’t have much (Legal Aid never had enough money, so it didn’t pay much for a divorce either), PG built a computer program so he could do the paperwork necessary for a divorce very quickly.

The wife’s name, the husband’s name, the kids names and ages, the year and make of the rusted-out pickup, the TV, sofa, etc., were the same from start to finish, so why not type them into a computer program once, then build standard legal forms that would use the same information for all the various forms the state legislature, in its infinite wisdom, had said were necessary to end a marriage?

PG has meandered for too long, but to conclude quickly, he ended up building a commercial divorce computer program he named “Splitsville” and sold it to about 20% of the attorneys in the state where he was practicing at the time.

(In the United States, the laws governing divorce AKA Dissolution of Marriage vary from state-to-state, so Splitsville couldn’t cross state lines. Even though the fundamental human and property issues are the same any time a marriage is ended, PG suspects there are enough idiots in any state legislature to shout down anyone who says, “Why don’t we just do it the way Alabama does instead of concocting a divorce law of our own?”)

Which means PG doesn’t have enough knowledge to build artificial intelligence programs as described in the OP, but he does have an intuitive grasp of how to persuade computers do things you would like them to accomplish. PG and computers seem to understand each other at a visceral level even though PG is less like a computer than a whole lot of smart people he knows. It’s sort of a Yin/Yang thing.

His liberal-arts assessment of the problem described in the OP is that the computer scientists in the OP haven’t figured out how to ask the ultra-computer for the answers they would like it to provide. A computer can do smart things and dumb things very quickly, but useful output requires understanding what you really want it to do, then figuring out how to explain the job to the computer.

But, undoubtedly, PG is missing something entirely and is totally off-base.

The Alignment Problem may be a good description of both the computer issue described in the book and of PG himself.

How Do Your Characters Love?

From Writers in the Storm:

[The story I’m writing] is about a woman, her children, her faith, her marriage, and a little bit how easy it is for modern women to get lost in the tumult of obligation. It explores how dreams and ambitions can be both independent of a woman’s roles in life, and yet undeniably intertwined with those roles.

There are many kinds of relationships that are tricky ones, but particularly when they are relationships where partners can both love and hate equally, simultaneously, and then defend one another with unwavering conviction.

The complication of relationships, as near as I can tell, comes down to how the characters love and how they feel loved.

As it is now 2020, I’m working on the assumption that most readers have at least heard of The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This 1995 book explored the ways that people demonstrate love and the ways that people feel loved, and I think the ideas presented within are essential for authors writing any kind of love relationship.

Before that, C.S. Lewis wrote The Four Loves, a religious and philosophical exploration of the way people love and why they need to love. (This book is free on Kindle Unlimited.)

. . . .

I’ve got a few forms to consider.

1. The Parent Relationship

I know some people who cannot think of their parents without a feeling of bitterness and betrayal. Others have an unwritten agreement of mutual politeness and still others will keep their parents apprised of the occurrences in their lives on a regular basis.

The question for your character is how does he feel about his parents, and, if applicable, step-parents or guardians? How does he demonstrate those feelings when in proximity of these people? Is it similar to or different from how he expresses their feelings?

This can also be something to consider in the situation that character is the parent, how they feel about their children, how they think their children feel about them.

2. The Sibling Relationship

A great depiction of the sibling relationship can be seen in the way that Jane and Elizabeth Bennet interact with each other in Pride and Prejudice, and the way that Marsha and Jan Brady perceive their relationship in The Brady Bunch. Both of these have times when a sister is frustrated; both have a time when a sister is supportive.

The question for your character is how does she feel about her siblings? If she’s an only child, how does she imagine it might have been to have someone to chat with? When something great happens for a sibling, does your character feel the draw to celebrate or perceive yet another mark on the sibling measuring stick which she will never be able to attain? What kind of an event would launch your siblings from the status of feuding to allied?

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Don’t Hold Out for Publishing to Make You Feel Seen. Here’s Another Goal Instead.

From Susan DeFreitas via Jane Friedman:

Every year, I return to teach creative writing at a summer program offered by the school for the arts where I attended high school (though this year, I had to do so virtually). And every year, at the end of an intense week of workshops with young writers ages 14–18, I do my best to engage in a bit of time travel.

