We might not like the idea that we lie to ourselves every day. But our penchant for self-deception may have hidden benefits.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Last December, PolitiFact called coronavirus denial the “lie of the year.” Arguably, it’s a lie many people told themselves—out of fear, convenience, ideology, economic interest or group loyalty. Such self-deception has cost many lives. And it sets a contrastive backdrop for “Useful Delusions,” a lively and digestible book from Shankar Vedantam, host of NPR’s “The Hidden Brain,” and science writer Bill Mesler on the benefits of lying to yourself.

Conventional wisdom has accepted the ubiquity of self-deception at least since Freud popularized the notion of repression. Cognitive psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman and Dan Ariely have probed the phenomenon in bestselling books. Some scholars believe our biases and delusions are mere side effects of helpful heuristics, nuisance fines for mental expediency. But what if they have value in themselves?

In a single sentence tucked away in the foreword to Richard Dawkins’s 1976 book “The Selfish Gene,” the evolutionary theorist Robert Trivers offered a powerful idea: We’ve evolved to fool ourselves the better to keep “the subtle signs of self knowledge” from undermining our tall tales with tells. Messrs. Vedantam and Mesler mention the idea but don’t dwell on evolutionary mechanisms (while insisting that they’re there), focusing instead on effects.

Self-deception presents itself benignly in our casual interactions. We lie several times per day, or hour, depending on who’s counting. Little lies, about how interested we are in what you just said about your knitting. Do recipients question them? No, they let that oil drip into the fearsome gears of conversation. We gladly take politeness at face value, for our own good. One study found that receiving rude remarks decreased participants’ creativity and generosity. The book cites Barack Obama’s “Anger Translator,” played by the comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who frankly articulated Mr. Obama’s subtext. It’s not that we can’t handle the truth. We’d just rather not.

Overconfidence, an evasion of reality distributed unequally among us, can lead to hubristic mistakes, but it can also do good. In one study, AIDS patients with unmoored optimism about their prognoses survived longer. Spells that supposedly imbue bulletproof protection have helped scrappy battalions stand up to larger armies.

Our willingness to participate in fictions makes storytelling a particularly powerful force. Messrs. Vedantam and Mesler suggest novels require a bit of belief to keep us enthralled, and advertising turns on our buying into brand narratives. Golfers performed better when told they had Nike clubs. More important, group cohesion flows from investment in origin stories, a belief that something unseen ties us together. Ceremonies and other rituals can make these tales visceral, and groups from college fraternities to nations—motley populations otherwise defined by little more than lines on a map—rely on fake-it-till-you-make-it solidarity to do things like land on the moon. Religions trade in the power of stories too: Evidence suggests fear of angry gods bootstrapped altruism toward strangers until we could put the modern state in place. Such suspensions of skepticism, the authors write, “are responsible for creating some of the crowning glories of human civilization.”

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

PG was reminded of some unreliable narrators.

From Reedsy Blog:

In literature, an unreliable narrator is a character who tells a story with a lack of credibility. There are different types of unreliable narrators (more on that later), and the presence of one can be revealed to readers in varying ways — sometimes immediately, sometimes gradually, and sometimes later in the story when a plot twist leaves us wondering if we’ve maybe been a little too trusting.

While the term “unreliable narrator” was first coined by literary critic Wayne C. Booth in his 1961 book, The Rhetoric of Fiction, it’s a literary device that writers have been putting to good use for much longer than the past 80 years. For example, “The Tell-Tale Heart” published by Edgar Allan Poe in 1843 utilizes this storytelling tool, as does Wuthering Heights, published in 1847.

But wait, is any narrator really reliable?

This discussion can lead us down a proverbial rabbit hole. In a sense, no, there aren’t any 100% completely reliable narrators. The “Rashomon Effect” tells us that our subjective perceptions prohibit us from ever having a totally clear memory of past events. If each person subjectively remembers something that happened, how do we know who is right? “Indeed, many writers have used the Rashomon Effect to tell stories from multiple first-person perspectives — leaving readers to determine whose record is most believable.” (Check out As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner for an example).

. . . .

Literary function of an unreliable narrator

Fiction that makes us question our own perceptions can be powerful. An unreliable narrator can create a lot of grey areas and blur the lines of reality, allowing us to come to our own conclusions.

Fallible storytellers can also create tension by keeping readers on their toes — wondering if there’s more under the surface, and reading between the lines to decipher what that is. Unreliable narrators can make for intriguing, complex characters: depending on the narrator’s motivation for clouding the truth, readers may also feel more compelled to keep reading to figure out why the narrator is hiding things.

Finally, all unreliable narrators are first-person: they live in the world of the story and will have an inherent bias or perhaps even an agenda. While you may find an unreliable narrator who’s written in the second-person or third-person point of view, this is generally rare.

. . . .

Types of unreliable narrators

Just like trying to classify every type of character would be an endless pursuit, so is trying to list every type of unreliable narrator. That said, we’ve divided these questionable raconteurs into three general types to better understand how they work as a literary device.

1) Deliberately Unreliable: Narrators who are aware of their deception

This type of narrator is intentionally lying to the reader because, well, they can. They have your attention, the point of view is theirs, and they’ll choose what to do with it, regardless of any “responsibility” they might have to the reader.

A quick note about this kind of narrator: people want to read about characters they can connect with or relate to. This is one of the tricky parts of writing this kind of narrator: the character has to be compelling enough that we’ll keep connecting with them even if we suspect we’re being misled. We don’t have to necessarily like them, but we need to understand them. For instance, even Alex from A Clockwork Orange has an underlying humanity: his desire for individual freedom above all. His flagrant lies are therefore an exercise of his freedom.

2) Evasively Unreliable: Narrators who unconsciously alter the truth

The motivations for this kind of narrator are often quite muddy — sometimes it’s simple self-preservation, other times it’s slightly more manipulative. Sometimes the narrator isn’t even aware they are twisting the truth until later in the book. Their unreliability often stems from the need to tell the story in a way that justifies something, and their stories are often embellished or watered down.

These kinds of contradictory characters whose mindsets aren’t clear can keep readers anxiously waiting for the narrator’s moment of clarity — drawing their own conclusions all the while.

3) Naively Unreliable: Narrators who are honest but lack all the information

Unlike the previous two types, this type of narrator is not unreliable on purpose — they simply lack a traditional, “greater understanding.” This kind of unreliability can allow the reader to view your story with fresh eyes. The narrator’s “unorthodox” interpretations might only provide us with partial explanations of what’s going on, forcing us to dig a little deeper and connect the dots. These naive narrators can also encourage readers to take more significant notice of things we might’ve taken for granted.

Craft tip: Don’t cheat the reader. Great novels inspire readers to come back and find new meaning and elements they hadn’t yet discovered the first time. This can be especially true of stories told by unreliable narrators. If you employ this literary device gradually throughout the novel, ensure you leave clues for your readers along the way. Drop hints that make us question the validity of our source and have us eagerly reading to find the next clue that will act as another part of the story-puzzle. If you suddenly reveal out of nowhere that the narrator hasn’t been giving us all the facts in an abrupt twist, readers will feel they have been cheated.

Link to the rest at Reedsy Blog

The Nature of Conspiracy Theories

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the age of QAnon, it is of little comfort to learn in Michael Butter’s “The Nature of Conspiracy Theories” that such malevolent fables have been around for some time. Cicero devised one. Winston Churchill, at least once, passed along another. What’s different now, claims Mr. Butter, is who believes them, who spreads them and how they are disseminated. Once common among the elites, conspiracy theories were stigmatized, in the West anyway, during the postwar years. “We used to be afraid of conspiracies,” the author relates. “We are now more afraid of conspiracy theories,” a fear that helps account for the attention they attract.

But only partly: Ideas that might once have been confined to a pamphlet are now easily available on the internet, a space where anyone can be an expert and where conspiracy theories can provide a splendid living for those who peddle them. The internet has “largely nullified” the media’s “traditional watchdog role,” a change that Mr. Butter, who writes from a leftish-establishment point of view, mourns more than is entirely healthy.

Perhaps inevitably in these times, Mr. Butter examines the connection between populism and conspiracy theories. The connection is real enough, although support for the former does not have to meansuccumbing to the latter. Nevertheless it’s no coincidence that susceptibility to conspiracism is associated with feeling powerless or (something obviously relevant to the rise of populism) “the fear of becoming so.”

But the underlying appetite for conspiracy theories stems from something far deeper than social and/or political disaffection. It arises, Mr. Butter suggests, from the way “evolution has trained the human brain to make connections and recognize patterns.” We are delighted to “find” these connections, even when there are none—so great, I suspect, is our reluctance to accept a random and indifferent universe. There is a decent argument to be made that conspiracy theories helped fill the psychological gap left by religion’s retreat, even if, as Mr. Butter records, they long predated the Enlightenment’s revolt against God.

But the underlying appetite for conspiracy theories stems from something far deeper than social and/or political disaffection. It arises, Mr. Butter suggests, from the way “evolution has trained the human brain to make connections and recognize patterns.” We are delighted to “find” these connections, even when there are none—so great, I suspect, is our reluctance to accept a random and indifferent universe. There is a decent argument to be made that conspiracy theories helped fill the psychological gap left by religion’s retreat, even if, as Mr. Butter records, they long predated the Enlightenment’s revolt against God.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Best 8 Free and Open Source Library Management Software Solutions

From GoodFirms:

For many of us, nothing seems more important than reading a book. “When in doubt go to a library,” said J. K Rowling, the writer who is well known for giving us the fantasy series Harry Potter. Libraries have been a trusted source of information. Going to a library and picking a book was fun those days. Technology has brought significant changes to libraries. These days Libraries function differently due to the digitalization. Access to information is in real-time and universal. Traditional libraries are forced to re-work on their workflow. Library management has evolved and improved to a stage never imaged in the pre-cyber era. To meet the growing demands of the digital generation, it is essential for every library to invest in efficient Library management software solutions.

Why should Libraries invest In a Library Management Software System?

From pure closed stacks of books to open stacks; from digital resources to e-collections – the concept of a library has evolved so much that today we have virtual users from anywhere using the service at anytime they wish. This sudden transformation has brought a pressing need on every library to exchange data and information across the digital library system automatically.  Also, connecting with networks of libraries along with following machine-readable standards and other cataloguing standards are becoming crucial for libraries. Apart from allowing access to resources, typically, a library must be able to handle other actions like; acquisition, inventory, finance, circulation, generating statistical reports, and other references.

From Analog to Digital, Libraries have come a long way. Books are no more restricted to specific shelves now. Access is universal.

. . . .

Traditional Library functions included;

  • Manually Labelling
  • Manually Accessing
  • Manually Sorting
  • Manually Shelving
  • Manually Searching
  • Loads of Manual workflow activities

Since most of the management activities were carried out manually, there were high chances for errors and miss-handling with inventory collections and records management. 

Libraries Today

Today, technology has been helping to manage libraries efficiently. It has got easier for both users and librarians. Library management or library automation software solutions are widely used today.

Benefits of using Library Management Software

Be it standalone or small libraries managed by schools, universities, etc, a good library management system proves to be a worthy investment. The software, on the whole, helps in simplifying the entire library management process.

  • To automate the workflow
  • To reduce handling cost
  • To reduce errors
  • To support the continued visibility of your services
  • To add value
  • To retain intuitive usability
  • To make access convenient
  • To reach relevant content
  • To maintain the database
  • To leverage functionality
  • To enable information sharing
  • To manage your portal efficiently
  • To support growth and innovation
  • To take control and eliminate discrepancies
  • To retain existing readers
  • To generate new readers

Some of the best Library Automation software enables in managing the whole library workflow through an easy-to-use, simple and interactive interface. By using this software, a librarian can handle basic to complicated functions of a library right from collection till controlling bibliography. Users can instantly get information on any book available in the library. Privacy can be maintained, and users’ records are stored safely.

Keeping track of all the books is much easier with a Library Management Software. Added to this, overseeing fee collection, fine, late return, etc becomes much easier with the software.

Library automation software solutions are today used right from small school library to a large public library. In short, enterprise planning and resource management are much easier with library management software.

The ever-growing demand to automate library functions has been driving the library automation software market globally.

Different Types of Library Management Software

A plethora of library management system pervades the industry today. The options are vast though. Over the years, these software solutions have also matured in their functionality and usability and have efficiently adapted to the changing requirements. Pick up the one that fits your goals. Explore your options by purely starting from the most immediate goals. 

Premium:

Commercial Library management software solutions are designed with outstanding features, but the cost factor is pretty high. It gets difficult for many institutions and libraries to afford commercial products. An ideal alternative in such a situation open source software.

Shareware:

Users can try the software for free for a limited period and have to pay to use the service forever.

Cloud-based (Cloud Hosted / Subscription based)

A cloud-based library management system allows libraries to use the software without having to license or install. Hosted by a third party, the software demands some operational control cost.

Freemium:

This version of library automation software allows users to test the software for some time for zero cost. The free trial period can last anytime from a few weeks to a few months.

Open Source:

Open source library management software systems are those whose source code is available for the public to use, copy, modify and distribute. The purpose is to see a rapid evolution of the code and the program. Moreover, it also helps in correcting errors. The key advantage of open source library management software is that users can acquire and download this software freely. No developers can claim any royalties on the distribution. This approach is gaining momentum. Open Source library management solutions can be free for unlimited time or can come with some limitations. The adoption of open-source library management software is in recent days creating lucrative opportunities for market growth.

Free and Open Source

Small and medium-sized libraries very often have a stringent budget and investing in a commercial library management system is very difficult. A free and open source library management software solution enables them to automate their system in a cost-effective way.

. . . .

. . . .

Comparison Chart of the Best 8 Free & Open Source Library Management Software Solutions

Link to the rest at GoodFirms

My Publishing Values

From Hugh Howey:

Value listing is one of the more important thought exercises I’ve discovered over the years. I was introduced to this by a friend, and my first attempt was to list my top 10 overall values in the world. This sounds easy enough, but you have to do it in order. So what goes higher on that list, family or friends? Where do you rank truth and honesty, without which most of the other things we value can’t exist or be trusted?

Does science make the list of things we value, considering the lives it has saved and made more pleasant? Where do you rank education and democracy? One way to answer these questions is to look around the world at places that enjoy the benefits of one more than the other. Would you rather live among one of the remaining hunter/gatherer tribes with no science? Or in a country like China with no democracy?

The list you end up with is not nearly as important as the act of creation itself. It’s the wrestling with the thing that matters. As you imagine going without what’s dear to you, your appreciation of them can grow. And as you order the things you value, you can ask yourself if you are putting your energies into the things highest on the list. Quite often we find ourselves living by someone else’s values and not our own. Because we too rarely sit down and suss these questions out for ourselves.

All this came to mind recently when someone emailed me an old blog post of mine about what we should value in the publishing industry. When I used to travel to book conferences and give talks, a frequent theme of mine was that readers and writers should be the focus of this industry, not bookstores and publishers. That might sound quaint or obvious, but it’s not how the industry is covered. It’s mostly seen as a transaction between publishers (the producers of books) and bookstores (the retailers). How those entities are doing, what they need, where they can improve and grow, was pretty much every article in the trade press for many decades. People obsessed over what B&N was doing and then later Amazon. The rest was agony and gossip among and about the big 6 publishers (now the big 5).

That began to change when Amazon came along and decided to sell books online. And this change was not because of self-publishing or e-books. The Kindle was many years away. It was because of Amazon’s 1995 innovation, the customer review. Suddenly, readers mattered. We take this innovation for granted, but at the time people thought Amazon was making a mistake. Customers would rant and complain! They’d bash the very product the retailer was trying to sell! This happened, of course, but mostly people shared the pros and cons and helped other shoppers make better decisions. A lot of Amazon’s success comes from this early trust in its users.

When Amazon launched the Kindle and allowed anyone to upload a book to its website, an even louder contingent of pundits would decry the decision. This would end bookselling as we know it, they said. It would destroy the book discovery process, they lamented. Even authors got in the act by predicting a tsunami of crap that would make it impossible to find decent reads. First, Amazon was giving the reader way too much power and now they were doing the same for writers. For an industry that valued publishers and bookstores the most, Amazon’s every decision was anathema.

But was that really everyone’s value list? If you ask most people to rank their publishing values, publishers would probably end up near the very bottom, perhaps just higher than professional book critics. Bookstores would go near the very top of most snap lists, but where would they really rank if a proper value list was made? The only way to answer that is to wrestle with our own list and to ask others to do the same. In a very long-winded way, I’m going to do that right now. Come along with me if you like.

One of the joys of value listing are the chicken-and-egg problems that arise immediately. Can you have books and not authors? The answer is yes. Perhaps there’s a future where no new books are written, but we still have all the classics and what came before. Okay, can you have books and no readers? Of course. I wrote books for quite some time with no readers. They just sit there. So is it books we value the most? Or is it the act of them being read?

What about readers without books? It’s not technically reading, but we had a very long and rich oral tradition before writing and literacy became more common. Would I rather have stories being told and enjoyed over a world full of books that no one can read? Now we’re zeroing into the top of my list. Readers win out over books themselves, because if the physical things went away, we could still have Story with a capital s. Audiobooks and the oral tradition could survive. This would be a world without writers, so no new stories, which is a shame. But it’s better than a world full of writers if none of their stories are being heard.

My list thus far:

1: Readers

I’ve already decided that the shape story comes in is not as important as the act of them being told and enjoyed. So books and bookstores are not yet a priority. Right now I just have people enjoying previously concocted stories as they are spoken aloud or listened to from a recording. What we need are more stories, so to the list we add writers:

1: Readers
2: Writers

The audience and the artist. Getting these two down in this order makes almost every decision I’ve made as an author, bookseller, speaker, publisher, blogger jump right out at me. Lower prices and more reading options for readers. Better pay, better contracts, fewer barriers to entry for writers. This is why value listing is so important. If you rank books #1, you value a world of dusty or bare shelves. But with these two down, do books now come third? Or is an e-book only world better if it includes publishers or agents and the value they add? Or is a retailer for e-books more important than a world full of books but not a single bookstore? Where do I rank books, publishers, and bookstores?

Behind editors, that’s where.

1: Readers
2: Writers
3: Editors

Whoa. Really? Yes, dear reader. I wouldn’t have published a single book without the input and courage I received from my editors. That includes my mother, sister, cousin, online friends, and my writing club members. Editors go back to the oral tradition mentioned above. They were the people honing and refining story to make them better, offering suggestions and input, often becoming storytellers themselves. They are the super-reader. The beta-reader. The book-perfecter.

Would you prefer a bookstore full of unedited manuscripts over an oral tradition of finely honed masterpieces? I doubt many sober lovers of story would come to this conclusion if forced to decide. Perhaps those who have never seen a rough draft and don’t realize how far that last level of polish takes a work.

Editors are key. They are more important than physical books. and I have to rank them accordingly. Within this group are the agents who act as editors but do so much more. Again, this is why these listing exercises are so useful. Editors add tons of value but are rarely discussed when we talk about our love of books. Speaking of which, can we finally add books to the list?

Not so fast. We are back at the dreaded retailer/book/publisher question from earlier. What does a world without a book retailer look like? This means no sidewalk shops or bazaars. No online retail. No used bookstores. No place that transacts for the sale of a book at all. We have eager readers, talented authors, capable editors… do we want them producing book-shaped things but nobody can earn a living from their efforts? What about having a retailer like Audible, which would allow easy access to all these books, a steady income for many authors and editors, but no physical books?

It’s the earnings side that has me putting bookstores next on my list, before we even have books! So e-books and audiobooks only. For many, I know books would have shown up by now, and that’s a fair call. But then authors and editors are working for free forever. And that’s something I can’t value over the physical shape a story takes.

1: Readers
2: Writers
3: Editors
4: Retailers (digital only)

Painful, I know. It’s not supposed to be easy. Surely we get books now, please?! I’m writing this as a kid who was obsessed with books and who has remained surrounded by them ever since. I can’t walk past a bookstore without popping inside. When I visit friends, I often end up standing in front of their shelves reading spines, comparing tastes. Any antique rummaging begins and ends with the boxes of books. And yet … they aren’t going to make my top 5. Because now that writers can earn a living in my value list, I have to add the institutions that make sure everyone has access to books. Next on my list is libraries.

1: Readers
2: Writers
3: Editors
4: Retailers (digital only)
5: Libraries

Libraries without books? I’m as aghast as you are. But if you are going to give stories the shape of a book and not allow libraries in this world, I beg you to reconsider. Libraries are so critical that I very nearly rank them #4 on my list, except that this makes the career of a writer impossible. Libraries do more than provide a place for people to enjoy stories for free. They provide expertise in finding those stories and in cataloging them. As stories have become more and more digital, libraries have added even more value. Yes, I rank them higher than books. But thank goodness the physical object can finally go on the list.

1: Readers
2: Writers
3: Editors
4: Retailers (digital only)
5: Libraries
6: Books

Whew. Man, that hurt to wait so long, but I can’t reason through it any other way. Now that we have books, we can reclassify retailers as bookstores. Of course our old world could have had e-book kiosks and digital-only brick and mortar stores. All that’s changed is the container our stories go inside.

Once you get past the really hard decisions, it’s tempting to slap the rest of the list together. Resist this temptation. Weigh the rest with the same level of care. Make sure you aren’t leaving anything out. We still need cover artists, audiobook narrators, publishers, professional book reviewers. These will round out my top ten (I consider large scale printers covered by the category of “books” itself).

It’s difficult to choose between cover artists and narrators to be honest. Both deserve much more recognition than they get. Good cover art can make or break a story’s success. But as audiobooks have grown, and to pay homage to the critical importance of how this industry got its start with oral storytelling, I have to give narrators the nod. I know audiobookphiles who choose their next purchase over the voice more than the writer, and for good reason.

1: Readers
2: Writers
3: Editors
4: Bookstores
5: Libraries
6: Books
7: Narrators
8: Cover artists

That leaves publishers and reviewers, who should not feel completely diminished. Making the list at all is something. There are entities that add tons of value to the storytelling enterprise who aren’t even mentioned here, like formatters and typesetters, booksellers and bloggers. But the final list goes:

1: Readers
2: Writers
3: Editors
4: Bookstores
5: Libraries
6: Books
7: Narrators
8: Cover artists
9: Publishers
10: Critics

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey

PG will note that he’s read several of Hugh’s books and has enjoyed them all.

Focus on Short Fiction

From Writer Unboxed:

There are many bad reasons to focus on short fiction and one really good one…and both present their own problems. Stick with me as I show you how to adapt your writing to short fiction OR expand your short stories into novels.

Bad Reasons to Write Short Stories

Short stories are great for your career, they say. Start with short fiction, they say, to

  • Build your publication credits
  • Help new audiences find you
  • Let editors know you’re serious
  • Raise your profile by winning contests
  • Keep your novel fans happy in between books

The problem is not everyone loves short stories. I’m talking about readers and writers, here.

Writing short, while undeniably a useful skill, just isn’t something everyone loves. Maybe you’re in that group.

The bigger problem for you is that the mythical ‘they’ who tell you short stories are a great tool in your toolbox aren’t wrong.

But don’t worry, I’m going to explain some of the reasons you find it hard to write short, and I’m going to show you some techniques for stopping your story’s attempt to become an epic 14-part novel series.

Good Reasons To Keep It Short

If you love short fiction, that comes with its own set of problems:

  • Nobody has made a living selling short fiction since 1959. (OK, I made up that date, but do you know anyone your age who has earned a decent hourly wage for a short story?)
  • The majority of readers read novels, not short fiction.
  • When you show a story to your fellow writers, 98% of them say “this would be a great first chapter” or “I really want to know more.”
  • You feel like you ought to be writing novels (because that’s what most people read and buy), but the thought is terrifying: like the difference between the fun of decorating a single room vs. committing to building a whole house with underfloor heating, a solarium, and a bathroom for every guest. You have no idea how to get started and you’re not even sure you want to.
  • When you try to ‘add words’ you get the feeling you’re just adding words, not actually adding to the story.

Fear not: in this article I’m going to show you some of the ways short stories and novels differ so that, no matter which one you’re trying to build, you can read the blueprints and create something that stands on its own.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Burning Books: Akram Aylisli on Literature and Cultural Memory

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:


ON FEBRUARY 9, 2013, the works of writer Akram Aylisli were publicly burned in Azerbaijan because his writing upset the Azerbaijani government. Aylisli watched his books burn via the internet, an experience he describes in a 2018
 essay excerpted in this very magazine. Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev stripped Aylisli of the title of “People’s Writer” and his presidential pension; his wife and son were fired from their jobs, and he received death threats. In 2014, Aylisli was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by supporters from several countries. In March 2016, he was invited to address a literary festival in Venice, Incroci di civiltà; however, the 79-year-old writer was detained at the Baku airport, and trumped-up legal charges were filed against him. Those charges are still pending.

. . . .

MARK LIPOVETSKY: In March 2016, you were slated to deliver a speech at a literary festival in Venice, but could not attend because you were denied permission to leave Azerbaijan. You later published the remarks you’d planned to give. At the start of the speech, you write, “Now we are all defenseless before these inconceivably cruel times. There are periods in history when nothing can fill the emptiness of the human heart: not religion, not science, not literature.” Do you feel the same way now, and what does it mean to be a writer in such times?

AKRAM AYLISLI: I’d like to first of all clarify the circumstances of my situation that not everyone understands completely. They made me sign an agreement not to travel, so I don’t have the right to leave the confines of Baku. What’s more, the prosecutor’s office confiscated my proof of identity. Without that proof, a person has no actual rights — can’t take part in elections or anything. The prosecutor’s office was supposed to investigate my case within a year, according to Azerbaijani law. But to this day, the case that was opened in March 2016 hasn’t been reviewed. They simply aren’t processing it. This all weighs very, very heavily on me psychologically, and all of it puts pressure on me. But I think some people are starting to overcome the anxiety they felt about the fact that part of Azerbaijan’s land was, let us say, under the control of Armenia. They’ve calmed down a bit, and I think [laughs] that calm will in some way make a difference in my life. They’ll calm down and finally say: “So what about this guy? How much can we really cut him off from society? This kind of thing isn’t good for him.” I think this will all pass. I’m sure of it.

In terms of how I live in this difficult time, it seems to me that no matter what the circumstances, no matter what situation a writer lives in, he lives in his own world. For example, I didn’t feel the loss of what was taken from me very deeply, and I wasn’t depressed because I never remembered myself being free. I never felt that: not in school, not at university, not at work. I felt myself to be a little bit free only at my work table, my writing desk. They couldn’t take that away from me. It can’t be taken away from any writer. I live now through literature. It’s possible to live through literature — there’s a lot of air there. More, maybe, than there is even in the street, especially during a pandemic.

From your trilogy Farewell, Aylis, which of these novels — YemenStone Dreams, and A Fantastical Traffic Jam — is the most important for you?

If I think about it, Stone Dreams. I wrote Stone Dreams for Azerbaijanis, not Armenians. I wrote it out of the desire that not all of the bridges between our peoples would be burned. So that there would not be this deep alienation, particularly in terms of culture. We are, after all, a Turkic people, but in point of fact we are people of the Caucasus. Our mentality is of the Caucasus — not Turkish, not Central Asian, specifically of the Caucasus. I wrote Stone Dreams out of the desire to bring people closer, so that people wouldn’t think that we have to revile one another, that we have to kill one another.

Who has supported you? Are there writers, cultural figures, who supported you in Russia and Azerbaijan?

In general, the Russian intelligentsia defended me a great deal — Andrei Bitov, Viktor Yerofeyev. That level of writer — important writers — really defended me. A few Russian journalists, also. In Azerbaijan, my support mainly came from young writers. Among them, many people understood things as I understand them, and in the way people will someday understand.

How can we, readers living all over the world, help you?

You’re already helping me. We’re sitting here, today I’m looking at you, at such good-hearted people. That joy is enough for me, if only for a few days. Sometimes you suddenly remember such good moments, and that helps you live. I don’t know how exactly readers can help. Many organizations wanted to help me. In Norway, they even proposed an excellent situation so that I could move there. I didn’t go, because someday these people will understand that I love Azerbaijan more than they do. I think there are individuals among the Azerbaijani people who know that I love Azerbaijan more than the authorities do. It’s dangerous to say so [laughs], but it’s necessary.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG thinks its a good idea for him and others who live in liberal Western democracies to reflect on those who do not from time to time. Such an exercise helps to avoid feelings of entitlement and nurture feelings of gratitude, at least for PG.

“Stone Dreams” by Akram Aylisli

From Words without Borders:

The condition of the patient just delivered to the trauma department of one of the major Baku hospitals was very serious.

They took the patient, who was lying unconscious on the gurney, along the very middle of the half-lit hospital corridor that stretched the length of the whole floor to the operating room, which was located in the other wing of the building. There were two women in white lab coats and two men, also in lab coats. The surgeon himself walked beside the gurney, a spare, silver-haired man of middling height, distinguished from his colleagues by his reserve, the compelling sternness of his face, and the particular cleanliness of his lab coat.

If there was anything unusual or seemingly incongruous in this ordinary scene of hospital life, it was the tragic humor in the appearance and behavior of the person who’d brought the patient to the clinic. That small, fidgety man of fifty-five to sixty whose small face was not at all in harmony with his enormous, round belly ran around the doctor constantly repeating the same thing over and over.