Which is to say, I do my best to tell these talented young people what I wish someone had told me when I was their age.

Walking the tree-lined paths of my old school always brings me back to that time: My awe in discovering poets like Galway Kinnell, Lucille Clifton, and Mary Oliver, and writers like James Joyce, Raymond Carver, and Joyce Carol Oates. The strength of my yearning to write that well, to be that big—big enough that my work would be studied, in time, by kids like me, in schools like this.

And the first step toward that great success was, of course, publication. Like all my other peers, I dreamed of getting my first short story published, of attracting the attention of an agent, and publishing my first book—and at eighteen, I thought I’d accomplish all this before I was twenty.

Instead, it took me until I was thirty to publish my first short story, and until nearly forty to publish my first book. Which meant that I would go on to spend many years of my life fruitlessly pursuing the dream of publication, with what felt like very little to sustain my spirit.

. . . .

The last thing I want to do is to discourage these young writers in their ambitions, but the fact is, publishing is a tough industry, and the apprenticeship period for fiction can often feel interminable. I know from personal experience many of the most talented writers in any class will eventually just give up, because that yearning inside them has begun to sour and, in time, turns into something that feels a lot like grief.

So here’s what I try to tell these kids: Publication may feel like the thing you’re yearning for, but in reality, it’s something deeper.

What you’re yearning for is the sense of being seen.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman.

Here’s a link to Susan Defrietas’ website

Regular visitors to TPV will have anticipated PG’s response:

  1. It is not 1970 or 1990 or 2000 any more. People don’t wear bell-bottoms except in nursing homes. Sha Na Na only performs at AARP conventions. Things change.
  2. If you want to be seen, write a good book, then self-publish your book on Amazon or via one of the many useful services that will help you publish there and everywhere else.
  3. If you work diligently to let people know about your book, you will be seen.
  4. You’ll even receive some reviews by people who see your book, read your book and love your book. You’ll receive some other types of reviews by people who don’t love your book so much, but that’s gonna happen regardless of how and where your book is published.
  5. If you want to be seen some more, write and publish another book, maybe a little better than your prior book.
  6. Just like learning to ride a bicycle, you’ll get better with practice. Will you get good enough to turn pro? The answer depends on talent, but, even more, it depends on how hard you work to get better.
    1. The best weightlifters work out almost every day. Upper body one day, lower body the next. As they get stronger, weightlifters move to heavier weights. If the weights are easy to lift, the weightlifter isn’t going to improve very quickly, if at all. If you visit a serious weightlifting location, you’ll hear lots of loud human/animal noises which often happen when weightlifters try to get better at their sport.
    2. The best ballet dancers practice almost every day. PG doesn’t know if they do more spins and grunt or not, but they work hard to get better at their art as well.

Being “seen” by a traditional publisher is a different thing entirely.

It’s a lot more work and most writers never get seen by anybody but a bored and unpaid/bored and underpaid intern who sees the first paragraph, pulls a reject letter from a stack of them, inserts the letter into your postage-paid return envelope, licks the envelope (without wondering where it’s been before you put it in with your manuscript), drops it into a basket with a lot of other rejection letters for Bob to pick up later in the day to take to the post office on his way home.

If you’re the one out of thousands of authors, you may be seen by someone who works for a publisher and gets paid for for doing so.

If that happens, learn how to wait. And wait. And wait. A couple of additional people who work for a publisher might see your ms., but it doesn’t exist for the world yet.

If you make it through the seers inside the publisher, you might see a publishing contract.

If you want an advance that is large enough to keep you from being evicted while you write another book, don’t quit your day job right now. As a matter of fact, don’t quit your day job ever because you’re probably going to need it regardless.

You’ll be even older if you ever see your book in your local bookstore for a couple of months before it disappears because not enough of your friends bought a copy.

OTOH

If you had kept writing and self-published your books during the time between mailing your ms. to the publisher and seeing it disappear from the bookstore, you might well have three or four books for sale on Amazon and receive a monthly payment from the Zon. The payment might be big or little or in-between, and might not cover the rent, but you’d be receiving money for your work.

That said, PG’s business advice to writers is do what you feel will work best for you.