“Doctor, my dear Doctor, they killed him! Such a man, in broad daylight, they beat him, destroyed him. It’s those yerazy, Doctor, yerazy. Five or six of those yerazy-boys who fled from Armenia! Those sons of bitches, those refugees simply don’t respect people, Doctor, my dear Doctor. They don’t recognize artists or poets or writers. Just call someone an Armenian—and that’s it! Then they slam him to the ground and trample him like wild animals. They tear him to pieces, and no one dares get involved. I told them: ‘Don’t beat him,’ I said, ‘That man’s not Armenian, he’s one of us, a son of our people, the pride and conscience of the nation.’ But who listens? They didn’t even let me tell them my name. They kicked me so hard in the side that I almost died there, too. Right here, Doctor, in the right side. It still hurts badly now.”

The doctor didn’t really understand what the man who’d brought the patient was saying. Maybe he didn’t want to understand. Maybe he wasn’t even listening to what that fussy, funny man who’d knotted a yellow tie over a brown checked shirt was babbling without pause. However, an observant person might have noticed that the doctor from time to time smiled into his moustache. And not because every word, every gesture of the man who’d brought the patient rose to comedy. But, rather, because the light-haired man lying on the gurney was slender and remarkably tall. And it’s possible that the contrast in appearance between these two reminded the doctor of the very saddest pages of the story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

When they reached the doors of the operating room, one of the men wearing a white lab coat blocked the path of the funny man in the yellow tie.

“Let him in,” said the doctor. “It seems he has something to say. Let him have his say.”

Although the operating room was considerably smaller than the corridor, all the same it turned out to be a spacious room with a high ceiling and gigantic windows. The operating table standing directly in the center resembled the linen-covered gurney on which they conveyed the patient. The two men in white lab coats delivering the gurney that bore the patient lifted him, laid him on the table, glanced at the doctor for permission, and silently left the operating room.

“Peroxide!” said the surgeon loudly to the nurses, rolling up the sleeves of his lab coat. “Bring it here, wipe off his face.” Looking at the patient covered in blood, he muttered an oath, and turning to the man’s companion, he asked, “Who did this to him?”

“I already told you, Doctor: yerazy. Those bastard refugees arriving from Armenia. It wasn’t enough to smash his face. They also knocked him to the ground like wild animals and began beating him in the stomach. It’s a good thing, Doctor, that I arrived in time. I went out this morning to get some air in the city. I’m coming down from that cursed place they call the Parapet when I see five or six mustachioed scoundrels beating up a man at the edge of the fountain. And people just standing by and watching in silence . . .” Then he suddenly hesitated. His lips continued to move, but the words, it seems, died in his throat.

“There’s no more peroxide, Doctor,” said one of the nurses in an apologetic voice, as quietly as possible. (One of them was elderly, the other quite young.)

“There should be some alcohol,” said the surgeon without hope.

“No, Doctor. Everything we had was used up yesterday.”

“Fine, clean him with water. Don’t use too much manganese.” The doctor washed his hands with soap at the sink standing in the corner of the room and then went up and stood in front of the operating table. “Take everything off of him. Leave only his underwear.”

The patient—his face, nose, chin, the collar of his orange wool shirt, the lapels of his bluish jacket covered in scarlet blood—was lying so calmly on the operating table that it was as if his most evil enemy rather than he himself had been beaten up in the aforementioned Parapet Square. He was sleeping deeply, although frequent, harsh moans escaped from his chest. Not only did he sleep but, apparently, also dreamed, and it seemed that his dreams gave him great satisfaction.

While the women washed the dried blood off the patient’s face, the doctor checked his pulse. When the nurses had stripped the patient, he began to examine him attentively, as if compiling a report for himself or dictating to someone.

“Put two stitches in his lower lip. No fractures noted in the area of the jaw. Two dislocations in the left hand at the elbow and wrist. Two fingers dislocated on the right hand: the thumb and middle finger. Severe muscle trauma in the left leg. A fractured kneecap in the right leg. No serious anomalies noted in the back, rib cage, or spine. No skull fractures observed.” The doctor fell silent and again cursed angrily. “A concussion!” He said this loudly for some reason and in Russian, then pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his trousers, slowly wiped the sweat from his brow, and added in Russian, “A brutal beating!”

After every word the doctor said, the face of the man who’d brought the patient reflected all his feelings, all his pain and suffering. With difficulty, he held himself together, so as not to burst out sobbing. When the doctor had finished his exam, the man’s self-possession was also at an end. He wept violently, like an aggrieved child.

The eyes of one of the women in the white lab coats standing beside the operating table (the younger one) filled with tears. The elderly nurse was also upset and shook her head woefully. And the doctor was very sorry for the man. He began to calm him.

“There, there, this isn’t good . . . It’s nothing terrible. In fifteen days your friend will be like new, I’ll make a beauty out of him.” Lowering his head, he thought a bit and then again lifted his head and asked cautiously, “So, you say this man is Armenian?”

The eyes of our comic hero bulged in surprise.

“Really, you don’t know him?! You don’t know Sadai Sadygly? The pride of Azerbaijani theater! Our number one artist! You really don’t know this great master, Doctor? You haven’t even seen him on television? You’ve even seen me on television more than once, Doctor. Maybe you just don’t remember—Nuvarish Karabakhly, a well-known actor of comic roles. Maybe you don’t know me. I’m not offended by that. But there’s no one who doesn’t know Sadai Sadygly. You see, no one else in the world has played Hamlet, Othello, Aidyn, and Kefli Iskender like he has.”

Link to the rest at Words Without Borders

You want accuracy, but not representation

You want accuracy, but not representation. If you know how to make the figuration, it doesn’t work. Anything you can make, you make by accident. In painting, you have to know what you do, not how, when you do it.

. . . .

I want a very ordered image, but I want it to come about by chance.

Francis Bacon

All painting… is an accident

In my case all painting… is an accident. I foresee it and yet I hardly ever carry it out as I foresee it. It transforms itself by the actual paint. I don’t in fact know very often what the paint will do, and it does many things which are very much better than I could make it do.

Francis Bacon

‘Francis Bacon’ Review: Furious Beauty

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the spring of 1949, the press baron Viscount Rothermere gave a ball that defied Britain’s postwar decline. The men wore white tie, the women their family jewels. The Queen Mother was there, and so was the royal of the moment, Princess Margaret. Late that night, the princess, giddy with Champagne, took the mic from Noël Coward and delivered her party trick. Her Royal Highness began to sing, off-key and out of time. The revelers loyally cheered and called for more.

Margaret was just beginning to mutilate “Let’s Do It” when a “prolonged and thunderous booing” emerged from the crowd. The band stopped, and the princess reddened and rushed from the room. “Who did that?” Lady Caroline Blackwood asked the man at her side. “It was that dreadful man, Francis Bacon,” he fumed. “He calls himself a painter but he does the most frightful paintings.”

More than a decade before the end of the “Lady Chatterley” ban and The Beatles’s first LP, the iconoclasm of Francis Bacon announced a new era in British life. By his death in Madrid in 1992, Bacon was a social and artistic icon, his battered face the image of painterly tradition. Openly gay, he was the king of Soho, a nocturnal drinker and cruiser, his motto “Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.” By day, alone in his studio, he was the exposer of torn flesh and gaping mouths, of the secret shames and spiritual collapse that, in the postwar decades when French thinkers ruled in concert with French painters, made him the only truly English existentialist.

With “Revelations,” Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan enter a biographical field as crowded as the Colony Room on a Friday night. Almost all the revelations are already revealed: the Baconian literature includes testimonies from Bacon’s critical patron David Sylvester; his fellow artist and slummer Lucian Freud; his drinking friend Dan Farson; and his assistant Michael Peppiatt. Mr. Stevens and Ms. Swan might, like Bacon’s friends, share a tendency to confuse the man with the art—like Oscar Wilde, Bacon was his own best work—but they bring a sober eye and an organizing mind to Bacon’s “gilded gutter life.” As in their acclaimed “de Kooning,” the authors frame their subject and his work as a portrait of the age.

. . . .

Erratically educated, Bacon “wasn’t the slightest bit interested in art” until 1930.

. . . .

Almost entirely “self-taught and untouched,” Bacon turned to painting. A critic mocked his first publicly exhibited portrait as “a tiny piece of red mouse-cheese on the end of a stick for head,” and he was judged “insufficiently surreal” to be included in London’s International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936. He and Nanny Lightfoot survived by holding illegal roulette parties.

. . . .

The war made Bacon. The revelatory evils of Nazism, the bombing and the newsreels of the death camps all forced the public to acknowledge the horror and the moral vacuum from which it had emerged. The critics, too, realized that Bacon had “found the animal in the man and the man in the animal.” A magpie for quotations and influence, Bacon liked to quote Aeschylus: “The reek of human blood smiles out at me.”

From then on, Bacon was famous and rich, unless he had lost at the tables. The authors excel at illustrating his formation—Bacon destroyed almost all his early work—his manipulation of his image and value, and his helpless gambling in the power games of love. He believed in beauty and tragedy, and he got and gave both.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG includes a portion of one of three panes in a triptych for those unfamiliar with Bacon’s work. PG expects that the virtues of Bacon’s artistic sensibility may be a learned taste for some.

Excerpt from “Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on Light Ground),” a painting by Francis Bacon

How to Recognize If You’re Being ‘Lovebombed’ by a Narcissist

PG realizes that he probably forgot about Valentine Day, so he’s trying to make amends.

From Lifehacker:

Gary Chapman’s 1992 book The Five Love Languages described the various ways that people display affection in romantic relationships. It became something of a cultural touchstone, putting in relatable terms how people use physical touch, acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time, and giving gifts to demonstrate admiration. But when do displays of love slide from a genuine gesture into something born of narcissism and emotional control?

It can feel like a nebulous line, but if you’ve ever been in a relationship where a partner would shower you with love in excess, perhaps with a deluge of gifts, praise, and affection only to later use it as an emotional cudgel, you may have been the victim of “lovebombing.”

Being lovebombed is a newer concept, so let’s unpack what it means to be with someone who subjects you to it, and how you might cope if lovebombing happens to be part of your relationship.

. . . .

Lovebombing is inundating someone with waves of affection, compliments, gifts, and the like in an effort to sweep them off their feet, usually in the early stages of a relationship. The darker side comes when the person doing the love bombing uses their effusiveness to hold control over their partner, possibly manipulating them into feeling bad or thinking that they’ve somehow failed to reciprocate the affection.

InStyle points to the recent lawsuit filed by the singer FKA Twigs against the actor Shia LaBeouf, whom she accuses of physical abuse, assault, and emotional distress. In the beginning of their relationship, LaBeouf allegedly sent Twigs (real name Tahliah Barnett) up to twenty bunches of roses a day in addition to hopping the fence of her London home to give her various love notes. The relationship turned dark when LaBeouf allegedly subjected the singer to various forms of abuse, she claims, such as threatening to crash their car unless she told him that she loved him, and physically assaulting her in a public gas station.

The polar extremes of such described behavior is classic lovebombing. Basically, it’s about reeling in another person in an effort to control them emotionally, and it’s usually a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder. As Ami Kaplan, a psychotherapist, told Cosmopolitan in 2019:

It’s about really getting the other person. Then when they feel like they really got the person and they feel secure in the relationship, the narcissist typically switches and becomes very difficult, abusive, or manipulative.

Ultimately, lovebombing is a tool for manipulation, and a way for a narcissist to project the image of a perfect partner. As the psychologist Suzanne Degges-White wrote in Psychology Today in 2018:

Narcissists in particular are known for their skills at manipulation, as much as their penchant for self-love. They may use flattery and attention as tools to build themselves up as the perfect partner, the better to gain your trust, affection — and, ultimately, adoration.

Link to the rest at Lifehacker

PG notes that he has been very happily married to Mrs. PG for some time and is definitely not aware of current romantic trends and pitfalls, so he is not in a position to know if lovebombing is a threat or a menace.

He’s on firmer ground with New York publishers, none of which have ever attempted to love-bomb PG.

Scholastic and PRH Remain Untouchable as Top Children’s Publishers

From Publishers Weekly:

Scholastic’s trade group has been on a hot streak for over a year, and that performance is reflected in the publisher’s dominance of PW’s children’s fiction bestseller list in 2020. The company had 53 books that made the frontlist fiction chart last year, up from 43 in 2019. Those titles also averaged longer stays on the chart, occupying 574 bestseller list positions. There are 25 titles on each of PW’s weekly children’s lists, for a total of 1,300 positions on each list over the course of a year—meaning that Scholastic had 44.1% of the frontlist fiction bestseller positions, up from 28.8% a year ago.

Scholastic author Dav Pilkey’s Fetch-22 (Dog Man #8) was on our frontlist fiction chart every week in 2020, and Scholastic published six of the top 10 titles with the longest runs on last year’s bestseller list. Another title in Pilkey’s Dog Man series, For Whom the Ball Rolls, spent 34 weeks on the list.

Pilkey is a mainstay of PW’s annual review of the children’s fiction bestseller lists, but Scott Cawthon, while a bestselling author, has not always finished high in our year-end tallies. In 2020, though, he had two books in his Five Nights at Freddy’s series with long frontlist fiction chart runs: The Silver Eyes was on the list for 44 weeks, and Into the Pit had a 33-week run. Other Scholastic top sellers were the 10th volume in Aaron Blabey’s Bad Guys series, The Bad Guys in the Baddest Day Ever, which had a 35-week stay, as did J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, illustrated by Jim Kay.

Scholastic’s tremendous 2020 showing on the children’s frontlist fiction chart meant down years for most other publishers. Simon & Schuster took the biggest hit in 2020, falling from second place on the ranking in 2019 to fifth place. In 2019, S&S’s bestseller performance benefitted from the release of the movie Five Feet Apart; the original Five Feet Apart novel by Rachael Lippincott was on our list for 35 weeks, and the tie-in edition had a 28-week run.

HarperCollins slipped into second place on the children’s frontlist fiction bestsellers by corporation ranking, with a 10.5% share of chart positions. HC had two titles with long frontlist fiction bestseller runs last year: The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate hit the list for 33 weeks, and FGTeeV Presents: Into the Game!, published by HarperAlley, stayed on the list for 32 weeks.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Because They Are Hard

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Last night, I spent an hour trying to find a word. Not because I’m having cognitive issues or because I’m being exceptionally picky. I was doing my Spanish homework. The professor gave us a definition for a word in the story we had read, and wanted us to find the word to go with the definition.

I understood the definition. I thought I understood every word in that story. Could I find the word she wanted? Hell, no. As you can tell, I’m still a bit frustrated by this.

And midway through that frustrating and ultimately futile search, I heard myself think, I’m 60 years old. Why am I putting myself through this?

That thought came up a lot yesterday. I’ve revamped my system so that I’m pushing myself in a couple of areas. I have set deadlines that I could have easily met once before in my life, but haven’t strived to do in years, partly because I had been so ill for so long. (See the recent post titled “Deadlines.”) I had gotten into the habit of thinking I can’t or I can only instead of why not try?

2021 has become the year for me to try. I’m working on revamping my thinking in a variety of areas, from what I’m capable of to what I want to do. It’s a whole different way of approaching life, one I haven’t had the ability to do for nearly thirty years.

. . . .

I sure understand now why so many adults want to coast. I could do so. I could let my professor give me a pass on a number of things, from my dyslexia to my lack of time. But I’m the one who chose to take the class as a student, not audit it, and I’m the anal doofus who still wants to get good grades, even though I know (at some point in some class) a good grade won’t be possible.

Hence the striving. The hour spent on a single word when I could have been doing something—anything—else.

. . . .

A friend of mine went back to school for his M.F.A a few years back (required to do so for a job he needed to get) and he cut every single corner he could. He got dual credit for the work he was doing as work and also for class. I suppose I could do that, in a variety of areas, if I wanted to.

I don’t want to. We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

I realized that’s kind of my mantra for life itself. I get very frustrated when a writing student of mine or a writer friend of mine complains that writing is “hard.” I get even more frustrated when they get angry and want to quit after a rejection.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:


February 25, 2021, marks the 150th birthday of the modernist poet at the top of the Ukrainian literary canon, Lesya Ukrainka (Larysa Kosach, 1871–1913). Having chosen, at the age of 13, the pen name “Ukrainian woman,” she went on to reinvent what it meant both to be a Ukrainian and a woman.

. . . .

“I am quite well aware that this is impudence,” she admitted with a sense of delicious irony in a letter to a friend, interlarding her mock-confessional Ukrainian with German words and quotes from Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, “yet ’tis ‘has been pronounced on high’ that I must mit Todesverachtung throw myself into the maze of global themes […], which my countrymen, except two or three brave souls, dare not enter.”

As a modernist, she broke with literary tradition in two significant ways. First of all, she rejected a provincializing paradigm imposed upon Ukrainian culture by the Russian Empire. During her time, the only acceptable image of the colonized people was that of ignorant peasants, and stir Ukrainka’s fancy it did not. A polyglot in command of nine European languages, she populated her poetic dramas with archetypal characters from classical mythology, Scripture, medieval legends, and Romantic poetry. Twining Ukrainian anticolonial subtext and European cultural context, Ukrainka also undermined the masculinist underpinnings of some familiar plots. A turn-of-the-century writer in a ruffled-collar blouse, she revised the key myths of Western culture from a woman’s point of view, venturing into literary territory later to be explored by second-wave feminists.

. . . .

Ukrainka’s poetic drama Stone Host (1912) became the first story of Don Juan in European letters written by a woman. Tirso de Molina, Molière, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Lord Byron, and Alexander Pushkin were among her predecessors. Ukrainka’s version transforms the fabled libertine, the great Romantic sinner and seducer into his supposed conquest’s plaything. Donna Anna is the unmistakable New Woman of the fin de siècle, albeit dressed in Spanish courtly garb. Confused by her rationality, Ukrainka’s Don Juan cries out, “You are indeed stone, without soul or heart,” only to hear in response, “Though not without good sense, you must admit.” Don Juan agrees to sacrifice his freedom and become Donna Anna’s sword in the fight for the throne. Donna Anna’s manipulative power compensates for her overall powerlessness within a male-dominated society, which can silence her no longer. Ukrainka’s heroines seize the right to tell their stories.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG doesn’t wish to rain on the triumphant parade of Ukrainica’s heroines, but must point out that Joseph Stalin did a pretty thorough job of crushing millions of Ukrainian women and men during the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine (The Holodomor, “to kill by starvation” or Terror-Famine).

Powerlessness is not always gender-related.

Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933. In Famine in the Soviet Ukraine, 1932–1933: a memorial exhibition, Widener Library, Harvard University. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard College Library: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1986. Procyk, Oksana. Heretz, Leonid. Mace, James E. (James Earnest). ISBN: 0674294262. Page 35. Initially published in Muss Russland Hungern? [Must Russia Starve?], published by Wilhelm Braumüller, Wien [Vienna] 1935.

Tardiness in Approving New Comments

PG apologizes for not tending the store as usual. The post that immediately precedes this one (chronologically) is his only excuse.

PG especially apologizes to those who posted their first comments during the past couple of days. PG has TPV set to require that the first comment from a visitor be held for moderation to help cut down on comment spam.

Once PG has approved the first comment, subsequent comments should appear nearly immediately (you may have to hit the reload button on your browser) provided that you are not bitten by a werewolf and converted into a comment spammer.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny Teaming up on New Political Mystery Novel

From BookRiot:

If you love political mysteries, you’re in for a treat this October when a novel hits shelves written from an interesting new perspective: that of former Secretary of State and presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton is teaming up with award-winning Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny to co-write State of Terror, which tells the story of a newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State who must solve a series of terrorist attacks. The book will hit shelves on October 12, and is being jointly published by Clinton and Penny’s publishers, Simon & Schuster and St. Martin’s Press respectively.

State of Terror takes place just after a four-year presidential term that pulled America away from the world stage. A novice Secretary of State is appointed by her political rival, and shortly after, the country is rocked by multiple terrorist attacks. The Secretary must put together a team capable of finding the source of the attacks while also preventing the American government from crumbling.

Clinton’s political experience influences several aspects of the new novel. After losing to former President Barack Obama in the 2008 election, Clinton was appointed by Obama to serve as Secretary of State for four years. The novel is also influenced by the Trump administration’s “America First” foreign policy tactics.

. . . .

Penny shared that she “couldn’t say yes fast enough” to writing a book with Clinton. “Before we started, we talked about her time as Secretary of State. What was her worst nightmare? ‘State of Terror’ is the answer.”

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG felt an impulse to be snide, but perhaps recent intensive grandchild therapy has mellowed him out.

For the time being.

Curators of our culture are hard at work, even under present circumstances. Where would our culture be without them?

Offspring

The reason that posting has been a bit irregular in recent days is that, after their Covid vaccines kicked in, PG and Mrs. PG entered one of the vehicles that has spent most of its time in the garage of Casa PG and turned on the cruise control.

After a period of time, they arrived at the home of one of their offspring who, in turn, has several offspring of her home.

PG will attest that grandchild therapy is an excellent treatment for a condition PG’s father used to call, “Barn Sour.” When an animal, generally a cow/bull/steer or a horse, is kept in a pen in the barn for too long, that animal will become listless and fail to thrive.

The treatment for barn sourness is to let the animal out of the barn into a corral or other space where it has the opportunity to move and interact with a variety of other animals. Even an older large animal will sometimes kick its back legs in the air and trot around a bit before settling down to the serious business of sniffing as many other animals which will hold still for that greeting/examination.

Like an old barn sour bull, PG has rejoiced in being freed from his Covid barn to kick his back feet in the air. He has not noticeably spent a lot of time sniffing his grandchildren (grandsons who have been permitted to roam about generate a sort of sweaty boy smell, particularly if they have been able to somehow avoid a bath the night before), but he has enjoyed interacting with grandchildren of both genders.

The image at the top of this post is a photo of a group of guard animals arrayed across the entrance to PG’s and Mrs. PG’s bedroom. PG was unable to ascertain exactly what threats they’re guarding us from, but since only pleasant experience have occurred since their first appearance, PG expects that is an indication of their efficacy.

Venice’s Mauri School 2021: ‘The State of the Book’

From Publishing Perspectives:

As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, the 38th Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri program, a “School of Booksellers,” was held at the end of last month in a digital format rather than in its customary venue at Venice’s Fondazione Giorgio Cini in the former San Giorgio Monastery.

Titled “The State of the Book in Europe,” the event on January 29 drew as many as 1,200 attendees from many parts of the world, an unusual chance for many to get a look at this normally much more exclusive symposium.

. . . .

Host Nana Lohrengel, secretary-general of the Umberto and Elisabetta Mauri Foundation, opened the day and handed off to the foundation’s chief, Achille Mauri. He described what’s normally the boat ride to “the most beautiful island in the world–Palladio and Brunelleschi’s San Giorgio Maggiore—with “a breakfast of warm pastries” and “a drink of Grignolino,” the red varietal of the Piedmont, “by the labyrinth early in the morning.”

One of the most gracious comments of the entire day came in this brief welcome from Achille Mauri when he explained the special value of the symposium’s traditional, opulent setting. “Luxury,” he said, “is so therapeutic. Zoom can’t compete with that experience.”

. . . .

As the early lockdowns hit, bookseller Linzalone says “We succeeded by drawing not only on our internal resources but also by using the Libri da Asporto service [a book delivery company] in the beginning. That allowed us to keep selling at a level we never expected,” even while applying for supplemental small-business support.

“We realized it was possible and we kept selling, not just in the store but also by visiting the customers at home.”

He adds with a smile, “I wouldn’t call it clandestine selling, but we were literally selling books in the street.”

. . . .

And while the top-line news there was that the Italian book industry saw sales grow by some 2.4 percent last year, Prometeia’s Tantazzi does warn in his new presentation that “It’s virtually impossible to say how 2021 is going to pan out.”

Levi, speaking for AIE, makes the interesting point in his comments that in 2020, while fiction accounted for a third of the market, foreign fiction fared slightly better than Italian fiction. And yet, as has been reflected in many world markets, “The biggest increase during the pandemic year was seen in specialist nonfiction—law, management, literary criticism.”

What may be contrary to many other markets’ experience is the fall tracked in Italy’s children’s book sales in 2020. But Levi notes that this decline had been underway for several years prior to the pandemic.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG loved the quintessentially Italian observation that “Luxury is so therapeutic.”

He’s not certain exactly when he and Mrs. PG will be able to corral the funds and energy for a long flight to Italy, but Venice and Florence are certainly powerful incentives to do so.

The Future Will Be Monthly: Subscription Models for Authors

From Indies Unlimited:

Netflix. Lootcrate. Amazon Prime. Everyone has at least heard of most of these, and you probably subscribe to one or two of them. From TV to men’s razors, the subscription model is catching on with consumers.

According to Deloitte, 69% of households now subscribe to one or more video streaming subscription services. A survey conducted by Global Banking and Finance Review reported that 70% of business leaders say subscription business models will be key to their prospects in the years ahead.

How can publishing get in on this thriving new trend? Let me count the ways.

Publishers have a big hurdle to jumping into a subscription model: no reader buys every book they publish. But authors don’t have that problem. They can cultivate readers who will read everything they put out, and it is these authors who can benefit greatly from implementing a subscription model of their own.

How do we know this? Because they are already doing it.

Services like Patreon allow authors and artists to cultivate patrons either on a monthly basis, to per creation, while services such as Shopify and Payhip let you sell digital downloads and memberships. Another site, Gumroad, gets you set up to sell everything from ebooks to physical products and create a membership site. Want to keep things simple? Add a subscription payment button to your website with PayPal.

Paypal is what author Dean Wesley Smith uses to process subscriptions to his very own magazine, Smith’s Monthly. Each month, Smith publishes a print and electronic magazine containing several short stories a full novel, and serialized fiction (and he sells the individual issues on Amazon and other sites as well).

. . . .

Indie author and small press publisher John G. Hartness uses Gumroad and Patreon as a subscription service for $5 monthly short stories. Hartness also sells ebooks and audio downloads via Gumroad, and these are often cheaper than Amazon and the other ebook sites because Gumroad takes a smaller cut, so it’s a win-win for both the author and his readers.

You’ll need to have at least some of your books wide on Amazon, and you likely won’t get the traffic that the world’s largest search engine for books does, but over time it can be a nice chunk of change. It works for print books as well. For $25 a month, my patrons on Patreon get signed print copies of my books, with free U.S. shipping, as well as free stories and snippets. And it’s another fun way to interact with your readers.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

PG is old enough to remember various book-of-the-month clubs, so subscriptions are definitely not a new thing in the book world.

That said, indie authors come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. PG knows some that are organizing book projects in which several authors contribute a short story to a collected stories ebook and it is widely-believed that a regular email newsletter from an author to readers who opt-in to receive it is a good way of keeping readers engaged between book releases.

For other authors, writing books is what gets them up and in front of the computer each morning. As much as they appreciate those who buy their books, writing a chatty newsletter instead of the latest chapter in their noir novel is a burden.

Others have day jobs, some in offices, others on assembly lines and others who are shuffling children hither and yon to school, sports, music lessons, doctors, and dentists. These authors may need to spend their writing time focused hard on their first or next book.

A subscription model is fine if you have the inclination, time and energy to pursue it, but, in PG’s HO, getting good books out the door for readers to buy is Job #1.

Waiting for the Plane Tickets: Rights Pros on Digital Events

From Publishing Perspectives:

Almost every time you look into your inbox, another invitation has arrived to a publishing industry event online, right? And as you may have noticed, the specialized rights sessions appear to be gaining on many of the other types of programs vying for your attention.

As the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic wears on, more and more niche rights events are being produced, and they’re drawing increasing levels of participation among agents, scouts, editors, and even rights-savvy authors.

Today, for example, Finland’s Oulu Writers Association has opened its two-day event for rights professionals, focused on northern Finnish writers and their works. We were alerted to this one by Urtė Liepuoniūtė at the Helsinki Literary Agency the program, Black Hole: Books Meet Rights, offers one-on-one business meetings Saturday (February 20).

What we’ll do today is hear from some industry players about how these programs work for them—and how they compare to the physical book fair, rights center, and trade show experiences made impossible for a year now by the pandemic. And we’ll look at several other events coming up this spring.

LeeAnn Bortolussi at Giunti Editore

Giunti Editore international rights manager LeeAnn Bortolussi in Milan says that in her experience, smaller events online seem to be working better than the larger ones.

“They’re more personal,” she tells us, “and I’ve actually met new people this way.”

These digital events, Bortolussi says, “can never replace physical events, but I’m thinking that in the future if one is busy and a long trip to a far-away event is not possible, then a virtual trip can be an excellent way to participate.”

When asked what the key difference is for her between a physical in-person event and a digital one, she says, “We’re all saying that online is not good for meeting new people and making new contacts and that the serendipity of a physical fair can be lost; on the other hand, we’ve had some great, long and in-depth meetings via video chat that would not have been possible during a chaotic fair.”

And her verdict? Bortolussi sees a place for both kinds of events once the physical fairs are re-engaged. “We’ll find a perfect balance and blend of both methods as they both have positive qualities.”

Michele Young at Macmillan Children’s Books

In London, Pan Macmillan Children’s Books rights director Michele Young tells us that her team “responded quickly to the changing circumstances brought on by the coronavirus.” Her comments are quite indicative of what we hear from many, and Young parses the pros and cons succinctly.

“We immediately embarked on the virtual Bologna book fair in March 2020,” she says, “followed in the year by virtual sales trips to assorted markets undertaken by different members of the team, and then the virtual Frankfurt 2020—by which time our meetings had more than doubled compared to the virtual Bologna across every time zone. We’re now preparing for a virtual Bologna 2021, and virtual fairs have now become business as usual for us.

“We’ve worked closely with the publishers to develop new-style digital sales materials, including video content to showcase our preschool and novelty offering.

“We’ve also expanded into celebratory online events with our international partners,” Young says, “We marked our bestselling picture book The Gruffalo reaching 105 translations.

“We were joined by 115 guests who participated enthusiastically in online chat. Some of these guests would most likely not have been able to join in on a physical celebration, so this virtual moment gave us the opportunity to reach more customers and to stay in touch.

“Our online meetings are less hectic than the 30-minute-or-less rushed meetings at a physical book fair,” she points out, “and we can have more in-depth conversations. But physical fairs allow for chance meetings in exhibition halls or at social events after the fair with new or old customers—or an opportune sighting of a book on a stand which a customer falls in love with.

“Digital fairs can never replicate this,” Young says. “While we’ve adapted and embraced this new virtual way of working, we know that our business thrives on our close relationships and that there will always be a place for face-to-face contact.

“And we look forward to that returning.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that human beings as a group are very adaptable. He also notes that methods of doing business that were efficient fifty years ago may not be terribly efficient by today’s standards.

In past lives, PG enjoyed getting on a plane at someone else’s expense and flying to an entertaining location where he ate and drank and slept at someone else’s expense. The experience was very nice and he typically had a good time, particularly if the destination had collected a lot of lawyers in one place. (Having attended quite a few gatherings peopled by individuals in various occupational/professional groups, PG will assure one and all that lawyers have the most fun and are the most fun.)

That said, from the standpoint of operating a well-run business enterprise (which automatically eliminates all traditional publishers), if you can get a job done with a series of phone calls or video conferences while sitting somewhere that is a reasonable commuting distance from your home, more of the money generated from your efforts will fall to the bottom line, either yours or your employers’.

If it’s your bottom line, you can use some of the money to travel to a location entirely of your choosing at the time of your choosing with the person/people of your choosing and spend your time there doing or not doing whatever you like.

PG recommends Florence or Venice, but not everyone will agree with him, which is one of the delights of being a member of humanity.

Can Brotherly Love Produce a Book?

From Publishers Weekly:

I began pondering how to describe what it’s like writing with my brother with the metaphor of a river flowing into a sea in mind. It provokes the notion of something vast and abstract, like cognition, that is then contextualized as a specific memory. I next found myself staring at my morning coffee, wondering just how grandiose our ideas tend to be. A French press stood not far behind with more “liquid gold.” The aha moment during my routine will be found herein. This sort of pivoting is a hallmark of our creative endeavors.

Anyone with a sibling can imagine how uncompromising writing with one could become. And yet one could also likely imagine how rich the experience could be because of an inextricable common bond. Ehsan and I are not “classically” trained writers, and that was a major challenge for us as first-time authors. Writing in the service of story can take on a life of its own. Going into writing the Wild Sun series with procedural naiveties—unencumbered by knowledge about the “right” way to craft a story—was arguably the greatest benefit to our collaboration. We gave each other the confidence to create whatever was boiling to the surface. There were no expectations.

Well, that is not totally true. We expected to find our taste translated onto the page. That is something that we have found to be immensely satisfying. Taste is subjective—for the most part. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” At the same time, it becomes objective within context.

We overcame initial collaborative hurdles with a tremendous amount of preproduction planning… and bourbon… and edibles. The one thing I can say about Ehsan and me is that we are dreamers. Not necessarily fantastical or ideological—more so in regard to the depth of a singular idea. Imagine worldbuilding as breadth and narrative as depth. We relish being 15,000 feet up in the air. High, if you will. This is where the abstract and tectonic elements of a story often dwell. The “river flowing into a sea” stuff. Spending so much time in the clouds growing up together allowed us to envision how the coffee would (should) taste when back on the ground.

This process has also been a look into how meandering thoughts eventually find a way back home. And how I need to explain writing with Ehsan through a French press metaphor.

It begins with a trip to the café for coffee beans. They are whole and require a good deal of grinding before they reach their grittier final form. Emphasis on grinding. This would essentially be our preproduction stage. (Ehsan and I began cutting our teeth on writing with a screenplay concept we had been tinkering with. Wild Sun is actually a fully realized backstory to one of the characters from this movie idea.) I personally have a proclivity to visualize story, and fortunately, while Ehsan also does so, he is more into studying plot and structure. We would take our burgeoning formal understanding of writing and apply it to works we love, film or novels. It is how we began to formulate our concept of taste and what we could actually do with what was in our heads.

Once we take the grounds and add them to a French press, it requires boiling water as the vehicle for creating the coffee. Consider this element of heat as one of the more challenging parts of us writing in tandem. It is often grueling at first. We would both take shots at opening the novel, and once combined it would feel dense, slow. We were too mechanical in the initial goings, and pacing suffered. This caused a good deal of frustration for us, because our taste was completely unmoored from what was landing on the page.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

More Apologies

PG apologizes for another light blogging day today.

He realizes that he has had too many of those in recent days, but this one is unavoidable.

Nothing’s wrong, nobody’s sick, the World ‘O PG is looking good.

Back soon.

Story Resolutions: Mastering the Happy-Sad Ending

From Writers Helping Writers:

It was 10pm, and I was trying to sleep when my door flew open and my sister came in, wailing like a wounded puppy. “Why did you kill him?”

I cleared the sleep from my eyes. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Michael! You killed Michael!”

At that, I couldn’t help myself from laughing. Not a nice thing, I know.

Curiously, she went ahead to profess love for the story—particularly the ending that made her cry. Fascinating, right? My story was able to create such a strong emotional reaction because it avoided the safety of a happy ending and the depression of a sad ending. Instead, it opted for the more fulfilling happy-sad resolution.

Why Happy-Sad Endings?

Before we answer the question of why, let’s explore the story endings that we commonly see. To put it bluntly,

  • A sad ending is when the story ends on an overwhelmingly negative emotion 
  • A happy ending is when the story ends on an overwhelmingly positive emotion 

In both instances, it’s clear what the final emotional beat of the story is. However, the third type of ending introduces a new kind of experience. 

In a happy-sad ending, the story ends on two opposite emotional beats, making it harder to pick one over the other and leaving the audience in a happy-sad state. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a perfect example. I wept like a child and I loved every bit of it. 

One reason these endings work is because they seem closer to real life than happy or sad ones. Life rarely has happily ever afters. There’s always a price to pay, and many times, the sacrifice is unexpected. When a story is able to reflect this familiar experience, it gains an extra philosophical depth. 

Secondly, if one emotion creates a desired effect, two will multiply that effect. Story is about emotional manipulation, and what is a grander act of manipulation than getting the audience to feel more than one emotion?

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

How Getting Canceled on Social Media Can Derail a Book Deal

From The New York Times:

When Simon & Schuster dropped Senator Josh Hawley’s book a day after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, the news caused an explosion of attention, condemnation and praise.

Amid the cries of censorship and cancel culture, however, the way the publisher backed out of the deal got relatively little attention. Simon & Schuster invoked part of its contract typically referred to as a morals clause, which allows a publisher to drop a book if the author does something that is likely to seriously damage sales.

Widely detested by agents and authors, these clauses have become commonplace in mainstream publishing over the last few years. The clauses are rarely used to sever a relationship, but at a time when an online posting can wreak havoc on a writer’s reputation, most major publishing houses have come to insist upon them.

“They’re just something you have to deal with now,” said Gail Ross, a media lawyer and the president of the Ross Yoon Agency, whose clients include Senator Sherrod Brown, former Attorney General Eric Holder and the CNN contributor Van Jones, among dozens of other political figures and journalists. “Because you’re not going to be able to sign a contract without them in some form.”

. . . .

Morals clauses do not require authors to be upstanding citizens. Used in contracts across many industries, such clauses are designed to protect companies’ financial interests if somebody they’ve invested in — be it a chief executive or a football star being paid to wear a logo — does something that harms their reputation. But since the point of these clauses is to protect a company from damaging behavior it doesn’t yet know about, morals clauses are, by their nature, vague.

. . . .

“They’re squishy,” Ms. Ross said. “An agent’s job or a lawyer’s job is to make them as objective as possible.”

The clauses vary from publisher to publisher, and even from one literary agency to the next — every agency strikes its own deal with each publishing house — but the general principle is that they take aim at conduct that would invite widespread public condemnation or significantly diminish sales among the book’s intended audience, and that the publisher didn’t previously know about when it signed the deal. If an author has a propensity for getting in fistfights, for example, the book cannot be dropped because he or she gets in another one.

. . . .

“It diametrically changes the premise between a publisher and an author, which traditionally always meant that the author’s words in the book were what was promised to the publisher, not the behavior beyond it,” said the literary agent Janis Donnaud. “The fact that the publisher can be judge, jury, executioner and, in fact, beneficiary of these clauses seems incredibly outlandish.”

. . . .

Regnery, the conservative publisher that signed Mr. Hawley after Simon & Schuster dropped his book, also has a morals clause — what Thomas Spence, its president and publisher, described as the “infamous 5F of our contract.” Regnery will not take it out.

“This is the one thing in our contract that I have virtually no discretion over,” he said. “I’ve been told it’s got to be in there.” The morals clause in Mr. Hawley’s new contract was not a contentious issue, Mr. Spence added.

. . . .

In the book world, executives say these clauses were a part of Christian publishing agreements before they became fixtures in mainstream deals. The televangelist Benny Hinn was dropped by his publisher, Strang Communications, for violating its “moral turpitude provision” in 2010, after he was caught in a relationship with another minister before his divorce was finalized.

. . . .

The clauses began proliferating more quickly after the #MeToo movement revealed allegations of misconduct against many public figures, including Mark Halperin, a journalist and author whose book contract was canceled by Penguin Random House in 2017 under its conduct clause.

Today, Penguin Random House requires conduct clauses in all its contracts — that way, according to the company, the publisher isn’t implying that it trusts author A but not author B.

. . . .

Agents generally consider Penguin Random House’s clause to be less onerous than others, in part because the company states that authors will not have to repay any money they’ve already received; the publisher just wants the right to walk away. Simon & Schuster, on the other hand, typically includes a clause that says it can demand its money back. (Penguin Random House said last year that it plans to buy Simon & Schuster.)

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG will observe that morals clauses are massively squishy sorts of things wherever they’re used.

As the OP suggested, some of them are effectively punitive damages clauses when they require an author to repay all the money she/he has received from the publisher, regardless of whether a publisher could prove to a judge or jury that it actually suffered any financial damages due to the author’s misbehavior. As a general proposition, courts tend to look askance at contract provisions that are unduly punitive, but that involves spending the money to get the matter before a judge.

In an era when Woke culture apparently has the power to turn business executives of all sorts into quivering and spineless pools of goo, a morals clause can be dangerous to a traditionally-published author’s financial and emotional health, both presently and in the future.

PG’s three potential responses for an author:

  1. Provide in the publishing agreement that, if the publisher invokes the morals clause to terminate the publishing agreement, neither the publisher nor any of its employees, agents or representatives will make any public announcement or other disclosure that states or implies that the publishing agreement was terminated due to the author’s alleged violation of the Morals Clause. “The parties have agreed to an amicable termination of their publishing agreement” or something boringly similar announcement of the termination of the publishing contract might be specified in the publishing agreement. The purpose is to make certain that the termination of the publishing contract doesn’t bring any attention to the author or publisher. This gives the publisher the protections it seeks via the Morals Clause without publicly tarring the author’s reputation.

2. Write under a pen name, then live in meatspace and politically under your real name. Demand a clause in your publishing contract that requires the publisher never to disclose your real name and include a substantial financial penalty if they do – 3X the amount of money they have already paid you plus any unpaid portion of your advance if the publisher or any past or present employee ever connects your pen name with your real name. Require that a model be used if the publisher wants an author photo and an agreement that any media interviews be conducted remotely without video. Make certain the publisher’s obligations and penalty for failing to maintain your anonymity continue for the full term of the publishing agreement, e.g., the full term of your copyright.

3. Require that the Morals Clause be reciprocal. Under the publishing agreement, the publisher together with its executives, employees and representatives, will be held the same standards of behavior that apply to the author pursuant to the Morals Clause. In the event of the publisher, etc., violates the morals clause, the author is entitled to exact similar penalties as the publisher can exact if the author violates the morals clause.

Bookstore Sales Fell 28.3% in 2020

From Publishers Weekly:

Bookstore sales rallied slightly in December from deep monthly slumps for most of 2020, but were still down 15.2% in the last month of the year compared to December 2019. For all of 2020, bookstore sales fell 28.3% from 2019, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

December bookstore sales were $879 million, down from $1.04 billion in December 2019. The 15.2% December drop was the smallest decline since February, when sales slipped 0.7% before the global pandemic struck. In March, sales fell 33.2% as retail lockdowns kicked in, then plunged 74.2% in April as stay at home orders fully took hold. May sales were slightly better, falling 60% from May 2019.

Bookstore sales declines generally eased as 2020 moved toward the end of the year. November sales were down 21.5%, following a 28.9% decline in October. For the full year, bookstore sales were $6.34 billion compared to $8.84 billion in 2019.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

It is easier to forgive

It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.

William Blake

Yesterday’s Absence

PG apologizes for not demonstrating proof of life on TPV yesterday.

Casa PG had quite a bit of snow yesterday. And the day before yesterday. And the day before that.

Neighborhood skiers have all disappeared.

Along with their vehicles.

One mentioned skiing to PG prior to his disappearance.

PG is willing to admit that skiing actually happens. However, he also suspects that skiing may also be a ruse to avoid shoveling snow.

When giant or semi-giant snow is forecast, the rusor escapes to some snowless place until the snow in the neighborhood finally melts, then returns with a tan and brags about how great the slopes were to every rusee who stayed and shoveled. Thus the rusor is proclaimed as the master or mistress of snow, seeking and conquering the stuff at its deepest wherever it may lie while mere mortals just push bits of it off the sidewalk.

However, no one who resorts to this ruse king of the slopes strategy to avoid clearing their driveway is ever willing to make the sacrifice of reclining beside a pool in the warm sun, a glass of liquid with a little paper umbrella close at hand, wearing ski goggles. If they think of it at all in their langor, they probably believe that tan lines resulting from their sunglasses will fool people into thinking they were wearing goggles on the slopes.

This allows an astute observer like PG to know that no pristine white slope was sacrificed to relieve his neighbor from the Puritanical virtue of shoveling a lot of snow even when more snow will fall during the coming night, a task that Sisyphus would have recognized.

(Yes, PG knows that some people wear sunglasses while they ski, but kings and queens of the slopes always descend so rapidly through the deepest snow that sunglasses would be quickly dislodged. Besides, no one ever sees a a high-speed Winter Olympics ski champion not wearing goggles or sporting a goggles tan.)

On a serious note, PG notes that many in Texas and other southern states, have experienced widespread and prolonged power outages due to a period of extreme cold following an ice storm that has cut off electrical power for millions.

For visitors to TPV who live in warmer climes, an ice storm can be much more destructive and disruptive than even a snow storm.

Ice can bring down multiple electric power lines in rapid succession, triggering outages that can quickly spread across cities and regions. Ice can make driving impossible, even for large trucks responding to fires and trucks that bring much of what people need to live in metropolitan areas and smaller trucks that distribute it from central warehouses. Most US food stores rely upon daily delivery of food via trucks to replenish their shelves and have room for no more than 2-3 days supplies of non-perishable foods in attached storage spaces.

In southern states, many people don’t have cold-weather clothing because they don’t need it. Fireplaces are decorative. Wood stoves or coal stoves are virtually non-existent. Even layering up with ten golf shirts or 15 sun dresses won’t keep you warm.

Let me tell you this

Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.

Jodi Picoult

But love is always new

But love is always new. Regardless of whether we love once, twice, or a dozen times in our life, we always face a brand-new situation. Love can consign us to hell or to paradise, but it always takes us somewhere. We simply have to accept it, because it is what nourishes our existence. We have to take love where we find it, even if that means hours, days, weeks of disappointment and sadness.

Paulo Coelho

How Roses Came to Mean True Love

From The Wall Street Journal:

“My luve is like a red red rose,/That’s newly sprung in June,” wrote the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1794, creating an inexhaustible revenue stream for florists everywhere, especially around Valentine’s Day. But why a red rose, you might well ask.

Longevity is one reason. The rose is an ancient and well-traveled flower: A 55 million-year-old rose fossil found in Colorado suggests that roses were already blooming when our earliest primate ancestors began populating the earth. If you want to see where it all began, at least in the New World, then a trip to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, roughly two hours’ drive from Denver, should be on your list of things to do once the pandemic is over.

In Greek mythology the rose was associated with Aphrodite, goddess of love, who was said to have emerged from the sea in a shower of foam that transformed into white roses. Her son Cupid bribed Harpocrates, the god of silence, with a single rose in return for not revealing his mother’s love affairs, giving rise to the Latin phrase sub rosa, “under the rose,” as a term for secrecy. As for the red rose, it was said to be born of tragedy: Aphrodite became tangled in a rose bush when she ran to comfort her lover Adonis as he lay dying from a wild boar attack. Scratched and torn by its thorns, her feet bled onto the roses and turned them crimson.

For the ancient Romans, the rose’s symbolic connection to love and death made it useful for celebrations and funerals alike. A Roman banquet without a suffocating cascade of petals was no banquet at all, and roses were regularly woven into garlands or crushed for their perfume. The first time Mark Antony saw Cleopatra he had to wade through a carpet of rose petals to reach her, by which point he had completely lost his head.

Rose cultivation in Asia became increasingly sophisticated during the Middle Ages, but in Europe the early church looked askance at the flower, regarding it as yet another example of pagan decadence. Fortunately, the Frankish emperor Charlemagne, an avid horticulturalist, refused to be cowed by old pieties, and in 794 he decreed that all royal gardens should contain roses and lilies.

The imperial seal of approval hastened the rose’s acceptance into the ecclesiastical fold. The Virgin Mary was likened to a thornless white rose because she was free of original sin. In fact, a climbing rose planted in her honor in 815 by the monks of Germany’s Hildesheim Cathedral is the oldest surviving rose bush today. Red roses, by contrast, symbolized the Crucifixion and Christian martyrs like St. Valentine, a priest killed by the Romans in the 3rd century, whose feast day is celebrated on Feb. 14. In the 14th century, his emergence as the patron saint of romantic love tipped the scales in favor of the red over the white rose.

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

The Garden

From The Paris Review:

Ma thought it was a good idea. That we work together in the garden. But it wasn’t a garden then, just a long rectangle of funky-smelling earth behind a two-story apartment house in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. An elderly couple named Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz owned the house and backyard. This was in the early seventies, and already the Jews were moving out. I was ten or twelve the summer we worked in the earth. The Schwartzes lived downstairs from us in that house, and on Fridays their apartment went semidark because of the Sabbath. What a beautiful word for something I didn’t know anything about. Then, one day, I saw the tattooed numbers on Mrs. Schwartz’s arm and in a flash everything I’d learned in school flooded my mind and heart: all those bodies laid to waste, gold teeth extracted and made into something else, the gas chambers and the musicians who played as the walking dead stood naked, hoping for water, hoping to be cleaned.

And there was more. There is always more pain and beauty. Recently, a friend told me about the gardens Jews kept for Nazi families who wanted something beautiful to look at while they smelled death at work, had schnapps and what all outside, the condemned Jews not lifting their heads as they worked the earth and tended flowers, such beautiful living organisms thriving on a plantation where murder was grown and harvested. And I think of Mrs. Schwartz now as I think about the earth behind our house—her house—and the numbers blooming on her arm like flowers. I never got to ask her how old she was when she was marked like that, and did she remember or see barbed wire fencing the condemned in like the wiring around flower beds and vegetable beds our innocent neighbors used to keep predators out? Nor did I get to say to her, even as those numbers on her arm blossom and die in my memory, What is it about flowers that no matter where they’re grown—in death camps or by the sea, in private homes or on the border of war zones—why is it they keep on flowering while insisting on their right to inspire feelings in us that we can barely know, or articulate in all our truth and terribleness?

When I think about the Schwartzes, I think about their building, our home, and I think about the steep staircase leading up from the street to our apartment, and the long shape of our apartment itself, and the fact that we lived next door to a gas station where fumes bloomed. This is the only apartment I have vivid memories of—we moved a fair amount when I was a kid—and part of what I remember about it is the garden or, more accurately, how the garden came to be.

It wasn’t anything but overly fertilized rust-colored dirt when Ma said she thought something could grow there. She was always trying to make a family, and to make that family grow. But there was so much bad earth. Our father didn’t live with us; for most of the time I knew him, he lived with his mother, in Crown Heights, a bus ride away. It had always been this way. My parents visited, and on weekends out my father took me and my little brother on long walks around the city. We saw the beautiful consumerist goods on Madison Avenue, and, in the Village, heard women catcalling to passersby from the Women’s House of Detention. Rainy days in Chinatown, and some snowy days at the Guggenheim Museum, or looking at the precipitation falling on the stone lions at the New York Public Library. And then there was my father’s hand, or, more accurately, certainly from an emotional point of view, my hand in his tougher rougher bigger hand and it was the best foreign feeling in the world: I knew his hand but not him, and even now that feels like defeat, my remembering the pleasure of my hand in his, and all that I wanted from him that wasn’t forthcoming. My dreams of him were always tied up with things ending—at the end of our Saturdays together, he took a gypsy cab home—and so with a kind of death. On some level I must have wanted him to stay even though I couldn’t stand him, or stand him leaving. In any case, I can’t believe these memories continue to make me vulnerable to him, the way flowers are to our human hands—cut them or leave them alone? Water them or let nature take care of them? The flowers are vulnerable to us!—and remind me that all I want to do is find my father again, but in a better person, a he who will protect me from the original father who maybe taught us how to cultivate flowers, but certainly not how to find soul-nourishing love when it’s needed, which is always.

I don’t remember when my mother suggested growing flowers. But for sure her impulse was in part inspired by her desire to keep looking for activities that prompted and encouraged our father to be a father to his sons. That was part of what mediocre therapists might call their dynamic—her hope and his pulling back, her cajoling him and telling him what he must do, and him doing it sometimes, but always grudgingly. Daddy was Ma’s only real baby, or the only one who was allowed to be a baby. I remember her saying she would ask the Schwartzes about the land, and I remember my father standing with me at the Schwartzes’ door soon thereafter, and the deeply kind Mr. Schwartz telling my father that the dirt back there had been overly fertilized by someone a long time before, and it had been left untended after that. In my memory or my imagination, which is usually the same thing, my father says to Mr. Schwartz, I’ll take care of it. Or perhaps it was my mother who asked the Schwartzes about the ground, then decided we would make the best of it. Because that’s what she always did. And maybe what I wanted my father to do.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG remembers the nice guy who always wore a yarmulke in the shop where he took his dress shirts and dry-cleaning in Chicago a long time ago who also had blue numbers tattooed on his forearm that showed on warm days when he had his shirtsleeves rolled up.

PG never commented on the numbers since he knew what they represented and thought the nice guy might not want to talk about the experience. The nice guy never made any attempt to hide the blue numbers and had certainly earned the right to show them or cover them a million times over without anyone questioning his choice.

Some other guys who had fought in World War II or Korea also had tattoos that identified them with their experiences as well and some of them were detailed and colorful and said things like “Iwo” or “Chosin” but seeing those tattoos never effected PG as much as the tattoo that the nice guy in the yarmulke showed on warm days. That’s the one PG remembers vividly.

Update on Comments Issue

PG thanks those who have sent suggestions about PG’s mysterious problems with Comments numbers not showing correctly, either via comments to PG’s prior post on the topic or via email.

After considering the information submitted by helpful visitors and doing a bit of research, PG think he’s found a fix.

Here’s a brief summary of PG’s latest theories which may or may not be correct. (Time might not even tell if they’re correct. PG doesn’t actually care if he understand exactly what he might have done to fix the problem, he just wants the problem fixed.)

Trigger Warning for Computer Science People: PG is not going to use a lot of technical terms because he would probably not do so correctly. He’ll simplify things down to the level his brain can process today. If PG’s brain mistakenly simplifies something into total incorrectness, feel free to clarify/correct in the comments.

That said, relax. PG isn’t going to try to do this sort of thing on a regular basis or, perhaps, ever again. Unlike straightforward legal doctrines such as The Rule in Shelley’s Case, PG understands that he can’t actually understand computer science stuff.

Being a lawyer for a long time has, however, allowed PG to sharpen his hand-waving abilities into something that impresses him, if not others.

Unfortunately, hand-waving doesn’t always work on computers the way it might work on carbon-based life forms.

Statement of Problem and, Hopefully, Solution

  1. Like a great many other WordPress sites, TPV uses a caching plugin. PG has a very good hosting provider (now), Hosting Matters, but even a very good host uses hard drives and, even with fast hard drives and fast internet connections, there’s going to be a lag between a visitor to TPV clicking on something and any hosting provider delivering a response to the visitor’s browser.
  2. A widely-used means of reducing that turnaround time is to add a caching plugin to the WP site. Basically, a caching plugin tells WP it doesn’t need to bother the servers much, because the plugin already knows what WP is looking for.
  3. This works fine so long as the caching plugin actually knows what it claims to know.
  4. Sometimes when a widget or something else is changed in a WordPress site, the caching plugin doesn’t get the message. So it says bananas are still yellow today because they were yellow yesterday even if the yellow bananas have disappeared and been replaced by green bananas. (PG apologizes if he got too technical about bananas.)
  5. So PG has added another plugin that says it fixes the problem with the existing TPV caching plugin holding onto stale info by forcing the caching program to forget the stale info.
  6. PG doesn’t know what happens if the plugins disagree about what truth is.
  7. So far, it’s looking like it works, however.

Let PG know if the comments seem to be better.

Arrogant people

Arrogant people are non-learners. They invest their energies in maintaining a cozy feeling of complacency, and complacency is the biggest single enemy to the process of continuously learning from experience. Arrogant people are exactly the sort of people who are destined to have one year’s experience 20 times rather than 20 years’ worth of experience.

Peter Honey

Strange Behavior with the Comments

PG has received a couple of messages that describe something he’s observed himself.

Sometimes when PG pulls up TPV and examines a post for which he knows there are comments, when he gets to the bottom of the post, there is no indication that there are a number of comments, only the “Leave a Comment” link that has, in the past, meant that if you click on the link, you’ll be the first to comment on that post.

On other posts which have comments, at the end of the post, the number of comments that have been made is shown in the manner PG expects them to appear.

He has only noticed this behavior over the past few weeks and doesn’t recall seeing it before. In some cases, it seems to come and go, 10 comments listed for a post now and nothing shown a couple of hours later.

PG hasn’t made any changes to the site, theme, etc., to which he can attribute this behavior.

PG has archived about the oldest 20% of the posts on TPV (quite old ones) over the past few weeks simply to reduce the size of the TPV database, but has noticed that the number of comments (over 300,000) have not diminished on the TPV admin dashboard although he would have expected that archiving the posts might do something similar with the related comments.

Clearing his browser cache, opening TPV in a different browser, etc., haven’t yielded any useful information about this odd behavior.

Since PG’s plate has been full lately, he hasn’t had a chance to research the problem, but hopes to find time to do so soon.

For those who have left comments, but haven’t seen them show up in the “XX comments” line below the posts, PG has discovered that, if he clicks on the “Leave a Comment” link below a post that doesn’t indicate that there are any comments, he sometimes finds comments that have been made relative to that post.

That’s not a very efficient solution to this problem, however.

If anyone knows what’s causing this behavior or can point PG to potential causes or solutions, PG would appreciate you leaving a comment to this post. It would save him time spent looking for information online and get things running right around this joint again.

Libby is stuck between libraries and publishers in the e-book war

From Protocol:

On the surface, there couldn’t be a more wholesome story than the meteoric rise of the Libby app. A user-friendly reading app becomes popular during the pandemic, making books cool again for young readers, multiplying e-book circulation and saving public libraries from sudden obsolescence.

But the Libby story is also a parable for how the best-intentioned people can build a beloved technological tool and accidentally create a financial crisis for those who need the tech most. Public librarians depend on Libby, but they also worry that its newfound popularity could seriously strain their budgets.

Before 2017, e-books were still pretty niche, and checking out library e-books was torture. In 2016, just over a quarter of Americans had read an e-book within the previous year, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Not many people even knew their libraries offered digital books. Overdrive — the digital marketplace for publishers and libraries, and the creator of Libby — was (and still is) clunky, slow and unintuitive. Overdrive hit just under 200 million checkouts in 2016; in 2020, that number more than doubled, surpassing 430 million.

Few noticed when the cute, friendly virtual library app launched in 2017. Libraries are never very good at selling themselves, and neither is Overdrive. But the app’s seamless, user-friendly experience was so exceptional that it spoke for itself. Libby became a cult favorite for book lovers and dedicated librarygoers, and almost every public library in the country, already dependent on Overdrive for their growing digital collections, loved that they could make reading online a little bit easier. It was the public library’s best-kept secret.

And then in March 2020, when libraries closed their doors and books sat gathering dust, the Libby app became so much more than a cute reading tool. People turned to digital books and were delighted to discover they were so much simpler than remembered. You could access the web app anywhere on any computer, and everything synced to a phone app as well. You could download library books to Kindle. You never needed a password. You could use more than one library card. Libby downloads increased three times their usual amount beginning in late March. E-book checkout growth and new users on Overdrive both increased more than 50%.

Libby had helped to save libraries.

It had also accelerated a funding crisis. Public library budgets have never been luxe, and book acquisition budgets in particular have always been tight. Though it may seem counterintuitive to readers, e-books cost far more than physical books for libraries, meaning that increased demand for digital editions put libraries in a financial bind.

Because e-books are not regulated under the same laws that govern physical books, publishers can price them however they choose. Rather than emulate the physical model, where libraries pay a fixed cost for a certain number of books, they instead offer digital editions through a license that usually includes a limit on the number of times a book can be checked out, the length of time a library holds an edition, or both. Just like with movies, music and software, book publishers have moved from an ownership model to a subscription model for their digital products (none of the major publishing houses responded to multiple requests for comment for this story). Librarians sometimes pay hundreds of dollars to circulate one copy of an e-book for a two-year period, a number that could theoretically add up to thousands for one book over decades, according to a 2019 American Library Association report to Congress.

The librarians I spoke with celebrate Libby. They love that more people are reading digital books. But they can’t help but quietly curse the technological problem that brought them here.

“It is definitely problematic,” said Michelle Jeske, the city librarian for the Denver Public Library and president of the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association. “You’re buying it in print, you’re buying it in e-book, and in audio e-book, CD, and in Spanish. With either a steady or decreasing collection development budget, it’s a serious problem.”

Despite Overdrive’s dominance, the company has escaped criticism for the funding crisis. Overdrive makes good money on the digital book-lending business; it’s the largest marketplace for publishers to sell to public libraries in the U.S., is expanding rapidly in other major publishing powerhouse countries like Germany and China, and offers a popular school reading app called Sora. More than 23,000 new schools and libraries joined Overdrive in 2020 alone.

“It’s important for us to have the same values and standards that the libraries do, protecting privacy and confidentiality, making information accessible in as broad a ways as possible,” said David Burleigh, the communications director for Overdrive. Overdrive also became a Certified B Corporation the same year it launched the Libby app, and it now leverages that status to avoid getting mucked up in the financial fight.

The ALA lobbying arm has been pushing Congress to consider regulating digital media to address this problem, and it’s no secret to anyone who reads Publishers Weekly that tensions between librarians and publishers have spilled over into public animosity. “Publishing is a tough tough world, and it sometimes has felt like librarians and publishers have been pitted against each other. They need to make money, and we need to be able to serve our public. There has got to be some place in the middle,” Jeske said.

Publishers justify the increased cost of e-books because they say the new technology has reduced friction too much, hurting their sales. They have argued that Libby and libraries have made it too easy for people to read books without buying them. Macmillan, one of the big five publishers, placed an eight-week embargo on library sales of new e-book releases in late 2019 for just that reason, though it reversed its position in March 2020 because of the pandemic. “In today’s digital world there is no such friction in the market. As the development of apps and extensions continues, and as libraries extend their reach statewide as well as nationally, it is becoming ever easier to borrow rather than buy,” wrote John Sargent, Macmillan’s then-CEO, in an open letter to librarians justifying the embargo.

And though librarians like Jeske and Eileen Ybarra, the e-book coordinator for the largest digital collection in the country at the LA Public Library, vehemently disagree — they believe it’s still too hard for people to access digital books — they say that in one respect, the publishers are absolutely correct: Overdrive wants to make the e-reading experience as frictionless as possible.

“That’s the idea. It’s to make it as easy as possible for people to read as much as they like,” Burleigh said. “Ease,” “accessibility” and “efficiency” are his keywords: He repeats them over and over again in every conversation about his company’s app.

Overdrive doesn’t believe that frictionless library lending hurts publishers. In fact, Burleigh said, it actually can help.

While Burleigh wouldn’t directly answer questions about Overdrive’s role in reducing the friction — it would be awkward for business if he did, given that Overdrive mostly makes money through a cut of what publishers sell on its platform — he pointed to research that shows that increased library lending actually helps book sales. (Overdrive funds Panorama, the independent group that conducted the research.)

“Libraries are part of the ecosystem. They’re not competing necessarily with booksellers,” Burleigh said, adding that the research shows that when people read more, it creates a channel of discovery for lesser-known books.

. . . .

Burleigh said that Overdrive advocates for a wide range of funding models and the best deals for libraries, but he also hesitated to describe an “ideal” solution for e-book pricing that would satisfy everyone. “It’s a good question. I don’t know that I have the answer. Publishers have different strategies. Libraries have different strategies.”

Link to the rest at Protocol and thanks to DM for the tip.

The OP constitutes PG’s Exhibit 723,467 in support of his proposition that major publishers are run by idiots.

  1. You hate Amazon because it’s too successful at selling books because it knows how to price books optimally to generate the largest number of sales to optimize profits from those sales.
  2. Once again, demonstrating the stupidity of groupthink you put all your ebook lending eggs into one basket and give the entire business to Overdrive, mainly because it’s not Amazon.
  3. PG doesn’t know if Overdrive is run by smart people or not, but it recognizes a great opportunity for a quasi-monopoly-scale profit that a mind-blown ex-hippie drug dealer could see. To whit (or, to wit (PG is old-style on this topic)), that it can deliver organized groups of electrons that it receives from publishers to libraries almost for free.
  4. There is no technological reason that each major publisher could not put together its own version of Overdrive’s system and deal with libraries directly. (Yes, the publishers would have to hire some outside technology experts to build the system, but graduates from the computer science departments of any number of major and minor universities could handle the job providing that they graduated in the top half of their class. (LexisNexis has been doing the same thing for thousands of years. (PG knows this because he worked there when dinosaurs roamed the earth. (and it was not rocket science then))))

PG is in an uncharacteristically-charitable mood (probably an unannounced side effect of the covid vaccine), so he will lay out a plan for Big Publishing to extricate itself from this self-made car-crash.

  • Fly to Seattle (you can share a chartered jet to save money because you love private meetings with no one listening in)
  • Enter Bezos Mansion dressed in sackcloth on bended knees
  • Beg the Jeffster to please, please, please forgive you of your follies and save you from your stupidity
  • Explain that you know the smart folks at Amazon can put together their own version of Overdrive over a long weekend (you might offer to reimburse any overtime expenses Amazon accrues and provide food and Jolt Cola for all concerned)
  • Change back into New York business attire on the plane flying back. Imbibe freely because you aren’t going to be fired after all. Glance out the window to view terra incognita.
  • A week later, send a joint letter (more Big Publishing “cooperation”) to all libraries in America announcing that they have an alternative to Overdrive that will cost them less and is coming to them from (through gritted teeth) Amazon.

PG feels much better now. For a moment, it was almost like he wasn’t sheltering in place.

PG is familiar with Libby because his local library uses it for ebook lending. Libby works, sort of, and reminds him of the 80’s.

Amazon’s discovery, lending and check-out systems for books are light-years better than Libby (Libby even uses Amazon to deliver ebooks to PG’s Kindle Fire). Amazon may already have the bones of an ebook lending reporting system for publishers in the KDP reporting system.

Making a deal with Amazon could solve Big Publishing’s Overdrive problem and make them more money with one flight to Seattle.

In PG’s limited view, only one potential cloud my be on Big Publishing’s ebook lending horizon – the possibility that each of the major publishers signed an exclusive contract with Overdrive.

There’s only so much PG can do for really stupid people.

One of his rules for practicing law is “Don’t do business with fools.”

One of PG’s observations on the practice of law is “Fools can be so ingenious.”

But, if everything always worked out as expected, life would get boring pretty quickly.

PG is feeling rather wise, which is a sure sign he’s acting stupidly.

Update on Light Blogging

On the second day following their Covid vaccination, PG and Mrs. PG are feeling better, but still very tired.

A Worse Place Than Hell

From The Wall Street Journal:

“The real war will never get in the books.” Walt Whitman’s well-known prediction has not prevented thousands of writers, including Whitman himself, from trying to put the Civil War between covers. Many kinds of chronicles have been written—military histories, political studies, overviews of society or culture, portraits of leading figures. One especially striking way of bringing the war alive is to convey it from the standpoint of the unexalted individual. That is the choice John Matteson makes in “A Worse Place Than Hell,” a moving group portrait that uses the Battle of Fredericksburg, in late 1862, as the focal point for the story of five participants in the Civil War, four Northerners and one Southerner.

The battle that Mr. Matteson highlights has attracted a lot of scrutiny over the years, most notably in Francis Augustín O’Reilly’s “The Fredericksburg Campaign” (2003) and George C. Rable’s “Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!” (2002). These books give details of the fateful encounter near the Rappahannock River on Dec. 13, 1862, in which Army of the Potomac under Ambrose E. Burnside met resounding defeat at the hands of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The futile assaults by waves of Union soldiers on Confederate troops, who were protected by a stone wall on Marye’s Heights, have become a fixture of Civil War lore. On that grim winter day, the Union suffered more than 12,000 casualties, compared with some 5,300 on the Confederate side. President Lincoln put a positive spin on the battle by praising the surviving Union soldiers for their bravery. Privately, however, he confessed that the battle had left him in “a worse place than hell.”

Although Mr. Matteson uses Lincoln’s phrase for his title, he doesn’t dwell on the hellish aspects of the war. Instead he concentrates on personal and cultural transformation. The people he follows were profoundly changed by the war, he tells us; all of them “confronted war and struggled to redeem themselves within it.” Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the son of a famous Boston physician and author, entered the war as an idealistic man and emerged from it hard-bitten and skeptical, leading him to seek direction in a legal career. The Rev. Arthur Fuller, the brother of the women’s rights champion Margaret Fuller, served as a chaplain in a Massachusetts regiment but at Fredericksburg traded his ministerial role for a military one, taking up a gun in a burst of patriotism and losing his life to Confederate bullets. The budding author Louisa May Alcott, hoping to contribute to the Northern cause, became a volunteer nurse in a Washington war hospital, an experience that fed into her popular book “Hospital Sketches” and later provided the emotional background for “Little Women,” a fictionalized portrayal of the Civil War’s toll on her Concord, Mass., family.

As for Walt Whitman, he was writing poems and newspaper stories in Brooklyn and hobnobbing with bohemians when he heard that his brother George had been wounded at Fredericksburg. He traveled first to Washington and then south to the environs of the battlefield in search of his brother, whose wound, as it turned out, was not serious. Walt stayed on for several years in Washington, taking on minor government jobs while serving as a volunteer nurse in war hospitals, setting the stage for his later role as the major poet and memoirist of the war. Two of Whitman’s poems about Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! My Captain!,” are timeless eulogies of America’s greatest president, and his writings about the war, in poetry and prose, are at once crisply realistic and emotionally resonant. George Whitman, Walt’s brother, ended up serving in many Civil War battles and thus provides, in Mr. Matteson’s narrative, a kind of moving lens on the war as it unfolded on the battlefield.

In addition to these Northerners, Mr. Matteson describes the dashing John Pelham, a Confederate artillery officer who exhibited unusual courage. At Fredericksburg, partly hidden by a dip in the land, Pelham coolly supervised the firing of a cannon that was protected by its very proximity to Union troops: Their return volleys mainly went over the heads of the rebels. Pelham’s death at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, three months after Fredericksburg, becomes in Mr. Matteson’s handling a dramatic, hopeless flourish of Confederate chivalry. Pelham charged forward on a horse like a blond god of war before being felled by an enemy shell fragment. The loss of Pelham was a blow for Confederate morale. Mr. Matteson writes: “No individual in the Confederate Army had seemed more invincible than Pelham. His risks had never been punished, and his audacity had been continually rewarded. If he could fall, so, too, might the army he left behind.”

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 the scale of death of the American Civil War – 620,000 in the Civil War vs. 644,000 US deaths in all other conflicts in the history of the nation.

The Civil War killed over 2% of the total US population at the time. In a distant second place, World War II killed .39% of the US population.

For every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of disease. No record was kept those who were psychologically damaged, but not killed, in the war.

Recruitment on both sides was very local and either no records or very scanty records were kept of the number who enlisted from various counties and states and who they were. Neither army had systems in place to accurately record deaths or notify the families of the deceased or wounded during the war.

Because families and communities went to war together and served together, a single battle could devastate the communities and families whose sons served together.

As just one example, in the Battle of Gettysburg, the 26th North Carolina, comprised of men from seven counties in the western part of the state faced the 24th Michigan. The North Carolinians suffered 714 casualties out of 800 men. The Michiganders lost 362 out of 496 men.

Nearly the entire student body of Ole Miss (The University of Mississippi) –135 out 139–enlisted in Company A of the 11th Mississippi. Company A, also known as the “University Greys” suffered 100% casualties in Pickett’s Charge.

It is estimated that one in three Southern households lost at least one family member in the war. Of those who survived the war, one in thirteen veterans returned home missing one or more limbs, making them unemployable in most parts of the country. 

PG obtained much of this detailed information from Civil War Casualties.

Light Blogging – Covid Vaccination Edition

As mentioned earlier, Mrs. PG and PG received their second of two Covid vaccinations yesterday.

Each felt fine yesterday, but both woke up with a lot of aches and pains throughout their bodies today.

PG has been assured that these are among the common after-effects of vaccination #2 and they will subside, likely by the end of the day today.

In the meantime, PG is feeling a few decades older than his chronological age and about the only thing he feels capable of doing is sitting in a very comfortable chair and reading a book.

He has a book he hasn’t yet read yet about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, which infected an estimated 1/3 of the world’s population and caused the death of between 50-100 million people at a time when the world’s population was much smaller than it is today.

He expects that reading about the Spanish Flu may help him put his temporary condition into proper perspective and expects to be hale, hardy and skeptical by tomorrow.

Science knows no country

Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Science is the highest personification of the nation because that nation will remain the first which carries the furthest the works of thought and intelligence.

Louis Pasteur

Writing Locations as Characters

From Writers in the Storm:

Where we choose to set our stories is an important decision. It can inform everything that happens in the story, from plot points and character development to pacing and mood. For this reason, I like to treat my locations as I would the characters in my stories.

Just like people, locations can have certain traits that bring out their personalities and influence the way our characters interact with them. Each location we choose has its own unique set of physical characteristics as well as a general feeling or mood that it gives off.

. . . .

Character Traits of Locations

Setting Type

Setting type is the physical location where your story takes place. It can be a real location or a fantasy world. Maybe it’s all happening in your main character’s head, like a dream. Every location has its own personality. Even dream worlds have characteristics that impact the narrative and are often reflective of the person dreaming.

Another example might be an urban setting as opposed to rural. Both have their own obvious characteristics, such as population density, that sets them apart, but there are similarities as well. A big city might have a small-town feel, whereas a small town could be laid out to exude more of a big city attitude. The architecture and street layouts also lend character to a particular location. Narrow avenues with old-world cottages might add warmth and feel like an old friend, whereas tall glass-shrouded buildings and a maze of traffic clogged streets could feel cold, inducing stress and anxiety.

Terrain

The physical terrain of a story’s location can have a major influence on how the characters interact with it and with each other. If a character is familiar with the terrain, they may see it as an ally working to give them an advantage over an opponent. On the other hand, it may be a hindrance, throwing obstacles in the protagonist’s path. Sometimes the terrain itself is the antagonist and the thing that must be overcome to reach a satisfying ending.

Climate and Weather

Climate and weather may sound like the same thing, but they are different animals. Climate is the long-term average of the atmospheric behavior of a particular place, whereas weather is more isolated—it’s what’s happening right now. I like to think of climate as a location’s overall personality and weather as its current mood.

Most writers use weather almost instinctually. We all know how a raging storm, or a gentle rain can set a mood, but there are so many other things we can accomplish if we anthropomorphize things a little. Fighting an angry wind or beating back the cruel rays of the Sun breathe life into weather and set it up as an opponent that must be vanquished if our hero is to succeed. Weather can also be fickle and turn on a dime, lashing out like a scorned lover or throwing a tantrum like a three-year-old child who doesn’t want to take a nap.

Climate is a little trickier and requires more thought. The long-term nature of climate is what dictates things like flora, fauna, and seasons. It also sets expectations in the same way a parent might explain what to expect to a child before entering a museum or attending a funeral. Of course, we all know expectations and reality don’t always line up. It’s in that gap where the best stories are born.

Just like terrain, climate and weather can become the main antagonist. Look at Jack London, for example. In many of his stories the main character is fighting with the physical world rather than another person.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Tough Topics

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

To survive the first few weeks of 2021, I have read a lot. I have also watched a lot of television. And I’m writing on a project just for me, something I haven’t done for a long time. The project just for me does some things that long-time friends might not approve of. The project just for me discusses a few things that people in my world probably would prefer me not to discuss. The project just for me is a tiny and somewhat joyous rebellion in the middle of the cluster**** that has been our lives in the past year.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy that little bit of freedom. I know quite well that the project just for me will eventually get published. In the past, I would have lied to myself and said I wasn’t going to publish that project at all.

But now, I know it will and, honestly, with all the horrors of this last year, I no longer care about the opinions of the minions that are quick to condemn or even about the opinions of the friends who, with a gasp, will wonder if I really should go there.

. . . .

I’m going there.

And it’s not really rebellion. It is a return to the writer I was before I became known. I have tried other ways of handling that return in the past. I’ve written under secret pen names. I’ve written in other genres. I have, as I mentioned above, written things I promised myself would never see the light of day.

None had that overall sense of freedom that this past year have given me.

It took a bit of analysis to figure out why. Right now, I have bigger things to worry about than my reputation. 

. . . .

Will our country survive this mess? Will our friends make it through the economic hard times? Will our business?

And so on and so forth. Much more important things than a ding to my writerly purity, if I ever had such a thing.

And no, I don’t normally allow critics’ voices in my head. But, no matter how hard I try to fight it, there is a construct of who I’m expected to be as a writer. Sometimes I like breaking that construct. Sometimes I like creating a new construct. But whenever I think about the construct, it takes energy. I either have to embrace it or push it aside.

For some reason, since things have gotten worse worldwide, the construct has crumbled. All of the constructs have crumbled. At least in my head.

I also find that I’m exceptionally impatient with the pushback against discomfort in entertainment. This thing in that story, it makes a reader uncomfortable, and for that reason, that story is suddenly questionable.

Some of the points are real good ones. I’m tired of books in the canon of whatever genre that are filled with racist and sexist stereotypes. I think those books should be removed from what passes as canon. I think the books should not go away; I think that they should be studied as part of the historical past.

We can even build on them. Here: this racist story is the basis for that marvelous piece of modern fiction. Or: let’s read this original story filled with hate, and see how it was answered by this no-longer-marginalized writer. I think there’s a place for fiction that holds discredited notions, but that belief comes from my background as a historian and my love of the way things evolve.

. . . .

I recently recommended in my monthly recommended reading list a lot of stories from an anthology that includes stories from the past 100 years, but did not recommend the anthology.

The anthologist and I disagree about something: he is willing to put his name on a book that contains racist epithets in the title of a story, as well as making those epithets and their stereotypes the basis of that particular story.

When I edit an anthology, I figure there’s a better story that deserves my readers’ attention. I don’t need to be the person to keep something deeply offensive visible in the world. If someone wants to find that crap, well then, they can search the old anthologies and original publications for it. I don’t need to bring it into 2021.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Covid Update

PG and Mrs. PG each received their second Covid vaccination today (Pfizer for Covid aficionados).

The talking Covid drums have been saying that side effects from the second vaccination can be more difficult than the first. For PG, the only side effects he has experienced from the second is feeling a bit tired, hence, he will do a little blogging after lying down for an extended (and atypical) nap after receiving his vaccination and may take another nap thereafter.

Mrs. PG is still snoozing after watching an episode of Virgin River, based upon a 19-book series of the same title.

Time, unfortunately

Time, unfortunately, though it makes animals and vegetables bloom and fade with amazing punctuality, has no such simple effect upon the mind of man. The mind of man, moreover, works with equal strangeness upon the body of time. An hour, once it lodges in the queer element of the human spirit, may be stretched to fifty or a hundred times its clock length; on the other hand, an hour may be accurately represented on the timepiece of the mind by one second.

Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography

What We See When We Read

From The Paris Review:

If I said to you, “Describe Anna Karenina,” perhaps you’d mention her beauty. If you were reading closely you’d mention her “thick lashes,” her weight, or maybe even her little downy mustache (yes—it’s there). Matthew Arnold remarks upon “Anna’s shoulders, and masses of hair, and half-shut eyes … ”

But what does Anna Karenina look like? You may feel intimately acquainted with a character (people like to say, of a brilliantly described character, It’s like I know her), but this doesn’t mean you are actually picturing a person. Nothing so fixed—nothing so choate.

*

Most authors (wittingly, unwittingly) provide their fictional characters with more behavioral than physical description. Even if an author excels at physical description, we are left with shambling concoctions of stray body parts and random detail (authors can’t tell us everything). We fill in gaps. We shade them in. We gloss over them. We elide. Anna: her hair, her weight—these are only facets, and do not make up a true image of a person. They make up a body type, a hair color … What does Anna look like? We don’t know—our mental sketches of characters are worse than police composites.

Visualizing seems to require will …

… though at times it may also seem as though an image of a sort appears to us unbidden.

(It is tenuous, and withdraws shyly upon scrutiny.)

*

I canvass readers. I ask them if they can clearly imagine their favorite characters. To these readers, a beloved character is, to borrow William Shakespeare’s phrase, “bodied forth.”

These readers contend that the success of a work of fiction hinges on the putative authenticity of the characters. Some readers go further and suggest that the only way they can enjoy a novel is if the main characters are easily visible:

“Can you picture, in your mind, what Anna Karenina looks like?” I ask.

“Yes,” they say, “as if she were standing here in front of me.”

“What does her nose look like?”


“I hadn’t thought it out; but now that I think of it, she would be the kind of person who would have a nose like … ”

“But wait—How did you picture her before I asked? Noseless?”


“Well … ”

“Does she have a heavy brow? Bangs? Where does she hold her weight? Does she slouch? Does she have laugh lines?”

(Only a very tedious writer would tell you this much about a character. Though Tolstoy never tires of mentioning Anna’s slender hands. What does this emblematic description signify for Tolstoy?)

Some readers swear they can picture these characters perfectly, but only while they are reading. I doubt this, but I wonder now if our images of characters are vague because our visual memories are vague in general.

* * *

A thought experiment: Picture your mother. Now picture your favorite literary character. (Or: Picture your home. Then picture Howards End.) The difference between your mother’s afterimage and that of a literary character you love is that the more you concentrate, the more your mother might come into focus. A character will not reveal herself so easily. (The closer you look, the farther away she gets.)

(Actually, this is a relief. When I impose a face on a fictional character, the effect isn’t one of recognition, but dissonance. I end up imagining someone I know.* And then I think, That isn’t Anna!)

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

There are a number of additional images in the OP.

Amazon Recommendations and Also Boughts

PG put a link to this article at the bottom of a prior post but then realized that it definitely deserved its own post.

From David Gaughran:

Amazon recommendations drive millions of dollars of book purchases every single day, and Also Boughts are central to this system, which can lead to panic when they periodically disappear.

Also Boughts play an important role in Amazon recommendations — that process of pairing books to readers like some literary version of Tinder — but the exact role in Amazon’s recommender system can be misunderstood.

So let’s break it all down today, and show you the exact role Also Boughts play in Amazon recommendations, and why you need to protect yours.

What Are Also Boughts?

Also Boughts reflect the other purchases your readers are making, and also influence which readers Amazon recommends books to next. As a result, Also Boughts have become the focus of attention among savvy self-publishers in recent years.

You can view them on any book’s product page on Amazon, where you may have noticed a strip of books usually placed underneath the product description, headlined with “Customers who bought this item also bought.” It looks like this:

Also Boughts example - customers who bought this item also bought

The Also Bought strip doesn’t update as frequently as some parts of the Kindle Store, but it usually refreshes twice a week, on Thursday and Sunday evenings, which means they are a relatively up-to-date indication of how Amazon’s system views your book.

Meaning that authors watch them very closely.

Amazon’s system is always trying to determine what kind of products each individual customer is most likely to purchase, so it can make more accurate recommendations. One thing which is super important in this process is the connection between products. People who buy printers tend to buy ink, for example, and recommending a printer-buyer some ink to purchase will elicit a lot of clicks.

But it’s not just obvious pairings like leathers and feathers, Amazon’s system is constantly analyzing what everyone purchases and then using that to predict what they will buy next, in its never-ending quest to maximize sales by crunching All The Data.

The net effect when it comes to authors is this: if your book appears in the Also Boughts of a book in your niche which is selling well, this can lead to a considerable spike in sales. Conversely, if something goes wrong with your Also Boughts, it can lead to a measurable dip.

It was understandable that authors would begin worrying when Amazon seemed to remove Also Boughts from book pages, with some speculating that Amazon would stop recommending books organically and only give visibility to those using Amazon Ads.

But that’s not how the recommender system works. And I can show you exactly what I mean.

How Amazon Recommendations Really Work

Amazon makes millions of book recommendations to readers every single day — both on-site in various slots around the Kindle Store, and by email as well. These recommendations take many different forms.

Some Amazon recommendations are very top-down, but most are either personalized for each individual reader, or contextual — based on what the reader is viewing at that moment, or the place they are in the Kindle Store, or an action they just performed. And all of this is completely unaffected by Also Boughts disappearing from book pages.

Let me give you an example.

During the research process for my book Amazon Decoded, I conducted a number of revealing experiments.

Have you ever noticed what happens when you buy a book in the Kindle Store? Specifically, have you noticed what happens on-screen afterwards? Amazon never misses a trick and as soon as you complete payment, a confirmation screen appears recommending more books.

Amazon is split-testing things all the time, so you may see this play out slightly differently each time you purchase a book, but, commonly, you will see Amazon push the book in the #1 Also Bought slot pretty hard.

(Unless there is an audiobook edition which is Whispersynced, then Amazon will often favor that recommendation instead. It can experiment with other approaches, such as a carousel of books, but this will also be heavily influenced by the Also Boughts of what you just purchased.)

If that #1 Also Bought is also the next book in the series, then Amazon will helpfully flag that it is indeed the next in the series – which can really drive that spillover when you are promoting Book 1, especially if you have also discounted Book 2.

(Assuming your Book 2 is that #1 Also Bought, of course, and that your series metadata is in perfect shape.)

This is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen so much on the other retailers, because they simply don’t have recommender systems quite as sophisticated as the one powering the millions of recommendations Amazon makes every day.

Other retailers do have rudimentary recommendation engines, but Amazon is quite literally years ahead of the competition, and it doesn’t feel like that gap is closing because fundamentally different philosophies are at work.

Link to the rest at David Gaughran

6 BookBub Ads Features You May Not Know About

From BookBub Partners:

2. Browse “Related Authors” for your author targets

For many advertisers, choosing author targets is a critical part of creating successful ad campaigns. To help make it easier for advertisers to discover author targets with large audiences on BookBub, we added a tab to the author targeting module of the ad creation form to surface “Related Authors.”

BookBub Ads - Related Authors

After you select at least one author target for a campaign, we’ll generate a list of other authors who share readers with the author(s) you’ve already selected. Of course, you should always test your targets to determine which will be the most effective for your particular books and campaigns, but we hope this will help you find new audiences to test out!

3. View improved stats for individual author targets

When you’ve added more than one author target to a campaign, you can view the impressions, click-through rate (CTR), and cost-per-click for each target under the “Aggregate Stats” tab. These stats are now visible for each target as soon as your ad starts serving impressions.

BookBub Ads data

We recommend waiting to draw conclusions about an author target’s effectiveness until you have at least a few hundred impressions. The more data you have, the more reliable the results.

Note that many of our readers fall into the targetable ad audiences of multiple authors. If a reader who sees an impression of your ad falls into the audience of more than one of the authors your ad is targeting, we include the stats from that impression under each of those authors. This may help you collect data more efficiently than if you were to target each of those authors’ audiences with separate ad campaigns.

Link to the rest at BookBub Partners

PG notes that BookBub is not the only book promo service used by indie authors (there are quite a few).

However, PG included this excerpt because it highlights what can often be a useful principle for marketing and promoting a book (as well as a great many other things) – Watch what your competitors are doing to sell their books and try to determine if it’s working well or not.

One of the common things that advertising agencies do is to carefully monitor all the advertising and marketing activities undertaken by companies that are competitive with the agency’s clients. For example, Coke’s ad agency watches what Pepsi is doing for advertising and promotion and vice-versa.

Sometimes this practice results in copy-cat advertising, but more often, it may disclose something more subtle: the competitor has discovered a consumer segment (let’s use single women over 40 who have a reasonable amount of disposable income as an example) that responds positively to a certain type of message and has created advertisements that carry that message and is placing them in online locations that attract such visitors (or magazines focused on such readers or television programs with a high percentage of such viewers).

BookBub’s suggestion is the same. Very few readers only read books by a single author. One of the reasons that genres exist and are cultivated by publishers and bookstores is that the best way to sell more books to those types of readers.

We’ll take an example: Mystery and Crime Fiction (which are actually two genres, but are often lumped together):

Some basic sub-genres would be:

  1. Detective Novels (Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Sue Grafton are some well-known examples)
  2. Cozy Mysteries (Dorothy L. Sayers, Elizabeth Daly and sometimes, Dame Agatha again)
  3. Police Procedural (Ed McBain, P. D. James, and Bartholomew Gill)
  4. Caper Stories (W. R. Burnett, John Boland, Peter O’Donnell, and (sometimes) Michael Crichton)

So, if you write detective novels, you might want to see if you can successfully promote your book by targeting readers who like Sue Grafton’s books. In a crude way, you might use an advertising headline that reads, “If you like Sue Grafton books, you’ll really love mine!”

However, as an indie author who has complete control over your advertising and needs no one’s approval to spend some of your hard-earned royalties to generate more royalties, you can be much more sophisticated and cost effective. You can use the techniques described in the OP and also learn more about Amazon Recommendations and Also Boughts.

David Gaughran has written an excellent post on that very subject.

To me

To me, murder seems to be the ultimate form of social distancing.

J. P. Pulkkinen, Finnish crime novelist