Do Writers Need A Room of Their Own?

From Writer Unboxed:

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction–Virginia Woolf

As an only child, I always had my own room. There were many, many rooms during the years when my father was a golf course construction supervisor. Some were cramped and generic, others included an adjoining bathroom or even a private balcony. One, at a ski resort, was technically its own rental unit with a separate address from my parents. At nine I had the entire second floor of our condo, which included two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a loft, though I usually hung out in the storage nook halfway down the staircase, which I also claimed. At our house in Maine, half the basement was mine. Not such a prize, as I had orange shag carpeting, no door, and a quarter of my space was taken up by the woodstove, which meant my winter sleeping quarters were five degrees hotter than hell. My dad eventually finished the basement and built me a proper room because he’s awesome like that.

I read, wrote, and drew constantly as a kid.

When I started college, my parents literally lived on the other side of the world—Thailand. Everything I owned had to be hauled to Missouri and stuffed into a shared dorm room. (Apologies to my roommate, who never complained.)

All creativity vanished.

. . . .

When I married, my “room” shrunk to a shared office. Two kids later I downsized to a cramped computer armoire tucked into the corner of a cluttered common room, the TV mere steps away. I responded to e-mail while the Little Einsteins theme song played in the background and took social media “breaks” when the hubby watched The Walking Dead. I wrote during those brief, precious hours when I had the house to myself, with frequent interruptions to let the dogs in, out, and back in again. Damn squirrels!

A single draft took years to accomplish. I feared I’d never have a successful writing career at that pace.

. . . .

Having a dedicated space is a signal to yourself that writing is not an idle hobby that you peck away at between household chores or doom-scrolling Twitter sessions. Ideally, there should be no Twitter allowed in this space. It is a place you go to work.

Having a dedicated space is a signal to everyone else in the household that writing is not an idle hobby you peck away at between household chores or doom-scrolling Twitter sessions. It is your job, regardless of whether it brings in an income, and should be treated with the same respect as any other job. If the door is closed or noise canceling headphones are on, you are working. Boundaries should only be crossed only for emergencies.

Having a dedicated space allows for disengagement from the world. Focus can be in short supply under the best of circumstances. None of us are living that right now. 2020 is an awful year on so many levels between this nightmare election and the disruption of this pandemic. We are all grieving, be it for lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost vacations and canceled milestones. In a world where even the act of going out for coffee with a friend is a calculated risk, there’s a lot of free-floating anxiety in the air. Creative types are generally more sensitive to all that negative energy. We need a buffer.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG finds a room of his own an absolute necessity.

Mrs. PG finds a room of PG’s own an absolute mess.

They compromise by having PG close the door to his own room if visitors come who may wander into the vicinity of PG’s room. Sometimes, Mrs. PG requests that PG lock the door so no accidental traumas occur.

New York’s Strand bookstore appeals for help

From The Guardian:

The Strand Bookstore, a landmark of literary New York, is in serious trouble, appealing for customers to help it stave off closure amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve survived just about everything for 93 years,” proprietor Nancy Bass-Wyden said in a statement, of the store her grandfather founded in 1927. “The Great Depression, two world wars, big box bookstores, ebooks and online behemoths. We are the last of the 48 bookstores still standing from 4th Avenue’s famous Book Row.

“Because of the impact of Covid-19, we cannot survive the huge decline in foot traffic, a near-complete loss of tourism and zero in-store events.”

Bass-Wyden said revenue was down nearly 70% from 2019. Though a government loan and cash reserves saw the store through the first eight months of the pandemic, she said, “we are now at a turning point where our business is unsustainable”.

Earlier this year, thanks to disclosures necessitated by her marriage to Ron Wyden, a Democratic senator from Oregon, Bass-Wyden was revealed to have spent between $115,000 and $250,000 on purchasing stock in Amazon, the “online behemoth” that has done most to damage independent bookstores.

Bass-Wyden said she made the purchase to support the Strand.

“It was necessary for me to diversify my personal portfolio and invest in stocks that are performing,” she said then. “I have to make sure that I have the resources to keep the Strand going.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Max stepped into his private boat

Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him—and it was still hot.

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak