I must still have hope

Many people seem to think it foolish, even superstitious, to believe that the world could still change for the better. And it is true that in winter it is sometimes so bitingly cold that one is tempted to say, ‘What do I care if there is a summer; its warmth is no help to me now.’ Yes, evil often seems to surpass good. But then, in spite of us, and without our permission, there comes at last an end to the bitter frosts. One morning the wind turns, and there is a thaw. And so I must still have hope.

Vincent van Gogh

The Light of Days

Comrades from the pioneer training commune in Białystok, 1938.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF GHETTO FIGHTERS’ HOUSE MUSEUM

From The Wall Street Journal:

They were nicknamed the “ghetto girls” but the label does not do justice to the defiant, mostly forgotten Eastern European Jewish women in their teens and 20s who, acting in resistance to the Nazis, undertook one mission impossible after another to disrupt the machinery of the Holocaust and save as many Jews as they could.

Now, in her well-researched and riveting chronicle “The Light of Days,” Judy Batalion brings these unsung heroines to the forefront. She has recovered their stories from diaries and memoirs written variously in Yiddish, Polish and Hebrew, some composed during the war (one in prison, on toilet paper, then hidden beneath floorboards), others afterward, still more recorded in oral histories. This group portrait forcefully counters the myth of Jewish passivity, at once documenting the breadth and extent of Jewish activism throughout the ghettos—armed resistance groups operated in more than 90 of them, according to Ms. Batalion—and underlining in particular the crucial roles women played in the fight to survive. Indeed, several of the women whose stories Ms. Batalion tells also helped lead the most significant act of anti-Nazi Jewish resistance, the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which is recounted here in brutal detail.

The tasks and responsibilities these female fighters took on were as myriad as the false Christian identities they adopted to avoid capture, their disguises so successful that one was even hired as a translator by the Gestapo in Grodno. But mostly they traveled, seemingly nonstop, to surrounding Polish towns and in and out of the barricaded ghettos that they managed, through bribes and stealth, to penetrate. In the ghettos the Nazis not only segregated Jews from Aryan society but also prevented evidence of the massive deprivations and punishments Jews suffered there from leaking to the world outside.

This Nazi-imposed isolation made the female couriers all the more welcome when they arrived, living proof that those locked inside the walls were not forgotten. During their visits, the couriers acted as “human radios,” carrying greetings from other ghettos, bringing warnings of forthcoming deportations to the death camps, and serving as liaisons coordinating the efforts of ghetto resistance cells with those of armed partisan groups in the forests. They also took on the grim responsibility of reporting the latest massacres and other atrocities against the Jews. The eyewitness testimonies they conveyed were harrowing. But rather than spread hopelessness among the ghetto population, the couriers often did the opposite, breeding greater determination to resist, to leave a legacy of action and defiance rather than submissiveness. As one ghetto slogan declared, “It is better to be shot in the ghetto than to die in Treblinka!”

Skilled black marketers, they also smuggled in food to supplement the ghettos’ ever-dwindling food rations; medical supplies to fight typhus and the other diseases that ran rampant amid appallingly cramped, broken-down living conditions; and as many rifles, pistols, bullets, grenades and bomb-building components as possible, to spark an uprising.

Behind all these operations lay a deftness and aptitude for creating and maintaining resistance webs and networks both within and among different ghettos, as well as with sympathetic Aryans throughout Poland. That is why they were also often described as kashariyot, the Hebrew word for “connectors.” It was through these links that they set up hiding places for Jewish children outside the ghetto, found safe houses to conceal resistance fighters, provided forged papers and plotted escape routes to Palestine, even facilitated prison breaks. Nor did they hesitate to take up arms themselves, leaving Nazi troops so surprised to see women wielding guns and grenades that one startled SS commander was left to wonder if they were “devils or goddesses.”

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

While the women who did fight endured a great many terrible travails, those who didn’t may have experienced worse.

By Unknown author (Franz Konrad confessed to taking some of the photographs, the rest was probably taken by photographers from Propaganda Kompanie nr 689.[1][2]) – Image:Warsaw-Ghetto-Josef-Bloesche-HRedit.jpg uploaded by United States Holocaust MuseumThis is a retouched picture, which means that it has been digitally altered from its original version. Modifications: Restored version of Image:Stroop Report – Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 06.jpg with artifacts and scratches removed, levels adjusted, and image sharpened.., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17223940

How Not To Make A Book Launch Video

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

For as long as I’ve dreamed of being an author, I’ve also dreamed about the moment I first get to hold a copy of my book. 

The thrill of seeing my name on the cover of an actual book, filled with words that I wrote. The knowledge that a publisher thought those words good enough to be worthy of printing onto paper. Paper that smells like, er, paper, but in that special new book-scented way.

Whenever and however it happened, I just knew it would be magical.

Just a mere 43 years later (I don’t like to rush things), and the moment had finally arrived. My debut novel, Wife Support System, came out as an ebook with Hera Books in July 2020 and the paperback was released on March 11th 2021. A paperback hadn’t been guaranteed when I signed the contract with Hera, so this made its publication even more exciting. 

With Covid scuppering all book launch events and parties, posting videos of book reveals has become one of the main ways of promoting books. Having seen other authors do a ta-da moment, I was excited to film and share my own long-awaited magical moment with the world. (When I say ‘the world’, I actually mean my mum and a few other family members who follow me online.)

. . . .

To start with, my suggestion that playing the Star Wars theme tune in the background as I opened the box would add some atmosphere and fun, was immediately dismissed as “cringe”. To be honest, it probably was a bit cheesy, but I grew up in the eighties so being a bit cheesy is a default setting.

Eve was in charge of filming. The top of my head is missing in most of the footage, which was actually an ingenious way of getting around my lockdown roots. Elena was in charge of telling me off for trying to play Star Wars (she used her own initiative in creating this role), resulting in Eve telling Elena off. So loudly that James had to ask us to be quiet as he was on a work Zoom call. Eve then stopped filming before I’d even opened the box of books.

I managed to get the box open on Take Two, but it still wasn’t quite what the professional footage I’ve seen other authors post on social media. None of them had someone in the background telling them to hurry up or comparing them to the Norris Nuts. No sooner had I got the book in my hand then Eve stopped filming, before I had a chance to even say what the book was called, let alone what it was about or where it could be bought.

. . . .

So, my advice to anyone planning to film their own book box opening / cover reveal / launch party is to ensure you do it in what I believe is called a Controlled Environment. In other words, make sure no one else is around to help (aka interfere and mess it up for you).

On the plus side, my book launch video does sum up the plot of my book – mums struggling to juggle work and childcare. I am a genuine example here of how “challenging” it can be. (“Challenging” isn’t my first choice of word, but I’m not sure it’s professional to swear in a blog. Although the video clearly demonstrates that there is very little professionalism going on in my life.) And, of course, there’s no fear of my new ‘published author’ status going to my head. My family are definitely keeping me grounded!

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Bookstore owner suing Amazon over alleged price-fixing scheme that makes it impossible for other retailers to compete

From The Chicago Sun Times:

An Evanston bookstore owner wants to take on Amazon.

Nina Barrett, owner of Bookends and Beginnings, signed on as the named plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed last week that accuses Amazon of orchestrating a price-fixing scheme with the nation’s leading book publishers that makes it impossible for other retailers to beat their prices.

According to the suit, contracts that Amazon has with the nation’s “Big Five” publishers — Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster — block the publishers from giving other retailers better prices.

“I, along with most independent bookstore owners in America, feel incredibly frustrated because we’ve seen that the playing field is not level,” Barrett told the Sun-Times. “We have to talk to our customers all the time about why we can’t match Amazon’s pricing.”

. . . .

The suit, which was filed in New York, seeks to include all booksellers that bought books from the Big Five after March 25, 2017. It seeks damages and an injunction on the “anti-competitive” practice.

“It’s been very frustrating to watch the growth of Amazon and think, ‘Me, just little old me by myself, I can’t stop this, but I can see that it’s unfair,’” Barrett said.

. . . .

Attorney Eamon Kelly, who lives in Evanston and regularly shops for biographies at Barrett’s store, pitched Barrett to his fellow attorneys and then pitched Barrett, who said she “jumped on the idea.”

Barrett’s shop, with its alleyway entrance, is “a magical place to look at books,” Kelly said.

Barrett, 60, opened her bookstore in 2014.

The financial pain felt by her bookstore due to Amazon’s pricing is real, Barrett said, and would have been more acute during the pandemic if not for an online fundraising campaign that raised nearly $50,000, money her business received through the Paycheck Protection Program and the fact that a Barnes and Noble about a block from her store closed last year, funneling more customers her way.

She called Amazon a “juggernaut” and a “bully.”

“We think that being a place matters, that the browsing experience matters,” she said.

“We get up and battle and fight every day to make our business model work, and we do it out of passion. But no one of us would ever have the power to be able to take on Amazon,” she said.

Link to the rest at The Chicago Sun Times

The OP makes Ms. Barrett and her bookstore seem quite nice. PG is very familiar with Evanston and can report that it’s a pleasant tree-filled upscale university town on the shores of Lake Michigan filled with lots of people who have plenty of disposable income. If any location could support a traditional bookstore these days, Evanston could.

The OP didn’t mention whether Ms. Barrett buys the books she sells through a wholesaler like Ingram or not. At least some of Ms. Barrett’s cost of goods can be attributed to Ingram’s markup and shipping fees.

There are a lot of good attorneys in Chicago, although PG is not acquainted with any of the attorneys or firms named in the OP. If they’re not already familiar with the strange and expensive supply chain used by major publishers to get books to retail bookstores, they will certainly become familiar with it soon.

That said, regardless of how much some people think traditional bookstores “matter”, that doesn’t mean they will necessarily continue to be financially viable or have any sort of “right” to be viable.

All sorts of business that were common in PG’s youth are non-existent or effectively non-existent these days. More than a few businesses that have closed their doors during the Time of Covid are not going to reopen.

Perhaps the closure of the Barnes & Noble near Ms. Barrett’s bookstore was indicative that it had problems with a business model quite similar to the model Ms. Barrett is fighting to make work in her store.

How to Give a Great Podcast Author Interview

From Writers Helping Writers:

As an author, one of the best ways you can reach new audiences is through podcasts.

According to Edison Research and Triton Digital, there are now 62 million Americans listening to podcasts each week, up from 19 million in 2013. We have about 800,000 active podcasts available to listen to, with a record 192,000 new ones launched in 2019.

. . . .

Once you’re invited to speak on a podcast, it may be tempting to just show up and chat. But for most authors, that would be a mistake for two reasons:

  • Your goal is to attract new readers/subscribers to your platform.
  • Those readers are going to be listening to your conversation!

To increase your odds that you’ll make a good impression on your listeners—and perhaps convince some of them to read your work—keep the following tips in mind.

5 Tips to Help You Win New Readers on a Podcast Interview

1. Remember your job is to help the listener.

This is the number-one mistake most authors make when appearing on a podcast. They arrive unprepared and spend their time chatting about whatever subject happens to come up. This is dangerous because:

  • You may fail to give the listeners anything of value, missing your opportunity to connect with them.
  • Listeners may get bored!

Of course, it’s important to have fun and enjoy the conversation, but remember that you’re there to help the host’s listeners however you can. Usually, that involves sharing some of your expertise or experiences that will benefit others.

2. Ask your host what their audience is looking for.

Speaking of listeners, it’s important to understand what your host’s listeners are looking for. Why do they come to this particular podcast? What problems do they need to be solved?

You can address this question in a couple of ways. First, check out the podcast and listen to a few episodes before your scheduled appearance. Familiarize yourself with the type of issues they address and then figure out how your message can help those listeners.

Second, simply ask your host: “What do most of your listeners need help with? What are they looking for on your podcast?” Most hosts will be happy to tell you about their audiences, and you can use that information to come up with a few key points that you know will help those people.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Tell McGraw-Hill to Stop Charging Freelancers for Processing Invoices

From The Authors Guild:

We are sharing with you a letter to McGraw-Hill’s CEO Simon Allen and General Counsel David Stafford to demand that the company immediately end its practice of charging freelance contractors a 2.2% fee for processing their invoices. McGraw-Hill claims that this so-called “Small Supplier Fee” is being applied to support the company’s compliance costs, including to minimize the company’s risks of misclassifying independent contractors. Imposing a 2.2% fee for processing invoices—a normal cost of doing business—is tantamount to wage theft. What’s more, McGraw-Hill unilaterally imposed this fee during a pandemic, when freelance creators are losing work opportunities and unable to access the full scope of unemployment benefits due to their independent contractor status. McGraw-Hill’s attempt to pass its operating costs off to hard-working, struggling freelance creators is shocking and unfair.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

Tacky, tacky, tacky.

PG suggests freelancers get together and suggest to one another to increase their fees to McGraw-Hill by 5%, with a little less than half to cover McGraw-Hill’s new fee and a new 2.8% McGraw-Hill invoice preparation and compliance fee.

Using Novel Writing Techniques in Your Memoir

From Writers in the Storm:

I’ve spent much of our Covid year learning about, editing, and writing my own memoir. Memoir is a form I think every writer should try to tackle at least once. Everyone has a story to tell. The exercise of writing a memoir can sharpen our memories and force us to write outside our comfort zones—always good practice for a writer at any level. If you want to craft a memoir that is truly a page-turner, you can and should use many of your fiction writing tricks.

First Things First: What a Memoir Is and Is Not

It is important to know what a memoir is and is not. A memoir is not your autobiography. A memoir is a slice of your life at a particular time, in a particular place. It is literally your memories put to paper. Some memoirs cover a year in a person’s life. Some memoirs cover several years. Think in terms of a season of your life, rather than a finite block of days on the calendar.

Many new memoirists hamstring themselves by feeling they need to tell their entire life stories, nose to tail, David Copperfield-style. You do not. A memoir focuses on a theme, on a particular red thread that has wound through your life thus far. It is a not a full accounting of all your sins and wins!

A memoir is not a journal entry, even though it is your story. You must write it so that a reader can benefit from it. There must be a compelling reason to keep them turning the pages, such as a lesson they can learn or inspiration for them to find. Memoir can feel navel-gazey in the writing process, but it should never feel navel-gazey on the page. (Yes, I know this is daunting! But persevere.)

What holds a memoir together is a story—your story.

Remember as you write each page that you are telling that story, not making a police report. You can change names to protect people’s privacy. And since you are working from memory, the story will have your slant—don’t feel you have to get every single angle on it. If you ask your family about the picnic you had that one day in 1972, you will get a different story from each member about that day, told from their perspective. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth.

Discover what your truth is and use your memoir to tell it.

An Inciting Incident: You Need One

Telling us about the time you went to the market after work and ran into a friend you hadn’t seen since high school and you exchanged pleasantries with them is not  a gripping inciting incident. Telling us about the time you went to the market after work, ran into a friend you hadn’t seen since high school, and found out they needed a kidney is a start. Deciding to see if you were a match to help them because of that one time in school when they saved you from being assaulted by a teacher? That is a gripping inciting incident.

Don’t invent something that isn’t true, but when you sit down to comb through the sand of your life, you are searching for the pearl that you will hand to your readers. Think of the unusual things. If you don’t think there are any of those pearls, think again. Everyone has as story.

Once I sat in a hotel bar on a business trip and met seven different travelers, from seven different age groups, seven different places, seven different walks of life. Each and every one of them had a compelling story. You do, too. And if you write it well, people will want to read it.

Build Characters

Many new memoirists neglect to see that what they are crafting are characters (who just happen to be real people). You are the “main character” of your memoir.

This is tough for many writers. Do we ever really see ourselves completely objectively? Probably not. But we must do our best. Use the same techniques to craft interesting characters in your memoir that you do in your fiction writing. Make a list of who will appear on the stage of your memoir, and sketch them out, just as you would the players in your novel.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

‘She showed what poetry can do’: young London laureates feel the Amanda Gorman effect

From The Guardian:

Cecilia Knapp

“I came to poetry by accident, through a workshop at Camden’s Roundhouse. I was 18 at the time, had no money, and was living alone in London. Poetry had not been in my life before. I was awful when I started. But I was so thirsty to get better.

I’m working on my first collection now. I lost my mum at a young age, so a lot of the collection looks at how that might impact a young woman. And I lost my older brother to suicide in 2012. He had a long battle with addiction, and also his sexuality, and I was a carer for him for a really long time. A lot of the poems in the book that I’m working on are looking at his life. I’ve always used writing as a way to figure things out: not necessarily to find answers, more to ask questions about them.

When young people see a poem or film on YouTube or social media, it gets rid of that preconception that poetry has to be this isolated, solitary act of opening a book and reading something old fashioned. I love reading poetry myself, and I believe that young people can, too, but they can also love spoken word or performance poetry, poetry on film or poetry with music.

I’ve worked with young people for almost a decade now, and I’ve experienced first-hand the impact poetry can have on them – something happens when you let yourself be free and creative, it is magic. It’s really empowering for young people to be told that what they have to say is important and valid. We need young voices contributing to the canon, because they usually reflect what’s really going on in the world a lot of the time.

Someone who I use as a springboard for young people is Danez Smith, a non-binary African American poet who talks a lot about race, class, sexuality and gender in their collections Don’t Call Us Dead and Homie.

Roger Robinson’s book A Portable Paradise responded so amazingly to the injustice of Grenfell, as did Jay Bernard’s book Surge. There are so many amazing writers at the moment.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

News Corp to Buy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Consumer-Publishing Arm

From The Wall Street Journal:

News Corp has agreed to buy the consumer arm of educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. for $349 million, marking the media company’s second deal in less than a week.

The deal adds a portfolio of high-profile novels from authors such as George Orwell, Philip Roth and J.R.R. Tolkien to News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers division. The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that the companies were nearing a deal.

The sale would allow Boston-based Houghton to pay down debt and focus on its digital-first strategy in education, goals that the company had set when it put HMH Books & Media on the block last fall.

The deal indicates that New York-based News Corp, which in addition to HarperCollins owns Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co. and news organizations in the U.K. and Australia, among other assets, is looking to expand through select acquisitions after a period of slimming down through sales of noncore businesses.

. . . .

“Timeless writing is a timely source of revenue and the potential to create highly profitable audio and video works flourishes with each passing digital day,” News Corp Chief Executive Robert Thomson said.

News Corp is focusing investments on growth areas including books, digital real estate, and the Dow Jones unit, a person familiar with the situation said.

In an interview, HarperCollins Chief Executive Brian Murray described Houghton’s catalog of children’s and adult titles as a “crown jewel.” The unit’s children portfolio includes the “Little Blue Truck” and “Curious George” series, and other favorites such as “The Polar Express” and “Jumanji.”

Mr. Murray also cited Houghton’s focus on transforming its children’s titles and brands into streaming and interactive-gaming opportunities. “They have a good team and it should help us accelerate our own children’s activities on that front,” he said.

. . . .

HarperCollins has been a strong performer during the pandemic, which helped propel book sales. In its most recent quarter, the unit posted a 23% growth in revenue to $544 million and 65% jump in profitability to $104 million.

Houghton’s consumer-publishing unit generated revenue of $191.7 million in 2020, accounting for approximately 19% of Houghton’s net sales. Other core properties of HMH Books & Media include the Peterson Field Guides, which cover topics ranging from birds to fish to wildflowers; lifestyle titles from Martha Stewart ; and the Carmen Sandiego franchise.

HMH Books & Media also boasts a strong line of cookbooks that includes titles by Jacques Pépin, Mark Bittman and Priya Krishna.

. . . .

The deal marks the second sale of a well-known publisher in less than six months. German media giant Bertelsmann SE, which owns Penguin Random House, last November agreed to buy Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS Inc. for almost $2.18 billion.

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

For PG, the key information bit was “transforming its children’s titles and brands into streaming and interactive-gaming opportunities.”

Perhaps he’s biased, but this didn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of books on paper. Again, he wondered whether the buyer or the seller is going to look like it got the best out of this deal in 5-10 years.

There is no hunting

There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.

Ernest Hemingway

There is nothing noble

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.

Ernest Hemingway

The Man Behind the Hemingway Myth

From The Wall Street Journal:

Early next month, timed to the sixtieth anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s death, PBS will air Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s long-awaited three-part, six-hour look at this most iconic of iconic American writers. In a culture where screens have beat out paper and ink as the medium for gathering information and in so doing have turned us into scanners with atrophied attention spans, it’s something of an irony that it would take the visual experience of a documentary—full of stunning archival photos and deft commentary by the likes of Edna O’Brien and Tobias Wolff—to inspire a return to the page to experience the work of the writer who, as Mr. Wolff puts it, “changed all the furniture in the room.”

Some writers write; others alter the course of literature by the importance of the ideas they express or by the style of that expression. Hemingway did both, creating an original voice that remains one of the most influential in the English language. While still in his early 20s, as a newly married veteran of the Great War living in Paris among a group of expatriate American writers who would become known as the “Lost Generation,” he codified how to write what he called a “true” sentence—a grammatically simple shard of flint that, like the stories he told with them, distilled a potent essence.

His tone was designed as a match for the awful things he’d witnessed and that test human character—war, broken loyalty, death—and for the magnificent things that restore our souls and courage: a fine painting, true love, a winning ticket at the horse races, the smell of orange rinds in a fire. First with his short stories about growing up in the woods of northern Michigan and later with novels based on his life in Europe—“The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”—he became an international literary celebrity. In 1954, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

By then, he’d played the bearded macho-man armed with a gun and a typewriter—spoiling for danger, tough women and a stiff drink—for so long that the caricature stuck. The masculine stereotype continues to complicate our ability to see the person lost inside the testosterone legend, much less to extricate the writing from the writer. So numerous are the photographs of Hemingway on safari, at the corrida, charming his next wife, hooking a big one, behind the typewriter—almost always shirtless—that the visual lore has become intermingled with scenes from his novels and journalism in a way that makes it hard to recall what’s fact or fiction.

. . . .

But all you have to do to get past the legend is to read a little of his work. “If it is all beautiful you can’t believe in it,” Hemingway once wrote. “Things aren’t that way. It is only by showing both sides—three dimensions and if possible four—that you can write the way I want to.” In terms of complexity, he was essentially describing himself and his unusually eventful life.

Hemingway, a country boy from outside Chicago, was born in 1899, astride two centuries that were divided in custom and convention not by a year but an eon. In the pages of Life, Time, Look and Esquire, he took on as a reporter many of the same subjects he had already treated in fiction, inviting readers to wonder if the first-person narrator of his novels was the self-same journalist on assignment. If his characters were his alter-egos, you can imagine him thinking, why couldn’t he be an alter-ego of his characters?

Trying to figure out what’s not being said and why; slipping into the internal dialogue of a broken mind; asking who the I in the I really is—these are just a few of the techniques Hemingway developed that changed the boundaries of fiction and how it was written. Stripping his prose of all ornament, he wrote like a member of the Bauhaus following the dictum that “form follows function.” The material he took up—rape, abortion, impotence, cowardice, suicide, adultery—were unprettified realities that literature would no longer be able to skirt. Above all, as he codified in his “iceberg theory,” he recognized that what was omitted from a story outweighed in power what was left in.

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

All Four ‘Avengers’ Movies Are Getting Shakespeare Adaptations

From Collider:

Marvel Studios and Quirk Books have announced that they are collaborating to release Shakespearean parodies of all four Avengers movies. Yes, you read that right. The Avengers, Age of Ultron, Infinity War, and Endgame are being brought back to life in William Shakespeare’s Avengers: The Complete Works, iambic pentameter included. Avengers fans can expect entertaining easter eggs, dramatic soliloquies, and a witty yet faithful re-telling of their favorite superheroes.

. . . .

For anyone who is raising an eyebrow and expecting this crossover to flop, don’t let your skepticism fool you. This ain’t Doescher’s first rodeo when it comes to parody and major franchises, especially where Shakespeare is involved. He’s also known for writing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, as well as the Pop Shakespeare series (which includes such hits as Much Ado About Mean Girls and Get Thee…Back to the Future!)

This isn’t Quirk Books’ first attempt at parody, either (in case the company’s name didn’t already give that away). Not only were they responsible for publishing the aforementioned works by Doescher, but they’re also known for bringing other classic literature parodies to the world such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – a dystopian spin on Jane Austen’s famous novel where Victorian England socialites try to keep calm and carry on in a world ravaged by the undead. While some literature fans may regard the source material as an insomnia cure in written form, the zombie twist in the Quirk Books version enhances the story with tongue-in-cheek humor and makes it more palatable for a modern audience.

Link to the rest at Collider

Cunningham’s Law

The best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question; it’s to post the wrong answer.

Ward Cunningham, American computer programmer who developed the first wiki

We can destroy ourselves

We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.

Kenneth Clark

Life is not an easy matter

Life is not an easy matter… You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.

Leon Trotsky

For the Relief of Unbearable Bookstores

From The Millions:

I’ve reached the point in life where my relationship with bookstores is—how to put this?—well, it’s complicated. I love the idea of bookstores. I smile when I see their bright windows on a block. I talk about a new bookshop like normal people talk about newborns. And after the global pandemic loosens its grip on New York, I know one of the first things I’ll do is visit a bookstore in my neighborhood. In my imagination, this means spending a long lazy afternoon browsing shelves and flipping the pages of dozens of new books. There’s just one problem: I long ago ceased to enjoy bookstores. Even before the pandemic, I couldn’t spend more than a few minutes inside one without wanting to leave; no, without wanting to flee, shoulders hunched, like a child caught trespassing.

I once burned for bookstores. And not just because I thought the right books made me look smart, either. This was a love affair that began before I knew pretension. The very first bookstore that I loved as a boy was a mall bookstore. Its name, Abbey Road Books, made no sense to me because it was located on Gull Road, not Abbey Road. The mall would be gone long before I got the Beatles reference.

Abbey Road Books was not large but it was big enough for a guileless boy: a rack near the cash register held comic books. A half dozen long rows running front to back offered popular paperbacks and—I assume—serious literary fiction. I never really looked. I was too busy with the Garfield collections, the Dragonriders of Pern fantasies or the sci-fi pulp. This was where I found my first favorite novel, Laura J. Mixon’Astro Pilots, a YA book about a teenager whose revenge on a bully is complicated by the temporal effect of traveling at light speed. Pure nerd bliss.

Years of browsing and buying books freely has produced what you would expect: my home is a book orphanage, and the unread books are almost as numerous as the read ones. Based on a recent roll call, a quarter of the books on the shelves are critically praised titles I have not yet read. Let the Great World SpinWhite TeethThe Wings of the Dove.

In the pre-pandemic era, there were six book shops within the lunchtime walking radius of my office near Union Square. The Strand, Alabaster Books, Three Lives, McNally Jackson, Housingworks, and Barnes & Noble. All of the shops except Alabaster (which was smaller than a studio apartment) had display tables at the store entrance. The intention of a bookstore display table is noble; the effect is, for me, pernicious. From the get go, I am reminded of how many unread books exist and how many new unread books are added to that list daily. All the tables and all the books take on an undifferentiated, daunting sheen. You can judge a book by its cover but what you’re judging is sometimes hard to say. To Keep the Sun AliveHouse of Stone? Great book covers, lovely fonts, and crackerjack titles; how do you pick between them? The blurb on every other book promises it is “Like nothing you’ve read before.” Or “More knife than novel.” I want to read the work of this “rising star of Arab fiction,” but I also want to read a dozen others, and in the end, overwhelmed by choice, I choose to flee.

. . . .

The global Covid pandemic put an abrupt end to this ongoing bookstore angst, for a time. Overnight, bookstores became more theoretical than real. I shifted to curbside pick up for drinks and dinners, and I pivoted to ordering books over the phone from local stores. The first time that I picked up a book purchase curbside was in the Early Covid Era, and I doused all the brand new books with rubbing alcohol before I stowed them in the trunk for a three-day quarantine. Just to be safe. By summer, I was less anxious about touching books; at a pick-up window for a bookstore in Connecticut, I waited while inside a bookstore employee searched for the title I wanted among all the books in their cells. One day, I thought, one day we’ll all be able to go inside again. Won’t that be something?

I want to believe that everything will be different when we turn life back on. I want to believe a year apart from bookstores has changed me. I want to believe I have re-learned how to be casual, how to relax, how to bathe in the bliss of booksellers. I want to believe. But here’s the truth: rather than rewire me for patience, a year at home has probably made me even less able to downshift and enjoy a bookstore properly. I spend more hours than ever each day digging into the larder of my smartphone for the fatty byproducts of the Internet. Social distancing for months has increased the hours spent as a parent mediating fights, insisting on chores, refereeing screen time. Given my jumpy, angsty, barely-nuanced attention span, does anyone really think I’m capable of slipping with ease into the heady trance that is necessary to enjoy an afternoon among books?

. . . .

The unforgivable sin of bookstores is this: so many of the books that they offer are physical reminders of passing time. Here are the Kazuo Ishiguros I read while in my fresh-faced 20s. Here are the Joan Didions of my 30s. Here are the Tracy Kidders I discovered after my kids were born. A visit to any kind of bookstore will eventually make me jealous for the younger version of me, the person who was unshaped, unaccountable, unknown. Both the books that I have read and not read all remind me that what I am is not what I was; and they point out to me that for all the work of living that I have done, there remains an impossible amount of work that I have not and cannot do. I cannot change course and pursue a life of ornithology. I am no longer a penniless apprentice writing his first novel. I cannot sell everything and live on an arctic freighter. I cannot be what I am not, and by definition what I am not remains so much larger than what I am.

. . . .

{T]hen I saw Draft No. 4, a John McPhee book on writing, and I decided, well, let me look inside that one. I scanned the first page. My insides went calm. I was like a parched man cutting open a spindly cactus and finding watery relief. I skipped to the back, read more words that struck me as perfect, and true: “It is toward the end of the second draft, if I’m lucky,” McPhee writes, “when the feeling comes over me that I have something I want to show to other people, something that seems to be working and is not going to go away.” I closed the book, realizing that I would buy it, damn the torpedoes and all the unread books waiting at home.

I brought the McPhee book to the register. A girl with dirty blond hair and a tired, guarded look was handling sales.

“Are you a member of our book club?”

“I’m sure that I was once,” I said. There was no way for her to hear the ironic undertone.

She asked for my first and last name. I told her. She typed, furrowed her brow. “Nope,” she said. “You want to join? It’s quick.”

Of course, I had been forgotten. Emptiness began to swell inside. Then, a thought: “Did you put a space,” I said, “between Van and Dyke?”

She sighed, hit the delete key lightly, then enter, and her eyes brightened. “There you are,” she said, as if she had just learned I was her cousin twice removed. They knew me. I was one of the remembered ones. I still belonged. This made me so happy that now, in retrospect, it makes me sad.

Link to the rest at The Millions

When Everything Changes – Capturing Profound Character Moments

From Writer Unboxed:

A few weeks ago, coinciding with the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic, several newspapers published accounts on the early days of the crisis as drawn from the lives of everyday Americans. Essentially the reports were a contemporary take on a person-on-the-street story focused on a singular question – What was the moment you realized your world had changed as a result of Covid-19?

I approached the articles with a tinge of curiosity and, not surprisingly, with a writer’s eye. I knew my own experience, of course. In the months since, I have recounted to friends the surreal visit to see my Mom in Florida, which happened to coincide with the week everything began to shut down, including ultimately her assisted living facility. I recall feeling lucky to be in her company during those last days of seeming normalcy, even while waking to the fact that we had no idea when it might be safe to return. Only later did my partner and I acknowledge our shared yet unspoken fear at the time, that perhaps we had already been exposed and might have unknowingly brought illness with us (fortunately we had not). Saying our goodbyes was especially hard, one of those times you see the fragility of life, deeply and starkly.

Reading the recent articles reawakened those feelings. The anecdotes recounted were often simple – an exhausted nurse sitting in her car, knowing the long shift she had just completed was merely a precursor of what was to come; a worried parent in their new “remote office,” fretting over how they could possibly manage their children’s online schooling when they could barely master a Zoom meeting; a grocery clerk receiving a mask and safety briefing from their store manager for the first time. But the emotions they shared were complex and compelling, genuine expressions of the anxiety we all felt to one degree or another this past year.

All of which has left me pondering how moments of profound change for characters are captured in stories. When do those scenes work, elevating the narrative? And perhaps just as important, what causes them sometimes to fall short? Admittedly I have only begun to scratch the surface of what could be a lengthy course of study. But I have a few opening thoughts, which may stir your own instincts. So, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Stories Need Pivotal Moments 

It may seem an obvious point, but a good entry to understanding what makes a scene of profound change work is acknowledging the need for such scenes from the start. As Lisa Cron explains in her amazing book of craft Wired for Story, humans are drawn to stories because our evolution as a species springs from our ability to imagine a future and then to build it. Stories provide a means to explore possibilities and to learn from mistakes without actually having to make them in real life. In short, stories teach us how to change, how to grow.

For this reason, when we pick up a book or sit down to watch a production, we engage the parts of our brain that hunger for stories. From the first page or opening scene we begin to gather information, seeking clues and patterns, trying to understand motives of the characters. If given good reason (i.e., a worthy hook), we quickly bond with the protagonist, slipping into their lives and adopting their problems as our own, at least mentally.

But to keep us engaged, we need moments when the protagonist, faulted though they may be, takes stock of their situation. Or, if not the reflective sort, the protagonist must at times be forced to face an ugly reality they’d much rather ignore. For as the journey hardens, lessons from those moments will prove key to unlocking the true objective in ways the protagonist of page one might not even be able to fathom.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Paper beats pixels on most picture books, research finds

From The Hechinger Report:

Digital picture books have been a godsend during the pandemic. With libraries shuttered and bookstores a nonessential trip, many parents have downloaded book after book on tablets and smartphones to keep their little ones reading. The technology allowed my daughter to read the Berenstain Bears, a classic picture book series, to a younger cousin over Zoom when a family trip was canceled. Despite my wistful sentiments for paper and colored ink, I marveled at the bond that could be sustained over screens and pixels. 

But when the pandemic is over, many parents will face a dilemma. Should they revert back to print or stick with e-books? Do kids absorb and learn to read more from one format versus the other?

A new analysis of all the research on digital picture books, published in March 2021, helps to answer this question. The answer isn’t clear cut: paper generally has an edge over digital but there are exceptions. Digital books can be a better option with nonfiction texts and for building vocabulary. Some digital storybooks were better; researchers found that certain types of story-related extras seemed to boost a child’s comprehension but they were rare. 

In large part, the research on digital picture books for children echoes what we’ve seen in studies of e-books for adults. Reading comprehension is superior on paper but the benefit of paper appears to be stronger for adults and smaller for children. Scholars think the reasons behind the brain’s preference for paper may be different for the two groups. In the case of adults, it may be a lack of effort that we’re putting into reading on screens. In the case of children, it may be that many of the bells and whistles that are commonly added to digital picture books — buttons to click on, pop ups, games and sounds — are distracting.

Digital picture books have been around since the 1980s but there’s surprisingly little research that directly compares how much young children absorb in digital and in print and measures learning in a reliable way.

. . . .

Children up to age eight were included in the studies. Some were old enough to read independently but listened to an audio narration of a digital book with headphones. In a study of the youngest children, under two years old, parents held their children in their laps for both formats. In the digital version, a recorded voice read a book about animals aloud as a parent tapped the screen to turn the digital pages. In the print format, the child heard her own parent’s voice reading the names of the animals that were pictured on the pages, such as a horse or a koala.

By chance, this toddler study showed stronger learning outcomes for the digital picture book. Gabrielle Strouse, an educational psychologist at the University of South Dakota who ran this experiment, told me many of the children in her study had never seen a digital book and the novelty of it may have been mesmerizing, causing the children to pay more attention.

In most of the other studies, children were able to navigate the digital books themselves. Sometimes the digital texts were static just like the printed page. Other times, the text moved or changed to a bold font as the child heard the words.

Children were attracted to the many types of interactive buttons, pop ups and games that are embedded in digital books. A tap in the right place might play a noise. Children could seek treasures hidden on the screen. A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood might ask the child to color the character in with a virtual paintbrush or drag the character to perform an action. “It’s fun and enjoyable but it has nothing to do with the story,” said Natalia Kucirkova, a professor of early childhood development at the University of Stavanger in Norway.

Kucirkova, one of the authors of the March 2021 picture book meta-analysis, explained that her team wanted to learn which digital enhancements were working and which weren’t. They categorized all the add-ons as either story related or not story related. They found that the more unrelated bells and whistles, the worse a child’s comprehension was after reading the digital version of the story, compared to the print version.

Kucirkova believes that many digital books are overstimulating children and the unrelated add-ons are overtaxing a child’s “cognitive load.”

“With digital books, children get a lot of stimulation from the different senses,” Kucirkova explained, as they take in letters and pictures with their eyes, sounds with their ears and tap the screen with their fingers. “The amount of information that an individual needs to process is bigger if you have a lot of stimulation. The feedback they get from the digital device overwhelms children.”

By contrast, the researchers found that story-related enhancements reinforced the narrative and improved comprehension. Repetition of new vocabulary words that were central to the story helped. One book prompted children to use the story characters in the digital book to build their own story. “Those creativity games are very conducive to story recall,” said Kucirkova.

Another digital book asked the child to share the story with someone else. Other effective digital prompts were directed at a parent, telling her or him what to point out or ask while reading a digital book with a child. In a book about a little frog, a parent could point and ask a question, “Could the frog be here?” simultaneously connecting with the child and the story line. In other words, actively reading a digital version of a picture book with your child is good for comprehension.

“Even small digital enhancements actually make a lot of difference both ways, they can work well, or they can distract the child,” said Kucirkova.

. . . .

Indeed, when the authors looked at the books in the 39 studies by genre, the digital version was generally better for nonfiction, where there often isn’t a narrative story line to follow. Fiction, by contrast, was generally better on paper.  

I talked with Virginia Clinton-Lisell, a reading specialist at the University of North Dakota who has studied digital books. She pointed out that the slight harm to reading comprehension may be worth it if the digital books are so engaging that your child reads more books. None of these 39 studies looked at whether children read more when they had access to digital books. 

“A parent shouldn’t be overly concerned about a small difference in comprehension for a particular book,” said Clinton-Lisell. “Bottom line, if it’s a digital book that gets your kid to read, that’s great.”

Link to the rest at The Hechinger Report

PG notes that the title of the OP doesn’t take some of the material in the OP into consideration.

Additionally, he will note that the technology and design of modern printed books has been honed and improved for hundreds of years, generally speaking to maximize commercial success (which is not a bad thing at all). Most children’s ebooks with which PG is familiar are adapted from printed books as opposed to being born digital.

The iPad was introduced 11 years ago. The first Kindle was introduced 14 years ago. If you were to pick up the latest iPad or the latest Kindle and compare it to the first version, PG suggests that the first version would seem very outdated. Screen technology, interface design, size and weight have all evolved at a very rapid pace. That evolution is far from over.

As the OP implies, publishers of ebooks for children are all over the place with the technology they build into their content. PG would remind one and all that the trade publishers of books for children are, by and large, owned by the same people who own and run trade publishers focused on adults. Scholastic is the exception with both trade titles (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Goosebumps, Magic School Bus) and titles marketed through school book clubs, book fairs, etc.

PG can’t speak to Scholastic (also headquartered in New York City), but the other big trade publishers are not noted for their technology accomplishments and willingness to pay the salaries necessary to hire really good tech types.

PG’s bottom line on ebooks v. print for children is that the ebooks, including both the content and the device components, are a long way from reaching their full potential. He has nothing against printed books for either children or adults (and still owns a lot of printed books for children and adults, some of which are regularly used by various offspring), but he wouldn’t bet against ebooks for children over the long run.

How Crying on TikTok Sells Books

From The New York Times:

“We Were Liars” came out in 2014, so when the book’s author, E. Lockhart, saw that it was back on the best-seller list last summer, she was delighted. And confused.

“I had no idea what the hell was happening,” she said.

Lockhart’s children filled her in: It was because of TikTok.

An app known for serving up short videos on everything from dance moves to fashion tips, cooking tutorials and funny skits, TikTok is not an obvious destination for book buzz. But videos made mostly by women in their teens and 20s have come to dominate a growing niche under the hashtag #BookTok, where users recommend books, record time lapses of themselves reading, or sob openly into the camera after an emotionally crushing ending.

These videos are starting to sell a lot of books, and many of the creators are just as surprised as everyone else.

. . . .

“I want people to feel what I feel,” said Mireille Lee, 15, who started @alifeofliterature in February with her sister, Elodie, 13, and now has nearly 200,000 followers. “At school, people don’t really acknowledge books, which is really annoying.”

. . . .

Many Barnes & Noble locations around the United States have set up BookTok tables displaying titles like “They Both Die at the End,” “The Cruel Prince,” “A Little Life” and others that have gone viral. There is no corresponding Instagram or Twitter table, however, because no other social-media platform seems to move copies the way TikTok does.

“These creators are unafraid to be open and emotional about the books that make them cry and sob or scream or become so angry they throw it across the room, and it becomes this very emotional 45-second video that people immediately connect with,” said Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble. “We haven’t seen these types of crazy sales — I mean tens of thousands of copies a month — with other social media formats.”

The Lee sisters, who live in Brighton, England, started making BookTok videos while bored at home during the pandemic. Many of their posts feel like tiny movie trailers, where pictures flash across the screen to a moody soundtrack.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Finland’s 2020: Audiobook Sales Doubled, Ebooks Up 84 Percent

From Publishing Perspectives:

As we continue to receive assessments from various international markets of coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic impact in 2020, Tiia Strandén at the Finnish Literature Exchange, FILI,  has provided Publishing Perspectives with a report from the Finnish book market.

. . . .

“While sales of printed books increased by just 2 percent” in Finland, the report tells us, “demand for audiobooks and ebooks was far greater, leading to an overall increase in trade book sales of 12 percent over 2019 figures.”

Audiobooks did particularly well, even over what’s described as strong growth for several years prior to the pathogen’s outbreaks.

In 2020, audiobook sales in Finland “more than doubled,” the report says. “While many Finns commuted less than before as they switched to working from home, they also focused on exercise and spending time outdoors, which provided more opportunities to listen to audiobooks,” per the report’s text. This brought audio up to “nearly a fifth of trade book sales” last year.

What the FILI information says was “most surprising of all in 2020” was a “whopping 84-percent increase in ebook sales. “Ebooks made up only a small share of the total market,” the report clarifies, and a smaller share than audiobooks, “but that growth far outstripped their previous year-over-year increase of 32 percent.”

One dynamic behind the advances in ebooks in Finland is thought to have been an expansion of subscription book and audio services. And the entry point—not surprisingly in the audio-friendly Nordic markets—was on the audio side. “While people usually sign up for these services in order to access audiobooks,” the report points out, “ebook libraries are included for the same fee. The ease of swapping between audiobooks and ebooks helps to diversify usage across formats.”

All of this added up to something of a leveling effect between fiction and nonfiction. “Among printed books,” the report says, “nonfiction represents a larger segment than fiction. In audio and ebook formats, however, fiction is bigger, and the gap grew even further in 2020, as sales of fiction ebooks and audiobooks increased more than sales of nonfiction in the same formats.

“Sales of printed fiction titles increased by 11 percent last year, while sales of printed nonfiction decreased by 6 percent.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

50-Cent Words Are No Bargain

From The Wall Street Journal:

Those of us who take an interest in changes in contemporary language are in a condition not unlike that of the village idiot of Frampol, a shtetl in Poland. He was assigned the job of waiting at the gates for the Messiah and was told: The pay is low but the work is steady.

Thus with three minutes left in a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, LeBron James hits a 3-pointer, causing the announcer to note that “the score is 89-85, a 4-point differential.” But is it a “differential”? Cars have differentials and some equations are differentials, but do basketball or other sports scores have differentials? Why not instead use the simple word “difference?” What attracts this announcer, and lots of other sports announcers, to the word “differential”?

The same thing, I suppose, that attracts television news anchors and newspaper journalists to the word “replicate,” when duplicate or copy will do nicely. The same people are also likely to reach for replicate’s hazy neighbor “recalibrate,” when what they have in mind is usually nothing more than “reconsider.” While I’m at it, when did the word “multiple” come to replace the simpler words “several” or “many”? Perhaps, my guess is, around the time that “definitively,” a word meaning decisively and authoritatively, was mistakenly thought to be merely a more emphatic version of “definitely.”

Another semantic casualty is the useful word “disinterested,” meaning impartial, above faction, fair-minded—long confused with “uninterested.” The loss here, though not intentional, is serious. With the true meaning of the word disinterested lost, so is the worthy ideal, and soon, too, those rare men and women who wish to embody it.

H.L. Mencken mocked Warren Harding for promising a return to “normalcy,” when normal or normality would have worked, but apparently more than mockery was needed to put this awkwardly pretentious word out of use. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought “normalcy” back with a relentlessness that ought to put a cringe on the face of the whole human race.

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

A Cautionary Tale (Hollywood Part 1)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusc h:

For the sake of this particular little series, assume this: When I say “Hollywood,” I mean the movie/TV industry, and I am most likely talking about the biggest one still, the one based in the U.S.

. . . .

Let’s Start With Copyright—Again

Once upon a time in a land faraway, an insurance salesman finished writing a novel. He had graduated from a private college with a degree in English, tried to enlist in wartime and was unable to, because he was too nearsighted—although he did manage to spend his college years in the R.O.T.C. He was a military junkie who read technical manuals for fun.

The novel he had finished was an overly long, much too technical, somewhat dull “thriller” with an everyman hero. “What’s wrong with a hero who’s married, loves his wife and plays with his kids?” the author asked on the cusp of fame. “That’s what most people are.” (Put a pin in that. We’ll come back to it later.)

He couldn’t sell the novel to any of the big players in fiction, or even to any of the small players. At that point in his life, he was a failed novelist, and he did what most failed novelists do: He gave up.

But he gave up aggressively. (He was an aggressive asshole, who only got worse later in life.) Instead of putting his overly long, much too technical, somewhat dull “thriller” into a box under his bed, he mailed it to a tiny nonfiction press. The editor there saw something in it, convinced her boss to buy the novel, if the author cut 100 pages out of it.

The author did. But he still didn’t believe in the book. Or maybe, he was just too damn dumb to know better. I think he was, as most authors are, that horrid mix of ego and insecurity and the insecurity won here. (Ego would win later on.) He sold all rights to the book to the technical press for a pittance.

Then he went back to writing, hoping he would have better luck.

Well, he did have better luck. The press he sold the book to was a government-owned nonprofit, and they routinely sent their books to the White House. The president, a conservative back in the days when conservative politicians actually read, found the book and, when a reporter asked him what he was reading, held the book up and said that the book was his “kind of yarn.”

That was all it took. The book sold millions of copies. It sold to the movies immediately thereafter and actually got made into a good movie with big stars.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Our damn dumb protagonist (we can’t call this author a hero. Trust me) wrote and sold more books related to the first book. The same character, actions that take place both before and after the first book—a sequel in most meanings of the word, according to the non-profit publisher. The non-profit publisher, who had already profited on their investment when they sold paperback rights to a Big New York publisher, contacted said Big New York Publisher about this sequel thing. Because, you see, the damn dumb writer had sold his next few books to that Big New York Publisher, not realizing, apparently that he had written sequels. (Sigh.)

Suddenly, everyone was in a suit with everyone else about who owned the material and who had the right to license the books and produce them and who had the right to license any part of these works to Hollywood.

. . . .

This is the turning point moment. That moment in all good stories where the protagonist (dumb or not) comes to an all-important fork in the road. You’d think this author would have learned that he needed to understand copyright and deal making and all of that stuff. Instead, he blames his error on the fact that he had no agent or lawyer to guide him.

The problem with agents is that they are often as clueless as our damn dumb protagonist. The problem with some lawyers is that they make more money in a case that drags out in court than one that can be settled quickly.

Back then, before the first movie came out, before it became clear just how much money this particular project with the Presidential Gold Seal of Approval could make over decades, there was an opportunity to settle everything.

The technical press had been cooperating. After all, they owned all rights. They wanted “a little bit of compensation.” Compensation they were entitled to, by the way. They could have been draconian about all of this. If they had been a Big New York Publisher, they would have been draconian and the author would have been screwed.

But the non-profit publisher and the writer had a deal to settle this amicably. Most likely, the non-profit would get a percentage, and our damn dumb protagonist would retain the opportunity to write and sell the sequels to the Presidential Gold Seal of Approval book. Some money—maybe a lot of money—would have gone to the non-profit press, but, honestly, in this kind of publishing and licensing movie and TV rights, there’s more than enough money to go around.

The author’s lawyer balked. The deal went into arbitration and (spoiler alert) got settled weirdly and without any clarity. The author, a well known jerk, did not make any friends (even pictures of him with the movie stars show him smiling and the stars as far from him as possible) and he got more and more egotistical over time.

The author incorporated, and did some business things to mitigate his tax burden, things that involved his then-wife. Yep, then-wife. Whoops. Because there was a divorce, and more problems and another wife, and five children, and movies, TV, more books, and lots and lots of business weirdness.

Then our damn dumb author dies. And the second wife wants everything, so she sues. Because those deals, made in the murky beginning before the first movie came out, left a lot of questions unanswered. She wanted answers—and she wanted those answers to come with money. As in, all of the money. (Or 80% of it, with the remaining 20% going to the kids.)

Here’s my favorite part. Her suit and the vehemence with which everything gets argued encourages the judge to put all of the money the properties earn into escrow, until the dispute is settled.

In other words, no one gets any money at all.

. . . .

Eagle eyes now know who I’m discussing. This is the case of Tom Clancy. I’ve oversimplified much of it, because this case also involves the 35-year rule (look it up), the statute of limitations, arcane business law, arbitration, and oh, so much more.

But it all stems from complete and utter ignorance. In the beginning, the ignorance was the ignorance of a typical writer. Writers don’t need to know business (they think) or copyright (they think) or marketing or anything else. They’ll have people to take care of that.

Clancy had no people at first. Then he hired people known to have sticky fingers. Or, at least, people known to make deals that benefited themselves as much or more than the client.

. . . .

When there was a fork in the road, Clancy always took the road that led to disaster, not the road that would clarify. His ego, never small, got in the way once Ronald Reagan gave him the Presidential Gold Seal of Approval. Every thing in this legal mess can be brought directly on Clancy’s ignorance and his unwillingness to bend.

But let’s not ignore the Naval Institute Press, which initially bought the book. They too seemed to be ignorant of a few things.

. . . .

[W]henever Hollywood makes a contract, especially when the publishers and authors involved were ignorant of the ways of movie powerbrokers, Hollywood takes everything. They want movie rights—sure—but literary rights too, and usually merchandising rights (thanks, George Lucas [insert sarcasm emoji]) and anything else their sharks…um, lawyers…can think of.

. . . .

All of this—decades of legal wrangling, an estate tied up in litigation for eight years now—could have been avoided if Clancy had understood copyright in the first place.

. . . .

[A]s I’ve often said, what hurts writers the most is success, not failure. Failure is something you can move on from.

Success can destroy a writer, a career, and an entire family. (You think Clancy’s family is one big happy huggy group? Yep, me neither.) When you negotiate a contract, you should negotiate for success, not for failure. (Although you should keep an eye on that failure side of thing.)

There’s so much money in successful publishing that leeches moved into this business a hundred years ago. Leeches can siphon funds away from bestselling writers and the writers don’t even notice. Clancy made millions on his books. I’ll wager, without looking at any numbers, that at least one of his agents (a Jabba The Hut character whom I’d met and run from) made more.

know that Clancy’s New York publishers made a boatload more money than Clancy ever did. That’s due to traditional publishing contracts. The traditional publisher makes 80-90% on the book; the writer makes 10-20%.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Nicole for the tip.

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.

PG says that you definitely want to click through on the link to Kris’ post to read the whole thing. PG has a tendency to go on rants, but he is a small-timer compared with Kris.

PG will make a few comments.

Lawyers

Some lawyers truly are jerks and idiots. (This is one area where PG can claim more expertise than Kris.)

Yes, you do have to get through law school to be an attorney. Yes, you do have to pass the bar exam in some state to be an attorney.

These accomplishments don’t mean that you aren’t an idiot.

Anyone who has graduated from college knows some idiots who managed to accomplish the same thing. Law school is a bit different than college, but idiots can graduate. If you can get through law school, you can pass the bar. The bar exam is like a law school exam.

Just like graduating from a fancy college or university doesn’t guarantee that you’re not an idiot, graduating from a fancy law school doesn’t guarantee that you’re not an idiot. (Indeed, PG has known more than a few graduates from fancy educational institutions who wander into idiocy precisely because they think they’re smarter than anybody else.)

However.

If a lawyer, even a very good lawyer, has a client who is an idiot, the result is not likely to be good.

Good lawyers try to help clients avoid making dumb mistakes, but ultimately, the client is the boss.

If the lawyer strongly recommends red and the client says blue, it’s going to be blue. The lawyer might be able to negotiate a few contract clauses that are blue with a tinge of red, but the lawyer is obligated to go blue if that’s what the client tells the lawyer to do.

The lawyer can withdraw from representing an idiot (or crazy or evil) client and PG has done that on occasion in the past.

(Side Note you can skip if it’s not interesting – If a client is charged with a crime, it may be very difficult for a lawyer to withdraw from representing a crazy or evil client (particularly if a judge has assigned the lawyer to represent that client). Under the US Constitution, crazy and/or evil criminals are entitled to competent legal representation at trial and their lawyers have an ethical obligation to avoid communicating the jury by words, acts, omissions, disgusted looks, etc., that the client is guilty as hell. In a former life, PG found himself in that position a couple of times and you just (figuratively) hold your nose, push through, try to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, work to make shady witnesses testifying against your client look as shady as they really are and hope the client’s breath doesn’t smell too bad when he/she whispers to you in court.)

Since PG doesn’t know anyone who represented Tom Clancy, he’s not in a position to say whether they were good lawyers representing an egocentric idiot or they were idiot lawyers representing an idiot author.

Authors

Whether you like it or not, if you are an author who cares about getting paid for your work, you’re also a businessperson. If you’re a brilliant, superbly-talented author who cares about getting paid for your work, you don’t get a pass. You’re still a businessperson.

If you have the money to deal with smart, talented and ethical professionals, you can get help with the business side of writing. However, despite having those people helping you, you’re still in charge of your writing business.

Authors who “just want to write” are prime targets for crooks and shysters. They may luck out and hire only honest, honorable and competent people who stay that way for the author’s entire career and thereafter (if the author cares about their heirs continuing to reap the fruits of the author’s labors), but most successful self-employed people that PG knows, including authors and non-authors, who have managers/employees/helpers/etc. pay ongoing attention to how their businesses are being run.

Life

Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope.

Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton: Designing the Drawing Room

Note from PG – Following are brief excerpts and a few images from a much longer online exhibition from the Yale University Library. As usual, you’ll find a link to the exhibition at the end.

PG notes that, in his opinion, the Yale exhibition is better organized and constructed than most online art/design exhibition he has seen elsewhere and is definitely worth a visit if you have any interest in Ms. Wharton or the interior and exterior architecture in which she lived and where she set many of her books.

From at Yale University Library Online Exhibitions:

One century ago, Edith Wharton (1862–1937) published The Age of Innocence, a novel that has become one of her most beloved works. Less known is her first full-length publication, an 1897 interior design treatise titled The Decoration of Houses. Wharton’s keen interest in architecture and the design of interiors and gardens remained with her throughout her career. While she published novels, stories, poems, and nonfiction, she directed the design of her homes, from her country estate The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts, to her New York City residence on Park Avenue.

Edith Wharton in 1897, the year The Decoration of Houses was published

. . . .

This exhibit focuses on Wharton’s treatment of the drawing room, known to her as a female space during a period of limiting gendered customs. In the world she describes in much of her writing, the drawing room was a specific sort of sitting room to which women would traditionally “withdraw” following dinner. The drawing room was also a space in which women could spend their days and receive guests. As such, drawing rooms provide a particularly rich context for understanding Wharton’s elite New York City society at the turn of the twentieth century and the role of women within it.

. . . .

Though written in 1920, The Age of Innocence is set in the elite New York City society of the 1870s—the world in which Wharton grew up. The novel unfolds from the point of view of Newland Archer, who is engaged to May Welland but in love with Ellen Olenska, who has escaped an unhappy marriage to a Polish count and returns to the New York City community of her youth. In her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1934), Wharton describes the writing of The Age of Innocence in the context of the extreme sense of loss she felt following World War I and the 1916 death of her dear friend and fellow writer Henry James. “Meanwhile I found a momentary escape,” she writes, “in going back to my childhood memories of a long-vanished America.”

Wharton recalls showing a passage of the manuscript to a trusted friend, Walter Berry, who responded that he enjoyed the manuscript, but that he and Wharton were “the last people left who can remember New York and Newport as they were then, and nobody else will be interested.” As proven by the novel’s great success, Berry’s prediction did not come true.

Wharton is best known as a writer of fiction. But her entrance into the world of writing occurred with the publication of The Decoration of Houses in 1897. Together with Ogden Codman, Jr., Wharton composed this treatise on interior design—her first full-length book.

Wharton and Codman had become friends when she asked him to help her decorate and make alterations to the house that she and her husband had recently purchased. In her autobiography, Wharton notes the unconventionality of such a choice. She writes that “the architects of that day looked down on house-decoration as a branch of dress-making, and left the field to the upholsterers, who crammed every room with curtains, lambrequins, jardinières of artificial plants, wobbly velvet-covered tables littered with silver gew-gaws, and festoons of lace on mantelpieces and dressing-tables.”

Wharton and Codman sought a more straightforward aesthetic for their interiors. They believed that “interior decoration should be simple and architectural.” Simplicity was crucial, in response to rooms cluttered with objects like those they describe in the colorful list quoted above. Wharton and Codman also stressed the importance of a close relationship between architecture and interior design. Rather than remaining completely separate from architecture, interiors should reference the exteriors of buildings and the structures of spaces.

With the principle of simple and architecturally informed interior design, Wharton and Codman set off to write. The only problem: Wharton found that she “literally could not write in simple and precise English the ideas which seemed so clear in [her] mind.” She eventually overcame the challenge, and The Decoration of Houses met with great success—she later referred to this publication as “a touchstone of taste.”

After the publication of The Decoration of Houses, Wharton received a message from a friend complimenting her work. Wharton responded in the letter below:

“…I want to tell you how much pleasure it gives me to know that you have read [The Decoration of Houses] with interest. I feared that it would seem rather dry reading to those who were not especially occupied with the subject and I consider it a very gratifying evidence of success that you did not find it so.”

. . . .

The Drawing Room

Wharton and Codman discuss the drawing room in a chapter titled “The Drawing-Room, the Boudoir, and Morning-Room.” These spaces are related through their association with women in Wharton’s society, but differ in terms of the level of privacy allowed. The drawing room could be both public and private, whereas the other two rooms were more personal.

In The Decoration of Houses, Wharton establishes the foundation of her understanding of the drawing room. The chapter begins by mentioning “the ‘with-drawing-room’ of mediæval England, to which the lady and her maidens retired from the boisterous festivities of the hall.”

The aristocratic European origin that Wharton and Codman identify for the drawing room applies also to the examples, shown below, that they reference throughout the book. Following the discussion of the room’s origins, this chapter charts the development of the drawing room through later examples into two distinct forms: the salon de famille and the salon de compagnie. The former was a more private space for family members and close acquaintances to gather in, whereas the latter was a more public, ceremonial space. Regardless of the type of drawing room, Wharton and Codman emphasize that comfortable, timeless furniture best suits this frequently occupied space.

The drawing room is often discussed as a foil for the library: while the former was considered a women’s space in Wharton’s world, the latter was associated with men. The way that people in Wharton’s society used and moved through these spaces plays out in much of Wharton’s fiction, including The Age of Innocence.

Link to much more at Yale University Library Online Exhibitions

Finding Your Way to the End

From Jane Friedman:

“One of the things I love most about this life is that there’s no final goodbye. You know, I’ve met hundreds of people out here and I don’t ever say a final goodbye.”

—Bob Wells in Nomadland

Sound familiar? The quote is from the promotional campaign for the new film, Nomadland. Winner of the 2021 Golden Globe for Best Picture Drama, Nomadland documents the itinerant lifestyle of thousands of older Americans who refer to themselves as “vandwellers.” Bob Wells serves as a shaman of sorts to these wanderers. Rather than say goodbye, possibly for good, Wells prefers an upbeat, “See you down the road!“

Given that many of us sidestep endings in real life, it should not be surprising that writers have trouble concluding book projects. If you are one of those struggling to find an ending for your novel, your novella, or your memoir, take a deep breath then take heart. Concluding takes a lot out of us. Even happy endings are hard to eke out.

I love what Jane Smiley says about finishing the rough draft of a novel in her excellent tome, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel:

…To write through to the end of the rough draft, in spite of time constraints, second thoughts, self-doubts, and judgments of all kinds, is an act of faith that is invariably rewarded—the rough draft of a novel is the absolute paradigm of something that comes from nothing.

Use a placeholder for your ending

So, as you approach the end, try not to worry about finding finality. Don’t press for profundity or go back to the beginning and start revising. Don’t leave the ending for later. Instead, settle for a placeholder this time around.

What’s a placeholder? Just what it sounds like: someone or something that takes up space until Mr. Right comes along. (Yes, it’s true. Occasionally, the placeholder morphs into Mr. Right. And if that’s the case for you, count yourself as one of the lucky ones.)

For now, aim for an okay ending. A placeholder will help you see the outlines of your story, and it will give you bragging rights: “I finished my draft!” Because you’re going to be revising, right? Of course, you are. So, trust that when you reach the end again, you will be older, more mature, and ever-so-much-more knowledgeable. Then, you can aim for a satisfying ending but not a perfect one. In truth, there is no such thing as perfect. Perfect is an absolute, like unique. Trying to be unique or perfect is the ruination of anything good. As Churchill said, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.“

Pleasing yourself is paramount

What’s okay or good enough, then? Something that serves the story and, secondarily, pleases you as a reader. Pleasing yourself is paramount because in doing so, you are likely to interest a select group of others, those whose reading preferences are like yours. And, finally, writing is something you do for one person. Most often, that person is yourself. John Steinbeck said it this way:

Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike in the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

At 55, Debut Author Angeline Boulley Finds Stardom With ‘Firekeeper’s Daughter’

From The Wall Street Journal:

ast century: Angeline Boulley was a young mother of three.

Last decade: She was a bureaucrat wondering if she might also be a writer.

Last year: She was a novice finishing a title that had sold in a seven-figure two-book deal.

And last week, she was a debut author with the arrival of “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” her splashy young-adult thriller. Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company optioned the title for a Netflix series and Reese Witherspoon picked it for her book club. “Dear Aspiring Writer: My great idea came at 18,” Ms. Boulley recently tweeted. “I’m 55. #NeverGiveUp.”

It’s the kind of first-time stardom that is unlikely for most writers in midlife. “There is this idea that you have to publish when you’re in your 20s or 30s and beyond that, if it hasn’t happened for you, then it’s never going to,” said Tiffany Liao, Ms. Boulley’s editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

“I did not consider myself a writer,” said Ms. Boulley, whose book follows an 18-year-old Native American woman swept up in an investigation of a dangerous new drug threatening her community. “I would go through times where I wasn’t writing for a few months or even a year, but the story would keep coming back to me.”

. . . .

Now Ms. Boulley joins a small club of later-in-life literary ingénues.

Sue Monk Kidd was 53 when she launched her first novel “The Secret Life of Bees,” a bestseller and later a movie starring Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney was 55 for her hit debut “The Nest,” about grown siblings in a dysfunctional family. “Good Company,” her new novel about an upended marriage, comes out next month.

Nancy Pearl was 72 for the arrival of “George and Lizzie,” which includes a teenage character who sleeps with the whole high-school football team. Anne Youngson was 70 for “Meet Me at the Museum,” an epistolary love story between elderly strangers—and a left turn after her career running new vehicle development projects at Land Rover.

“My first book came out when I was a couple of months short of being able to enroll in Medicare,” said Ellen Meeropol, 75, describing her 2011 debut novel “House Arrest.”

Ms. Boulley, who is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, wanted to write an “indigenous Nancy Drew.” She found her fictional sleuth in the book’s heroine, Daunis Fontaine, a high-school valedictorian turned government informant searching for drug dealers plaguing her Ojibwe tribe—another term for the Chippewa—in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Enter Jamie, a young Native American undercover agent posing as a new recruit on an elite junior league hockey team. The two pretend to be a couple, then fall for each other for real as Daunis helps Jamie connect to his lost indigenous identity.

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

Picture Books for Older Readers

From Publishing Perspectives:

In the pandemic autumn of 2020, [Claudia Zoe] Bedrick and Enchanted Lion announced Unruly, which she says is “a new imprint dedicated to making space for picture books created with older readers in mind. Innovation and genre-bending, complexity and difficult themes, philosophical ponderings and poetry have been hallmarks of Enchanted Lion from the start, but all of its titles were written as children’s literature.”

While the press remains committed to children’s literature, she says, “it still doesn’t capture the picture book’s full potential as a medium.

“Unruly titles will stand apart as visually complex works of fiction and nonfiction created for older readers.” Asked how old is “old,” she says, “Some books for readers 10 and older, others for teen and adult readers.”

There’s some evidence of this interest—can we call this a crossover title?—in Enchanted Lion’s lists. Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring, for example. It’s written by Matthew Burgess and illustrated by Josh Cochran, and on awards both as a “book for kids” (New York Public Library and the Washington Post), simply as a “picture-book biography” (Kirkus) and a “best pick of 2020” (Chicago Public Library).

And Bedrick points to a Guardian editorial from Friday (March 19) about Nobel winner Olga Tokarczuk—with whose work Publishing Perspectives’ readers are very familiar—embarking on a picture book treatment of The Lost Soul with artist Joanna Concejo. Tokarczuk says she sees the form as “able to get through to anyone—regardless of age, cultural differences or level of education.”

What Bedrick says she sees happening in “reframing the readership’s age,” is a chance for Unruly to “open up space for a more complex exploration and instantiation of the relationship between text and image, while also inviting consideration of more mature topics. And these works will push the form through hybridization of picture book, graphic novel, artist’s journal, and art book conventions, while never relinquishing narrative, however experimental.”

The first Unruly title is to appear in June, The True Story of a Mouse Who Never Asked for It, a feminist retelling of a Spanish folktale written by Ana Cristina Herreros, illustrated by Violeta Lópiz, and translated from Spanish by Chloe Garcia Roberts.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Mystery of Harriet Cole

From Atlas Obscura:

If “Harriet” could hear, she might pick up the sound of ping-pong balls skittering across a table. If she could smell, she might detect a range of lunches being reheated in a nearby microwave. If her eyes could see, she might let them wander a busted Pac-Man machine, a TV, and a campus bookstore, decorated with a swooping, celebratory paper chain, like an elementary-school version of DNA’s double helix. She might even catch a glimpse of herself in a camera lens or an observer’s glassy eyeballs. People often stop to stare.

On a sweaty Saturday, before social distancing was the law of the land, a group of visitors gathered at Drexel University’s medical campus in Northwest Philadelphia to meet “Harriet.” The preamble to this encounter was a display case holding several unusual and meticulously prepared medical specimens, long used as teaching tools. Like “Harriet,” each had been created in the late 19th century by a star anatomist, Rufus Weaver. Now, behind glass, between the cadaver lab and a bookstore, a segment of intestine and a piece of a spinal cord sit in stillness. A dissected eyeball floats ethereally in century-old liquid, its separated parts looking like a tiny jellyfish, a bit of brittle plastic, a mushroom cap.

The visitors shuffled through the door and into the otherwise empty student center. They huddled on the low-pile carpet, nondescript in the style of a suburban office park, and peered at more of Weaver’s dissection work, which occupied a glass-fronted case. They surveyed a sinewy hand, ropey and purplish. Two skulls and necks. Then, “Harriet.”

Reactions rippled.

“Oh.”

“Oh, wow.”

Quietly, “Poor Harriet.”

. . . .

“I’ve been meaning to find her,” said Malaya Fletcher, an epidemiologist in Washington, D.C., specializing in infectious disease. Fletcher remembered learning about the dissection in her high school biology class, and the story had stuck with her. “It’s just awesome,” she said. “You almost don’t believe it’s real.” The group crowded in close, lofting their cell phones above each other’s heads. They bobbed and weaved their raised hands, trying to take pictures without capturing their own flushed faces reflected in the glass.

“Harriet” is a network of fibers fastened to a black board in a case pushed up against a wall. At the top, there appears to be a brain, plump and brown, and a pair of eyes. Scan your own eyes down and you’ll encounter an intricate system of skinny, brittle cords, pulled taut and painted startlingly, artificially white. The outline is recognizably human—there’s the impression of hands and feet, the hint of a pelvis, the suggestion of a rib cage—but it is slightly fantastical, too. The way the cords loop at the hands and feet, it almost appears as if the figure has fins. Elsewhere, the fibers look shaggy, like chewed wire, as if electricity is shooting from the margins of the body.

This is a human medical specimen, in the spirit of an articulated skeleton. But unlike that familiar sight, it represents the nervous system, a part of the body’s machinery that most people have trouble even imagining. Some who stand before “Harriet” wiggle their fingers and toes, as if trying to map the fibers onto their own bodies and make the sight somehow less abstract.

Neighboring the display is a label that identifies the specimen as “Harriet Cole” and explains that she was a Black woman who worked as a maid or scrubwoman in a university laboratory at Hahnemann Medical College, died in the late 1800s, and donated her body to the medical school. Her nervous system, the story goes, was dissected by Weaver, then preserved and mounted as a teaching tool and masterpiece of medical specimen preparation.

Before the preparation wound up at this campus, more than a decade ago, it traveled to Chicago for the 1893 World’s Fair, where it won a blue ribbon. It starred in a multi-page feature in LIFE magazine and took up residence in academic textbooks. But before all of that—before the nerves were naked—the fibers animated and stimulated a body. In 2012, the university’s press office characterized the nerve donor as the school’s “longest-serving employee.”

. . . .

Researchers such as Herbison and McNaughton are neither anatomists nor ethicists: They didn’t elect to procure, dissect, and display a body, though they inherited the finished product. As caretakers of this object, they have accepted the mission of poking around in the historical record, cleaving fact from fiction, trying to piece together a fuller story of “Harriet Cole” in spite of official records that often omit women and people of color.

. . . .

Committed to resurfacing stories of women lost, warped, or overlooked in the archives, McNaughton, Herbison, and other collaborators, including medical historian Brandon Zimmerman, are trying to pin down specifics about “Harriet.” They’re wondering, more than 130 years later, how to describe the dazzling, jarring preparation, stripped of skin and pulled away from the bone. Whose body this is, and what would it mean if one of the university’s oldest fixtures never knew that she would spend her afterlife on display?

. . . .

At Hahnemann, Weaver was appointed custodian of the university’s anatomical museum in 1880, and busied himself assembling an anatomical wunderkammer with no rival. Gone were papier-mâché models and “musty,” dried-out specimens. Weaver filled the light-flooded, third-floor space with hundreds of new medical displays, many of which he prepared himself. His trove included bladder calculi, sections of healthy and diseased brains, and an entire uterus, partly consumed by a tumor and opened to reveal a six-month-old fetus. The anatomist imagined these—and the museum’s hundreds of other objects—as teaching tools instead of “mere ‘curiosities,’” according to an announcement circulated in the mid-1880s. Among the assortment, there was Weaver, described in 1902 by a reporter from The North American as a “little professor” brimming with “energy, originality, and vim,” “as cheerful and bright as a May morning,” and prone to speaking of his collection of “beautiful tumor[s]” with tenderness and awe. (“Here is a lung,” the reporter quoted him saying. “Isn’t that the handsomest thing that you ever saw?”) In one 19th-century photograph, Weaver poses next to a fresh cadaver, its chest pried open, while limbs dangle around it like cuts of meat in a butcher’s shop. The anatomist’s own bearing was stick-straight—perhaps an occupational hazard of standing above so many spinal columns.

. . . .

But these guides stop well short of how Weaver pulled his masterpiece off. The earliest description of Weaver’s work on the nervous system comes courtesy of Thomas, who described the process in an 1889 edition of The Hahnemannian Monthly, the school’s journal. But Thomas’s is a hazy picture, long on the basics of dissection and short on clarity about how Weaver managed to preserve delicate nerve structures while chipping or sawing bone apart. This must have been finicky work: The spinal cord—a hardy nerve bundle—is roughly as wide as your thumb. We don’t have the complete ingredients Weaver mingled in his preservatives, a full inventory of the tools he enlisted, or a meticulous record of which parts of the process proved surprisingly straightforward or especially thorny or vexing. We don’t have a precise timeline, either. As Thomas tells it, dissection began on April 9 and concluded by June, with mounting complete by September; years later, van Baun reported that the dissection alone took nearly seven months, and then it required “seventy days of unceasing, laborious, skilled work and supreme patience to get the specimen on the board,” for a total of “nine months of gruelling [sic] contest.”

Weaver is said to have spent up to 10 hours a day in his humid office, and reportedly spent two weeks just tussling with the bottom of the skull. Once “all the little branching strands … were laid bare,” The North American noted, Weaver attempted to keep them supple by swaddling them in alcohol-soaked gauze or wads of cotton, which needed frequent changing, and he covered the flimsy strands with rubber. He retrieved nearly everything but sacrificed the intercostal nerves, which run along the ribs and proved too difficult to wrangle. Weaver reportedly excised the brain but held on to the outer membrane, called the dura mater, and plumped it up with “curled hair” stuffing, stitched it closed, and returned it to the display. To showcase the optic nerves, Weaver left the corpse’s eyes in place and distended them “with a hard injection,” Thomas wrote.

Mounting the specimen—as Weaver later recalled to The North American—was far more “wearisome and exacting” than the dissection itself. Weaver apparently tacked the nerves in place with 1,800 pins, and then fixed every filament with a coat of lead paint. (Many of those pins were later removed, Thomas wrote, once the shellacked nerves dried and held their position.) In all, Weaver reportedly spent several months laboring over the body, with a break for a summer vacation. The ultimate result, Thomas wrote, was “perfectly clean and free from all extraneous tissues and smooth as threads of silk.”

. . . .

Some laypeople argued that a living patient was better off being treated by someone who had seen the body’s inner contents up close. In 1882, The Christian Recorder—the newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church—endorsed dissection, suggesting that it would be foolish for anyone to seek treatment “at the hands of a man who had not gone through the mysteries of the dissecting room.” Still, even those who supported the notion of dissection typically did not want to entertain the thought of it happening to anyone they loved. The anonymous author of that article in The Christian Recorder skewered grave robbing on moral grounds and suggested that doctors be offered the bodies of executed murderers and anyone who died by suicide.

The few people who expressly permitted, or even beseeched, doctors to cut into them after death tended overwhelmingly to be white, wealthy, and accomplished men. By 1889, the new American Anthropometric Society, headquartered in Philadelphia, began compiling the brains of physicians and public intellectuals who embraced the ideas of phrenology, which correlated intellectual feats with cranial attributes. These donors were keen to join the organization’s “brain club” as a way to further the field while also valorizing themselves.

And in the medical realm, consent was slippery. William Osler, a founding professor of Johns Hopkins Hospital, was known to solicit family approval before giving cadavers to his students—but he was also famously dogged in his pursuit of that permission, and in a 2018 article in the journal Clinical Anatomy, Wright, the University of Calgary pathologist, notes that “autopsy consent and organ retention abuse was not uncommon in late-19th century Philadelphia.” In a 2007 Academic Medicine article about the uptick in body bequeathal in 20th-century America, Ann Garment, then a medical student at New York University, and three coauthors note that turn-of-the-century body donation was uncommon enough to make the news when it happened. The New York Times picked up the tale of Thomas Orne, a wealthy Maryland horse dealer who pledged his body to Johns Hopkins in 1899. In 1912, 200 New York City physicians also vowed to donate their bodies for dissection in an effort to erode the stigma around it.

. . . .

“I am aware that there have been men, [the philosopher Jeremy] Bentham for instance, who have voluntarily willed their bodies to be dissected, but they have been extremely few,” Sozinsky recounted in 1879. Opting in was far from commonplace. “The ‘Harriet Cole’ story, if correct, is likely very unusual,” Wright notes. If a flesh-and-blood Black woman named Harriet Cole consented to her own dissection more than 130 years ago, she would have had very little company.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

Weaver, photographed with “Harriet” in 1918. COURTESY LEGACY CENTER ARCHIVES, DREXEL UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF MEDICINE, PHILADELPHIA.

Light Blogging

PG apologizes for failing to give notice that today would be a light blogging day.

All is well at Casa PG, just some things that took PG away from the power center of TPV.

UK watchdog investigates Penguin owner’s Simon & Schuster takeover

From The Guardian:

The UK competition watchdog has launched an investigation into Penguin Random House’s $2bn (£1.45bn) takeover of Simon & Schuster, a deal rivals have warned will create a “behemoth of books” with too much power in the global publishing industry.

The deal would bring together a who’s who of starry authors from Dan Brown, Hillary Clinton and Stephen King to Barack Obama, Bob Woodward and John Grisham. An equally impressive combined back catalogue spans titles and authors including Gone With the Wind, Catch-22 and the works of Ernest Hemingway.

On Monday, the Competition and Markets Authority said it was considering whether the deal, which cements PRH’s position as the world’s biggest book publisher, would result in a “substantial lessening of competition within any market or markets in the United Kingdom for goods or services”.

German media group Bertelsmann triumphed in a bidding war against rivals including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns the book publisher HarperCollins, sealing the deal less than a year after it took full control of PRH.

The News Corp chief executive, Robert Thomson, subsequently said the deal showed “anti-market logic” and would lead to an anti-competitive “behemoth of books” that would control one-third of the US book market. Bertelsmann has said the merged entity would have a US market share of less than 20%, making the deal clearly “approvable”.

. . . .

In the US, the Authors Guild and the National Writers Union, along with four other writers’ groups and the nonprofit Open Markets Institute, sent a letter in January urging the Department of Justice to block the deal.

. . . .

Concerns raised include that the scale of Bertelsmann’s book empire would be such that it could gazump rivals in deals to secure prime book rights. Shrinking the amount of competition in the market, reducing the global “big five” book publishers to four, could also mean that smaller writers will have fewer imprints to pitch to and bid for their work. On the high street, Bertelsmann will have more muscle to negotiate terms with book sellers.

“The deal will make Penguin Random House the biggest publisher by quite a long way, and it already is the biggest,” said Nicola Solomon, the chief executive of the Society of Authors. “We have nothing against the practices of either company but combined there is that potential for market dominance. Our concern is just that it isn’t in anyone’s interest to have someone in a monopoly position.”

Simon & Schuster publishes about 2,000 books a year, on top of a catalogue of 35,000 titles, and employs about 1,350 staff. Penguin Random House publishes 15,000 titles a year, and has a workforce of about 10,000 people globally.

As with many areas disrupted by the rise of Silicon Valley giants, global consolidation has been a hallmark of the industry in recent years. In the era of Amazon, which dominates ebook, audio book and print sales, as well as the growth of self-publishing, the major players have sought scale to drive cost efficiencies and profits. In an interview last year Thomas Rabe, the chief executive of Bertelsmann, said that swallowing S&S would not change the fundamental power dynamic of Amazon’s dominance of the market. “We need them more than they need us,” he said. “And the transaction doesn’t change that.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to C.E. for the tip.

One question PG didn’t see discussed in the OP is, “Who’s smarter, the seller or the buyer?”

Independent bookstore owners look back at a year spent trying to stay afloat. Not all of them succeeded.

From The Washington Post:

Some independent bookstores prospered during year one of the coronavirus pandemic — their stories silver linings that pop against so much darkness. Others decided to call it a day. And for others yet, it’s too soon to predict which way the plot might twist.

The Washington Post talked to the owners of six indies about how they weathered the year. What follows is an oral history of these shops’ highs and lows as the pandemic knocked life and business upside down.

March

Emily Powell, owner of Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore.: One of the first things to happen in Portland was that the public libraries closed down, so more people came into our stores than we normally would have seen. On March 15, we reached a tipping point. The store opens at 9 a.m., and by 10 we said, “We need to close. Everybody needs to leave.”

. . . .

Michael Fusco-Straub, who runs Books Are Magic in Brooklyn with his wife, novelist Emma Straub: The week before the shutdown was a really weird week for us, because we had these two giant off-site events. One had around 800 people, and the other had 500, and it was nerve-racking. Within a couple days, we had turned on a dime and basically became a fulfillment center for online orders.

Malik Muhammad, who runs Malik Books in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles with his wife, April: For us, it was devastating, because we got a memo that said, “The mall is gonna be shut down, and you have 24 hours to gather everything you need.” And that was going to be the only time you were able to have access to your business. All our inventory was locked up in the mall. It was horrifying. We in the underserved community, we don’t have months of resources sitting around, like savings and things like that.

. . . .

April and May

Julie Beddingfield, the owner of Inkwood Books in Haddonfield, N.J.: In November 2019, we had signed a lease to move into a new, bigger location so that we could expand everything we were doing. Once the pandemic started, I had to decide: Am I moving or not moving? And I’m looking at my husband like, I don’t know what to do. If we move, what if we don’t get to reopen? What if we shut down? And he said, “If you think you want to be there in a year, then just do it.”

. . . .

Janet Berns, who owns the Book Nook in Monroe, Mich.: I work the store mostly by myself. We’re really small. You look at some local chain that has four or five big stores, and you say that’s an independent bookstore — no, no, no. I’m an independent bookstore. It’s just me. There’s an alley that runs behind the building, so I said, okay, this is going to be our curbside. You’re going to run through the alley, give me a call and we’ll come running out. I got my steps in on my Fitbit, running back and forth.

. . . .

June through August

Ramunda Young: Throughout the climax of emotional events that were happening across the nation, there was this almost immediate outpouring of customers — White customers, to be frank — looking for books that pull back the veil on racism. There was a gentleman on social media who came out and said, “If you’re gonna go and look for Black books, don’t go just anywhere. Go to a Black bookstore.” And people did. If you had a website that was functioning and easy to use, people were coming from all across the nation.

. . . .

Powell: The country had George Floyd, and the social justice movement that arose in the wake of that, and then we had huge wildfires in Oregon in August. Our operations were down for the better part of a week because people couldn’t leave their homes. It was very intense smoke. I mean, it was really awful. I continue to feel at this point in this whole ordeal that every six to 10 weeks, something else happens. I’d give my left arm for any kind of consistency or predictability to our work.

Ramunda Young: The biggest thing that was out of our control was the book industry. There was a paper shortage, and some of the printers were acting up. So we had all these customers saying, “I want these books.” And now we couldn’t fulfill the orders. And it wasn’t a MahoganyBooks thing; it was an industry thing. So the tenor kind of switched from, “I want to learn and educate myself about White privilege” to, “I’ve been looking for my book forever. Where is it? Give me my refund.”

. . . .

September through December

Beddingfield: We allow 10 people in the store at a time, and that includes us. We’re just constantly counting people. The holiday season was insanity. I have never worked as hard in my entire life, and I was an attorney for 12 years. We had lines down the street, and at one point the people at the coffee shop next door were like, “Is there a rock star in there?” So I hired a bouncer — I call her the bookstore bouncer. She worked on Fridays and Saturdays, sitting at the door and counting people.

. . . .

Muhammad: I was already in debt, I couldn’t pay my debt, and I had to go in debt even further to put the store in a position where we could continue in the midst of this pandemic. It was a leap of faith. We’ve been biting our nails.

. . . .

Looking back, and forward

Fusco-Straub: It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It was backbreaking. I was gone from the house for 10 hours a day, and most days I was lucky if I walked in the door to say good night to [my kids]. The good thing is that we learned so much that the store right now, as a whole, runs better than it ever would have if we hadn’t gone through it. When things get back to normal, I think it’s going to be operating on a level I never even thought could exist.

. . . .

Ramunda Young: It was hectic. It was tiresome. It was draining. It was exhausting. But, man, it was glorious. There’s a lot of pride and fulfillment. Going through a pandemic allowed us to reach our goal — to get Black books into people’s hands, no matter where they live — to a level we had not anticipated, and it was a gift.

Beddingfield: I had many moments of just losing it, and I could do that because I was there by myself. I could swear, I could curl up in the fetal position and cry. I was with my books, and they don’t judge. Still, at the end of the day, you run these reports and look at how many books you sold. And as a business owner, you’re like, “Oh, great sales.” But as a human, you go, “That’s how many books we put out there in the world.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

The Preposition “Amid”

From Daily Writing Tips:

This post was prompted by a headline in the Washington Post:

US deports former Nazi guard whose wartime role was noted on card found amid sunken ship

The phrase “amid sunken ship” struck me as peculiar usage—not because an article was missing— it is a headline, after all—but because I couldn’t understand why the headline-writer didn’t choose to use the simpler preposition, in.

Nothing in the article below the headline specified where in the ship the card was found. I saw nothing to indicate that the card had been found amidships, that is, “in the middle of a ship.”

Amid has had a very long run in English. It descends from Old English on middan, “in the middle of.” Its current uptick in newspaper headlines is owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The word soared in use at the end of February 2020, when journalists made it the preposition of choice to use with the pandemic and matters relating to it. Previously more poetic than workaday, the word began to figure in numerous Google searches, spiking on March 1, 2020.

Now firmly established in the vocabulary of bad things happening, amid, plus a noun that denotes unpleasant things or circumstances, brings up millions of hits in a Google search:

amid the pandemic—about 294,000,000 results
amid lockdowns—about 21,300,000 results
amid virus—about 223,000,000 results
amid false claims— About 105,000,000 results
amid fears of more— About 101,000,000 results

The OED offers four definitions of amid as a preposition.

1. In the middle or center of. Originally with a genitive. Now only poetic.
Ex. “And all amid them [other trees] stood the Tree of Life.” Milton, Paradise Lost.

2. Of two things: Between. Obsolete
Ex. Leste heo thes deofles quarreaus habbe amidden then eien
Lest she have the devil’s arrows between her eyes. Ancrene Riwle.

3. More loosely, near the middle of a place, surrounded on all sides by objects. Chiefly poetic.

. . . .

4. In relation to the circumstances which surround an action.
a. with singular noun, (indicating state or condition).
Ex. My spirit sleeps amid the calm.

b. with plural noun (indicating actions or events).
Ex. Amid general shouts of dissent.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

How To Write A Cozy Mystery

From The Creative Penn:

Excerpts from an interview with cozy mystery author Debbie Young:

Debbie: That’s the way to be, isn’t it, especially at the moment? You want to be upbeat and look for the bright side of things. Definitely the ‘glass half full’ person.

I’ve always been quite jolly and upbeat and cheerful, and I like reading happy books with happy endings. They have to be convincing happy endings, not just sort of neat and happy for the sake of it. So, it was fairly natural for me to go into writing upbeat fiction.

I’m also ever so suggestible. I scare very easily, have nightmares at scary things on the telly. I’ve got a teenaged daughter, and for some years now we’ve had role reversal, where she’s told me when to look away from the screen so I don’t get frightened, or get too sad. And, I like cheerful things.

I’ve always loved writing, since I was a child. Spent a career in journalism and PR, writing business-y things. And when I decided, some time ago, to start focusing more on writing fiction and writing what I’d really wanted to write when I grew up, I started writing short stories, and found myself writing mostly humorous ones, funny ones. I do like a laugh. I like a joke. I like jolly things. I’m interested in eccentric and unusual characters, as well.

As I built up my confidence, and competence, I suppose, as well, in writing funny short stories, I decided that I really wanted to move onto novels. And, because I’ve always loved upbeat, traditional mysteries, which I guess you would call cozy mysteries now, the Agatha Christie kind.

Cozy mysteries is more of a newcomer as a category, compared to the golden age of mysteries, when my heroes, like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham were writing. So, it was quite natural for me to sort of go in that direction.

Also, this is about, 10 or 11 years ago I was deciding what I should be writing long term, and at that point, I had lived in my little Cotswold village for 20 years. I’ve now lived here over 30 years. Been part of village life, really from day one.

I’ve served on just about every committee in the village. My daughter’s been through the village school. I’m now in the church choir. I’ve joined the bell ringers. Been on the village show committee, all this sort of this thing.

So, there’s endless amounts of material there, but also, I love community life. I love this village life. Having grown up in a London suburb, where you didn’t know all your neighbors, you didn’t speak to all your neighbors, here, where everybody knows everybody else, it’s a lovely way to live. It suits me. It wouldn’t suit everybody, but it suits me very well. And, I wanted to celebrate that in my fiction.

We’ve never had any murders here…we have the odd mystery, but no murders. I’ve been found out. So, it was natural that I choose that setting for my first series of novels, which are the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries. Writing about somewhere that you know very well, that you’re very fond of, and that you like very much, I think makes the whole thing more enjoyable and easier. And, I think it should be enjoyable.

When I came to diversify into a second series, which is set in the same parish as the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, but just up the road in a private girls’ boarding school, quite an eccentric boarding school, I drew on the 13 years’ experience I had working in the offices of a girls’ boarding school. So, that was another community that I knew very well.

Now, with both of these kinds of communities, with both the village and with the boarding school, they are classic settings, really, for a cozy mystery, and you’ve got a clearly identifiable little world of its own. So, you can do a lot of world building.

You’ve got finite borders, really, to that world, so you’ve got your cast of characters, pretty much staying put. So, there’s almost something sort of theatrical and stagey about it, you’ve got your own little world, that makes a very good setting for this kind of book.

So, I felt that I had two very good sets of experiences which would allow me to make those worlds. I’ve got another one that I’m thinking of doing later on, when I’m a bit further down the road with my second series, which will be set in the world of commerce.

I worked for PR consultancies for a few years, and they are also a very interesting setting. So, that’s another one, but that might not be quite as cozy. I haven’t quite decided.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

Men feared witches

Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.

Justice Justice Louis Brandeis, Whitney v. California, Concurring Opinion

The Freedom to Read Statement

From The American Library Association:

The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack. Private groups and public authorities in various parts of the country are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label “controversial” views, to distribute lists of “objectionable” books or authors, and to purge libraries. These actions apparently rise from a view that our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety or national security, as well as to avoid the subversion of politics and the corruption of morals. We, as individuals devoted to reading and as librarians and publishers responsible for disseminating ideas, wish to assert the public interest in the preservation of the freedom to read.

Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be “protected” against what others think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression.

These efforts at suppression are related to a larger pattern of pressures being brought against education, the press, art and images, films, broadcast media, and the Internet. The problem is not only one of actual censorship. The shadow of fear cast by these pressures leads, we suspect, to an even larger voluntary curtailment of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy or unwelcome scrutiny by government officials.

Such pressure toward conformity is perhaps natural to a time of accelerated change. And yet suppression is never more dangerous than in such a time of social tension. Freedom has given the United States the elasticity to endure strain. Freedom keeps open the path of novel and creative solutions, and enables change to come by choice. Every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of our society and leaves it the less able to deal with controversy and difference.

Now as always in our history, reading is among our greatest freedoms. The freedom to read and write is almost the only means for making generally available ideas or manners of expression that can initially command only a small audience. The written word is the natural medium for the new idea and the untried voice from which come the original contributions to social growth. It is essential to the extended discussion that serious thought requires, and to the accumulation of knowledge and ideas into organized collections.

We believe that free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture. We believe that these pressures toward conformity present the danger of limiting the range and variety of inquiry and expression on which our democracy and our culture depend. We believe that every American community must jealously guard the freedom to publish and to circulate, in order to preserve its own freedom to read. We believe that publishers and librarians have a profound responsibility to give validity to that freedom to read by making it possible for the readers to choose freely from a variety of offerings.

The freedom to read is guaranteed by the Constitution. Those with faith in free people will stand firm on these constitutional guarantees of essential rights and will exercise the responsibilities that accompany these rights.

We therefore affirm these propositions:

  1. It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority.Creative thought is by definition new, and what is new is different. The bearer of every new thought is a rebel until that idea is refined and tested. Totalitarian systems attempt to maintain themselves in power by the ruthless suppression of any concept that challenges the established orthodoxy. The power of a democratic system to adapt to change is vastly strengthened by the freedom of its citizens to choose widely from among conflicting opinions offered freely to them. To stifle every nonconformist idea at birth would mark the end of the democratic process. Furthermore, only through the constant activity of weighing and selecting can the democratic mind attain the strength demanded by times like these. We need to know not only what we believe but why we believe it.
  2. Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated.Publishers and librarians serve the educational process by helping to make available knowledge and ideas required for the growth of the mind and the increase of learning. They do not foster education by imposing as mentors the patterns of their own thought. The people should have the freedom to read and consider a broader range of ideas than those that may be held by any single librarian or publisher or government or church. It is wrong that what one can read should be confined to what another thinks proper.
  3. It is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to bar access to writings on the basis of the personal history or political affiliations of the author.No art or literature can flourish if it is to be measured by the political views or private lives of its creators. No society of free people can flourish that draws up lists of writers to whom it will not listen, whatever they may have to say.
  4. There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.To some, much of modern expression is shocking. But is not much of life itself shocking? We cut off literature at the source if we prevent writers from dealing with the stuff of life. Parents and teachers have a responsibility to prepare the young to meet the diversity of experiences in life to which they will be exposed, as they have a responsibility to help them learn to think critically for themselves. These are affirmative responsibilities, not to be discharged simply by preventing them from reading works for which they are not yet prepared. In these matters values differ, and values cannot be legislated; nor can machinery be devised that will suit the demands of one group without limiting the freedom of others.
  5. It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept the prejudgment of a label characterizing any expression or its author as subversive or dangerous.The ideal of labeling presupposes the existence of individuals or groups with wisdom to determine by authority what is good or bad for others. It presupposes that individuals must be directed in making up their minds about the ideas they examine. But Americans do not need others to do their thinking for them.
  6. It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians, as guardians of the people’s freedom to read, to contest encroachments upon that freedom by individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large; and by the government whenever it seeks to reduce or deny public access to public information.It is inevitable in the give and take of the democratic process that the political, the moral, or the aesthetic concepts of an individual or group will occasionally collide with those of another individual or group. In a free society individuals are free to determine for themselves what they wish to read, and each group is free to determine what it will recommend to its freely associated members. But no group has the right to take the law into its own hands, and to impose its own concept of politics or morality upon other members of a democratic society. Freedom is no freedom if it is accorded only to the accepted and the inoffensive. Further, democratic societies are more safe, free, and creative when the free flow of public information is not restricted by governmental prerogative or self-censorship.
  7. It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians to give full meaning to the freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality and diversity of thought and expression. By the exercise of this affirmative responsibility, they can demonstrate that the answer to a “bad” book is a good one, the answer to a “bad” idea is a good one.The freedom to read is of little consequence when the reader cannot obtain matter fit for that reader’s purpose. What is needed is not only the absence of restraint, but the positive provision of opportunity for the people to read the best that has been thought and said. Books are the major channel by which the intellectual inheritance is handed down, and the principal means of its testing and growth. The defense of the freedom to read requires of all publishers and librarians the utmost of their faculties, and deserves of all Americans the fullest of their support.

We state these propositions neither lightly nor as easy generalizations. We here stake out a lofty claim for the value of the written word. We do so because we believe that it is possessed of enormous variety and usefulness, worthy of cherishing and keeping free. We realize that the application of these propositions may mean the dissemination of ideas and manners of expression that are repugnant to many persons. We do not state these propositions in the comfortable belief that what people read is unimportant. We believe rather that what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society. Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.

Link to the rest at The American Library Association

If you are lucky enough

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

Ernest Hemingway

Beware of Books!

From Persuasion:

Literature used to be a place for transgressive ideas, a place to question taboos, and seek naked insights into humanity. It no longer is.

Critics, writers and publishers are today enforcing a new vision that treats books less as a vehicle for artistic expression than as a product to be inspected for safety and wholesomeness. In the past few years, this has only gained momentum, with much of what is written about literature, old and new, becoming a series of moral pronouncements.

The new literary moralism made early appearances in young-adult fiction, or YA. Back in 2017, the industry magazine Kirkus Reviews revoked a prestigious starred review of the YA novel American Heart after online denunciations. The chastened critic posted a revised review, now deeming it “problematic” that the author had written of a Muslim girl from the point of view of a white protagonist. Other young-adult authors have since withdrawn books from publication for the self-confessed sin of writing about marginalized characters without belonging to the same identity group. 

Perhaps it’s understandable that those in YA publishing would feel a duty of care: Children are vulnerable and unformed, and kids’ books have always been a place for didactic storytelling and safe themes. The problem is that many in the book world—often with a sincere wish to address inequality—have expanded both the notion of what is “offensive” and whose reading must be morally patrolled: It’s the adults too.

Take the reaction last year to Jeanine Cummins’ bestselling novel American Dirt, about a Mexican woman and her son who escape a cartel and find themselves among the migrants and refugees trying to reach the United States. Major publications were fulsome with praise, many suggesting that the novel’s value lay in its potential to humanize immigrants. The writer Sandra Cisneros said in a blurb, “This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas. It’s the great world novel!” Attention only increased when Oprah Winfrey announced that she would feature it in her book club.

But a scathing blog post emerged from the writer and activist Myriam Gurba: “Pendeja, You Ain’t Steinbeck: My Bronca with Fake-Ass Social Justice Literature.” Gurba reported that simply reading a publisher’s letter for American Dirt had made her so angry her “blood became carbonated.” She went on to argue that Cummins, a white American woman with some Puerto Rican background, had no business writing about a culture and identity group to which she didn’t belong.

The critical consensus soon flipped.

Already, the novelist Lauren Groff—writing in the New York Times Book Review in January 2020—seemed uneasy about her assignment. “I was sure I was the wrong person to review this book,” Groff wrote, noting that neither she nor the author were Mexican migrants. “In contemporary literary circles, there is a serious and legitimate sensitivity to people writing about heritages that are not their own because, at its worst, this practice perpetuates the evils of colonization, stealing the stories of oppressed people for the profit of the dominant.”

Some 142 writers signed an open letter imploring Winfrey to rescind her book-club selection, citing “harm this book can and will do,” arguing that it engaged in “trauma fetishization.” Apparently, the book was no longer an urgent remedy to American xenophobia. Rather, Cummins was a cultural appropriator, and her book a collection of harmful stereotypes.

. . . .

This mindset isn’t confined to writers and critics. Increasingly, literary agents and editors are nervously evaluating the kinds of authors and stories they are comfortable with, and publishers seek to protect themselves by employing “sensitivity readers,” who scour unpublished fiction for offensive themes, characterizations or language. This moral, rather than artistic, gatekeeping means that some books never even get close enough to publication to be canceled.

The writer Bruce Wagner—a successful author of numerous novels and screenplays, such as Maps to the Starssays that his editor at Counterpoint Press objected to his latest novel due to “problematic language” regarding a protagonist who weighs over 500 pounds and refers to herself as “fat.”  Wagner chose instead to publish his book, The Marvel Universe: Origin Stories, for free online. (Counterpoint did not respond to my requests for comment.)

Link to the rest at Persuasion

Reason # (PG lost track of the number. It’s a big one) to stay away from traditional publishing and run your own show.

Real people don’t live in the same universe or speak the same language as the NYC Publicans.

There are millions of avid and intelligent readers who never pay attention to the name of the publisher before they purchase a book. (At least 90% of the time, PG doesn’t pay attention, either, even though he may have a smidge of interest due to his day job.)

Traditional publishing is a relic of a past generation. MFA professors talk about it because they still think it has a bit of glamor. People living in parts of Manhattan and within commuting distance to parts of Manhattan pay attention to it.

People who read the New York Times book reviews pay attention to traditional publishing.

(PG just checked and the New York Times has a circulation of 831,000 for its print edition. That is .025% of the current estimated US population of 330 million. That’s 25 people out of every 1,000 people in the country. And only a fraction of the subscribers to the Times read the book reviews or books sections. The digital circulation of the NYT is larger, but anyone who has been online for more than five minutes knows that the number of people who regularly read a digital publication beyond the headlines is a tiny percentage of the total number of subscribers.)

For the country at large, traditional publishing is irrelevant. What the New York Times says about anything, particularly books, is irrelevant.

Making the huge compromises necessary to get your manuscript published by a major or even bush-league traditional publisher is, in PG’s childlike, yet totally cynical opinion, a giant waste of time and effort.

Interested in discoverability? Write a good book, edit it well (get help if needed and pay for it – it doesn’t have to cost a fortune), pay for a good cover (lots of good indie designers are happy to assist), put together a good description, price it for the best royalty rate available and post it on Amazon, by far the biggest bookstore (at least selling books in English) in the world. Get a bunch of good reviews (don’t try paying for those) and a good sales rank on Amazon.

Is that easy? Not really. It takes some work and you may have to climb a learning curve on some of the items, but you, the author, are in control of the whole business. You don’t have to enter a beauty contest to snag an agent who may or may not know what she/he is doing. You don’t have to wait for the agent to (perhaps) sell your manuscript to an editor (who may or may not have a job in a year) working for a publisher (which may or may not be in business in a year), then wait and wait and wait to hear anything.

You’ll wait a lot if you go the tradpub route, then wait some more. Once your manuscript falls into the belly of the beast, you, the author, are not particularly important or interesting most of the time.

Yes, when it’s finally published (not a certain thing), you’ll have the marketing experience of the publisher behind your book (maybe) (unless an Oprah or an Obama title is in the works, in which case, your book will be #3,872 on everybody’s to-do list).

And the quality of the publisher’s marketing muscle? Think cutting-edge 1973 stuff.

People with a fragment of an ounce of marketing and sales talent can make a bazillion percent more money working almost anywhere outside of publishing. And not have to deal with idiots.

But, as usual, PG could be wrong.

Perhaps Big Publishing is about to enter a new golden age during which billions of people will be happy to pay $25 for the latest hard cover book just like they pay for a print subscription to the New York Times.

TCM examines ‘problematic’ film classics in new series

From The New York Post:

Loving classic films can be a fraught pastime. Just consider the cultural firestorm over “Gone With the Wind” this past summer. No one knows this better than the film lovers at Turner Classic Movies who daily are confronted with the complicated reality that many of old Hollywood’s most celebrated films are also often a kitchen sink of stereotypes. This summer, amid the Black Lives Matter protests, the channel’s programmers and hosts decided to do something about it.

The result is a new series, “Reframed Classics,” which promises wide-ranging discussions about 18 culturally significant films from the 1920s through the 1960s that also have problematic aspects, from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and Mickey Rooney’s performance as Mr. Yunioshi to Fred Astaire’s blackface routine in “Swing Time.” It kicks off Thursday at 8 p.m. ET with none other than “Gone With the Wind.”

. . . .

“We know millions of people love these films,” said TCM host Jacqueline Stewart, who is participating in many of the conversations. “We’re not saying ‘This is how you should feel about “Pyscho”’ or ‘This is how you should feel about “Gone with the Wind.”’ We’re just trying to model ways of having longer and deeper conversations and not just cutting it off to ‘I love this movie.’ ‘I hate this movie.’ There’s so much space in between.”

. . . .

Stewart, a University of Chicago professor who in 2019 became the channel’s first African American host, has spent her career studying classic films, particularly those in the silent era, and black audiences. She knows firsthand the tension of loving films that also contain racial stereotypes.

“I grew up in a family of people who loved classic films. Now, how can you love these films if you know that there’s going to be a maid or mammy that shows up?” Stewart said. “Well, I grew up around people who could still love the movie. You appreciate some parts of it. You critique other parts of it. That’s something that one can do and it actually can enrich your experience of the film.”

. . . .

While TCM audiences will know her as the host of “Silent Sunday Nights,” this past summer she was given a bigger spotlight when she was selected to introduce “Gone With the Wind” on HBO Max to provide proper context after its controversial removal from the streaming service. She remembers drafting her remarks for that while also concocting this series.

“I continue to feel a sense of urgency around these topics,” she said. “We’re showing films that really shaped the ways that people continue to think about race and gender and sexuality and ability. It was really important for the group to come together to think about how we can work with each other and work with our fans to deepen the conversations about these films.”

TCM hosts Ben Mankiewicz, Dave Karger, Alicia Malone and Eddie Muller will also be part of many conversations. The films that they’ve selected aren’t under-the-radar novelties, either. As Stewart said, “They’re the classics of the classics.”

The series, which runs every Thursday through March 25, will also show “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “Gunga Din,” “The Searchers,” “My Fair Lady,” “Stagecoach,” “Woman of the Year” and “The Children’s Hour.”

Link to the rest at The New York Post and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Without getting into a long diatribe, PG feels quite uneasy about erasing history or portions of history about which we feel uncomfortable or ashamed.

The movies described in the OP depict an attitude that was considered quite ordinary when they were made. All the “right people” thought these movies were fine. They were mass entertainment designed to appeal to the mass market. Some were given the motion picture industry’s highest awards. Again, the “right people”, society’s tastemakers, believed they were excellent as art and entertainment.

Today, many will regard them as distasteful and offensive. As indicated in the OP, more than a few people, at least in the United States, want to effectively ban the showing of such motion pictures.

PG isn’t completely certain why there must be a ban on motion pictures, books, etc., etc. that were clearly mainstream media created to appeal to the tastes of large numbers of people in an earlier era.

To some extent, PG senses a feeling that such material must be kept from the masses lest their attitudes or actions be influenced by exposure to such media. Those who control the distribution of entertainment and information suspect that their audiences or some large portion of their audiences will believe that the behavior and stereotypes included in the mass entertainment of an earlier era will recreate such behavior and reignite such stereotypes in the unwashed masses who may consume them today.

PG believes that history is important to understand and learn from. To the extent history discloses errors, even serious errors, and imperfections in human behavior and attitudes, it is important to understand those errors so they are less likely to be repeated. Pretending they didn’t exist leaves current and future generations more susceptible to repeating such errors.

George Santayana is credited with the aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Yes, the evils of racism can be taught in the abstract, but PG suggests an understanding of how human beings as rational and intelligent as ourselves could accept racism as normal and perfectly consistent with admirable human values not only is a better warning about the true dangers of racism, but also an invitation to be quite humble about the certitudes of our day which may, after further consideration and study, be as offensive of those socially-accepted certitudes of an earlier age.

I love sleep

I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?

Ernest Hemingway

No rest days

From The Bookseller:

ecently during an event a publisher said, “We do a lot of our reading outside of work hours, most of it actually, there just isn’t time during the day.”

I was struck by her words, -the simple matter-of-fact nature of the delivery – because they were so true, and something that I myself have just accepted. It’s 8:14am as I write this, my daughter is banging her stacking cups around – having still not quite mastered the technique of building a tower with them – and there is a mug of hot chocolate beside me. Despite the picture I have just painted, I am not a morning person. Especially not after a late night spent reading, editing and doing the organising tasks that require quiet emails and a sleeping baby.

I realise that it’s become ingrained in me, this incessant need to be working, to be switched on. From my very first internship where I took manuscripts to my evening job to read, I learned that it was normal, accepted, and encouraged. Being an assistant meant being on before your boss was in the office and often hours after they left. How else would you be able to hand in a task set at 5pm and due at 10am the next morning?

Even with a small baby, and a pandemic to contend with, that little voice in the back of my head that tells me to make sure I haven’t missed any emails, despite it being Sunday afternoon, hasn’t quietened down. Historically I have seen colleagues turn up for work when not fully well, due to the general belief that productivity or level of commitment to the job was intrinsically linked to the amount of time you spent in the office. I’d taken to asking myself: “Yes but can I still send emails? Can I still type?” to test if I deserved to spare myself the commute and eight hours in the office. For many editors, internal meetings can take over much of their week, meaning that they have to condense their edits, reading, and other work into the time they have left around their Zoom calls.

. . . .

If someone is routinely unable to complete their work in work hours, that must be a sign that their workload is untenable. In an industry like ours, thinking time is also intensely important: whether mulling a book jacket, or unpicking a knotty editorial question. Being able to switch off in the evening and read for pleasure, go on a long walk, or catch up with friends gives us that valuable headspace to be able to come back fresh to our desks with a creative answer to solve a problem, or simply with the energy to attack the day’s to-do list.  

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG’s first thought when he read the OP was, “Sounds like a lousy job.”

His second thought was, “Other than being the owner or CEO, how many good jobs are there in traditional publishing?”

Copyright Is A Question of Control

From Publishers Weekly:

Writing is a strange career. You spend countless hours pouring your soul on the page for no promise of pay, no benefits, and no guarantee anyone will even publish you. Then you go online and find out people think you have it too damn good. That was the recent situation when—as part of the controversy over the Dr. Seuss estate’s decision to cease publication of six largely obscure titles with offensive content—former Vox writer Matthew Yglesias tweeted that “books that are 30 years old should be in the public domain.”

Many agreed with Yglesias and wanted to go further. The top reply suggested “even 15 or 20” years would be sufficient, while others said maybe that was too much. After all, they argued, it’s not like you pay dentists or bakers for work they did years ago!

The debate was a perfect internet storm, in that it made everyone mad, was filled with bad faith arguments, and was entirely pointless. Copyright is not about to drop to 30 years, much less five. Thanks to the 1886 Berne Convention and the author advocacy of Victor Hugo, the global standard is a minimum of life plus 50. (Contrary to popular belief, this standard was set long before Mickey Mouse, though Disney did successfully lobby for an extension in the ’90s.) Still, the kerfuffle highlighted some common misunderstandings about both how authors’ careers and copyright work.

Being a novelist or poet is not like being a baker, dentist, lawyer, or any job that pays wages for services rendered. We give up wages and security in order to get copyright: the right to control the art we create and—if we are very lucky—parlay that intellectual property into some (typically modest amount of) money.

If we must think in business terms, being an author is like being an entrepreneur. Writers have ideas and work for themselves to make those ideas a reality. We build a brand. We do countless hours of unpaid work in the hopes that one day, down the road, it will pay off… or at least get us on a few panels at AWP. It doesn’t work out for most of us, as internet commentators were happy to point out—but that’s true of many industries. The vast majority of restaurants fail within a few years, yet no one claims anyone should be able to walk into a successful restaurant and use the kitchen for free.

When it does work out, it takes time—lots of time: years to write, years to establish a readership, and often years to catch a lucky break. Success tends to come late for authors. If you don’t believe me, go turn on Netflix and watch its recent hits Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit, based on decades-old novels by Julia Quinn and the late Walter Tevis, respectively.

Let’s say an author doesn’t ever succeed and spends their life crying over their MacBook. Well, so what? Why shouldn’t they still control their creations? This is what copyright is really about: who gets control. It’s a question that goes beyond money. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG doesn’t agree with everything in the OP.

However, for argument’s sake, he didn’t see anything anything in the OP that justified copyright extending for 50-70 or more years after the author dies.

As a refresher for visitors from the US, in this country copyright is based upon what is generally referred to as the Patent and Copyright Clause of the US Constitution:

[The Congress shall have power] “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

Article I Section 8 | Clause 8

PG notes the “limited times” language in the clause.

Yes, 2,000 years is a “limited time” in that it is less than 10,000 years, but PG suggests that’s not what the authors of the language were thinking about.

In 1790, the First Congress, which included more than a few of those who had approved the Constitution, passed The Copyright Act of 1790, An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Securing the Copies of Maps, Charts, and Books to the Authors and Proprietors of Such Copies.

The Copyright Act of 1790 granted American authors the right to print, re-print, or publish their work for a period of 14 years and to renew for another fourteen. 

Major revisions of the act were passed in in 1831, 1870, 1909, and 1976.

The 1976 revision was the first time that the life of the author became a method of measuring the length of the copyright term. The 1909 revision’s term was of protection to 28 years with a possible renewal of 28 more years.

He who receives an idea from me

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

Thomas Jefferson

Imminent Win For The Public Domain: Court Likely To Compel Musée Rodin To Release Its 3D Scans Of Sculptor’s Works For Free

From Above the Law:

Back in 2019, Techdirt wrote about a fascinating case involving a bogus CC license on a 3D scan of a 3000-year-old bust of Nefertiti. The person at the heart of the saga was the artist and open access activist Cosmo Wenman. His web site has some background on what he calls his “freedom of information projects“:

For more than a decade, museums around the world have been making high-quality 3D scans of important sculptures and ancient artifacts. Many institutions freely share those 3D scans with the public, allowing us to view, copy, adapt, and experiment with the underlying works in ways that have never before been possible. But some keep their scans out of public view, and I’ve been trying to help them see the light.

Following his success in liberating the 3D scan of Nefertiti, Wenman is now trying to do the same with 3D scans of the works of the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Many of these scans have been created by the Musée Rodin in Paris. There is a long and entertaining article (in the original French and an English translation – pdf) about Wenman’s pursuit of the 3D scans, and of the Musée Rodin’s refusal to share them. Wenman took an interesting tack, claiming that the museum’s 3D scans were documents subject to France’s freedom of information (FOIA) laws. It worked:

In late 2018 I sent a formal demand to Musée Rodin for access to all its 3D scans, citing French freedom of information laws. When the museum refused to comply, I brought the matter before the French government.

In June of 2019 the French government agency that oversees FOIA matters announced its first-of-its-kind opinion, in my favor; 3D scans produced by French national museums are in fact administrative documents and are subject to public disclosure. Musée Rodin is required by law to give the public access to its 3D scans of Rodin’s works.

Another victory for Wenman, then, but rather a hollow one. Despite the French government agency’s ruling, Musée Rodin continues to withhold the 3D scans. Wenman went on to file a suit against the museum in the Administrative Tribunal of Paris. Wenman wants the court to compel the museum to comply with the law, and to impose “significant” financial penalties for any delay. After more than a year with no response, the court directed the museum to present a defense. At the time of writing, Wenman is still waiting. However, given the unequivocal nature of the rulings against the Musée Rodin, he is confident:

Musée Rodin is going to fight, but I expect to win. The outcome will affect every national museum in France, inform policies at institutions around the world, and have interesting effects on the art market.

I’m shooting for a victory for open access, and freedom and innovation in the arts.

The knock-on effects of one person’s dogged pursuit of a few computer files could have a major impact on the wider availability of 3D scans of sculptures and ancient artifacts — a real win for the public domain.

Link to the rest at Above the Law

First, the application to authors – the 3D scans are a species of intellectual property, just like an author’s intellectual property interest in a story he/she creates.

The major difference is that, if the 3D model had been created from a scan of an original physical work made by or licensed from the creator of that work or as an original digitally-created work rather than one derived from a pre-existing physical object, the creator would have a protectable intellectual property interest in resulting model, the file created and, likely physical instantiations of that creation.

In this case, the scan was made from an original work created by Rodin, not by The Musée Rodin. Since Rodin’s original copyright interest in the original work expired a long time ago, absent some meaningful additional artistic contribution by someone during the 3D scan or with the resulting file, the scan is not a new protectible creation.

If PG goes to a museum and takes an iPhone photo of a 200-year-old painting, he hasn’t created anything new. (Whether he could post-process the photo into something creatively different from the original is a matter of degree. Enough post-processing and it might be a new creation. If PG just tweaked it so it looked a bit better than what the iPhone had produced on its own, probably not.)

Intellectual property experts are free, as usual, to criticize, supplement, etc., PG’s simplified description of the IP interests and their protectability under IP law in the comments below.


It may be obvious to many from the OP, but allow PG to summarize:

  • The Musée Rodin houses a large collection of artworks created by by famous French sculptor August Rodin (1840-1917) at locations in Paris and Meudon, where Rodin lived and worked during the last twenty years of his life.
  • Rodin’s best-known sculpture is The Thinker.
The Thinker, August Rodin

Under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, the Musée Rodin is a non-subsidized national museum, a status that is quite unique on the French museum scene. The collections and works of art originating from the Auguste Rodin Donation, as well the acquisitions made by the museum, are the French State’s inalienable property. The Musée Rodin is administered by a board of trustees. The museum’s task is to make Rodin’s work known worldwide and to ensure that the moral right attached to it is respected.

Musée Rodin Public Establishment

It has become common for museums to perform in situ high-resolution 3-D computer scans of, at least, some of their most well-known sculptures. The result of the scan is a digital file that depicts every portion of the sculpture in great detail.

These scans can be easily shared throughout the world for, among other things, detailed examinations and analyses of the sculpture by experts everywhere without the necessity of interfering with the opportunity for the general public to view the original sculpture or risking any sort of damage to or loss of the sculpture by removing it from its current location for such examination. Like any other digital file, exact duplicates can be created at very little cost.

For purposes of a freedom of information request (which is governed by the laws of the country in question), a digital file is, absent special treatment under the law, a document like any other that a government (including government agencies) is required to produce if a FOIA request if filed in proper form.


In the US, per the US Health and Human Services you can file a FOIA request as follows:

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides public access to all federal agency records except for those records (or portions of those records) that are protected from disclosure by any of nine exemptions or three exclusions (reasons for which an agency may withhold records from a requester).

The exemptions cover:

  1. Classified national defense and foreign relations information
  2. Internal agency rules and practices
  3. Information that is prohibited from disclosure by another law
  4. Trade secrets and other confidential business information
  5. Inter-agency or intra-agency communications that are protected by legal privileges
  6. Information involving matters of personal privacy
  7. Certain information compiled for law enforcement purposes
  8. Information relating to the supervision of financial institutions
  9. Geological information on wells

The three exclusions, which are rarely used, pertain to certain sensitive law enforcement and national security matters.


Cosmo Wenman filed a freedom of information suit in France against the Musée Rodin when the museum apparently objected to his request for a copy of the 3D file of the Rodin statue.

Ultimately, the CADA AKA Commission D’Accès Aux Documents Administratifs (Commission for Access to Administrative Documents) ruled, in part:

the scans of works for which the Rodin Museum ensures the conservation, for purposes of both study and commercial exploitation, constitute administrative documents within the meaning of the aforementioned provisions, as soon as they have been elaborated and are held in the framework of the public service mission entrusted to this establishment. They are therefore, in principle, communicable to anyone who requests it.

The scans are administrative documents and Wenman was entitled to them.

One fact noted in a commentary PG read – The Musée Rodin receives over half of its annual revenue from its commercial activities, selling large and small reproductions of Rodin’s sculptures, printed copies of artworks, mugs, stationery, jewelry, t-shirts, lapel pins, tote bags, etc., with images derived from Rodin’s artworks, etc., as opposed to entrance fees paid by patrons.

So much for the museum’s laser focus on steadfastly protecting the artistic heritage of Rodin.

Once Mr. Wenman has a copies of the digital scans of the artworks in The Musée Rodin, you can expect him to make them widely available for anyone to download at no charge.

Mr. Wenman has been down this road before with the three-thousand-year-old Bust of Nefertiti, held by the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection in Berlin.

You can download the 3-D digital file of the scan at the MakerBot Thingiverse.

Following are two videos that show/explain the 3-D printing process.

The first video is short, depicting the printing process for a smaller-than-life-size copy of the original.

The second video is longer, but more detailed, because the artist/mechanic used a home-sized printer to create a full-sized copy of the original.

Yes, Podcast Listenership Is Still on the Rise

From The Vulture:

If you’re a longtime Hot Pod reader, you probably know that I hold Edison Research’s annual Infinite Dial study in high regard. The survey-based study of digital media usage has been the longest-running measure of podcast audiences going back to the medium’s earliest days, and as a result, the story they’re able to tell is the one I consider the most reliable.

. . . .

I don’t need to tell you that a lot has happened over the last twelve months. From a purely podcast standpoint, the wave of lockdowns that began last spring — then ebbed, then flowed, then splayed out into a messy patchwork system — resulted in some initial declines in listenership as the morning commute went away, along with a significant restructuring of work processes and mild consternation over whether there’ll still be a podcast business on the other side of the pandemic.

. . . .

Eventually, though, podcast consumption rebounded as its structural advantages within the context of pandemic conditions came into sharper view. The medium lent well to remote-production workflows, which in turn attracted more participation from creators and celebrity talent and media companies, which in turn led to the creation of more podcasts and greater recruitment of their respective followings into the medium. Listening behaviors as a whole ended up adapting, moving away from the morning commute and towards more afternoon consumption. The case began to be made that podcasting, more so than many other new media infrastructures, was uniquely suited to meeting the moment. But the question was: To what extent?

The 2021 edition of the Infinite Dial study, published last week, gave an answer: to a considerable extent.

Let’s break the report’s podcast-specific findings out. To begin with, the study recorded gains in the major audience sizing metrics:

➽ 41% of the total U.S. population over the age of twelve, or an estimated 116 million Americans, can now be considered monthly podcast listeners, up from 37% the year before.

➽ 28% of the total U.S. population, or an estimated 80 million Americans, can now be considered habitual weekly podcast listeners, up from 24% the year before.

➽ Meanwhile, podcast familiarity — that is, the extent to which Americans are aware of the medium — continued to grow, present among 78% of the total U.S. population, or an estimated 222 million Americans, up from 75% the year before.

The American podcast audience was also found to have grown more diverse from a gender and ethnicity standpoint, with the study arguing that it has drifted towards a composition that more closely reflects the American population. (One specific finding that leapt out: There were exceptional gains among Hispanic listeners over the past year in particular.)

The report also found that the American podcast audience has deepened their engagement with the medium more generally. This is represented in the finding that weekly U.S. podcast listeners now average eight podcasts per week — typically interpreted as “podcast episodes” — up from six podcasts per week.

A quick note on some methodological progression here: This year’s report also includes a new “average podcast shows in the last week” measure, made distinct from a “podcasts per week” metric. The specific finding on that front: Weekly U.S. podcast listeners averaged 5.1 podcast shows in the last week.

. . . .

It should be clear by now that the podcast ecosystem is being fundamentally stitched into other media systems, whether we’re talking about the medium’s competition for listening time against other audio formats (like audiobooks) or how it’s being increasingly absorbed by competition between the large audio streaming platforms.

. . . .

➽ The report argues that “Spotify has solidified its spot as the largest single-source for online audio, and has played a role in the growth of podcasting (especially with younger listeners).” The platform leads in all the important measures, with Pandora consistently coming in second place.

➽ Audiobook listening seems to be flattening back out. After a spike in the 2019 study (50% of the total U.S. population, up from 44% the year before), that measure now hovers at 45% and 46% of the total U.S. population over the past two studies.

➽ Some interesting findings within the context of in-car media consumption. Of course, the broader point to consider is the fact that folks are driving less during the pandemic, but it’s still interesting to see that AM/FM radio has dropped to 75% of population from 81% of population in the “audio sources currently ever used in the car” measure and that half of the total U.S. population engages in online audio listening in the car through a cell phone, up from 45% of the population the year before.

Link to the rest at The Vulture

PG has a long and spotty history as a podcast listener.

  • When podcasts first started to be a thing, PG checked out a couple and did not return. Amateur hour, crazy people, terrible sound and production quality.
  • Later, production quality improved, more intelligent people, still didn’t connect with PG’s wowzer button.
  • More recently, close to professional radio production quality, lots of different people discussing lots of different topics, PG subscribed to a couple of podcasts and listened to 1-2 of each, but then faded.

PG thinks that if he were commuting to work, he would quite likely be a regular podcast listener. Gazing out the window on the train, rumbling on a subway or sitting in traffic on a multi-lane highway would all seem to be good times for PG to enjoy hearing someone intelligent speak about topics of interest.

However, sitting in splendor in his cluttered office in the bowels of Casa PG or sitting in a less-cluttered room in a comfy chair, PG still doesn’t feel the urge to listen.

PG can read much faster than anyone can talk. If he closes his eyes to focus on a voice talking into his ears, he’s liable to doze off or daydream off.

With a good TV show, there are spoken words and pictures. (Mrs. PG got totally hooked on Virgin River after a binge watch. Her enthusiasm got PG interested and he enjoyed it so long as he could make an occasional comment to Mrs. PG during scene transitions. PG also liked the great nature shots and wants to travel to the location where the landscape film is show for photos. But how long do we have to wait for Season 3? Mrs. PG has, PG believes, either read all the VR books or has nearly read them all.)

PG can spend enjoyable time at his computer or iPad flitting around online reading/seeing interesting things.

So, for all the visitors to TPV who enjoy listening to podcasts, what is PG missing? He enjoys listening to music (almost always classical) to unwind, but that’s about the only ears-only media experience that he really connects with.

Are there best practices for listening to podcasts? Some podcast listening technique PG has missed? Feel free, as usual, to comment.

Surprises in the New World of Publishing

From Kristine Kathryn Rusc h:

You’d think, after all these years, nothing about the changes in publishing could surprise me. And really, what happened this week didn’t surprise me as much as it surprised me because it happened to me.

And it caused me to think of some things I hadn’t considered at all.

. . . .

Instead of relying on an ever-decreasing number of genre publishers (or rather, genre publishers who offer advances higher than $5000), an indie writer with Kickstarter and Patreon and general book sales online can return to the various wells several times, because the indie writer isn’t asking for a fortune. The indie writer is supplying content for a reasonable price, but doing it on a very small level ($5) for hundreds or thousands of people.

When I sell my sf novellas to various markets, I generally make a few thousand dollars. There aren’t many fantasy novella markets (that I’m aware of), so I knew writing a Fey novella would be something that would go up on sale without any magazine publication.

That put me off for years, honestly. This small Kickstarter was a way around that as well.

Only I’m going to get way more money for a novella than I would have any other way. Because readers are showing their interest in the Fey and getting me to write more Fey. That’s amazing.

Here’s the other cool thing about the Kickstarter: It feels like an advance, but it isn’t. An advance, in book publishing terms, is an advance against royalties or, in real world parlance, a loan that gets paid back with each book sale.

So traditional writers start out in the hole. They’ve been given a loan to write their project, and then the lender keeps track of how much is getting paid back. (It’s a truly stupid system, rife with abuse.) As you can guess from my language, the loan is almost never paid back—at least as far as the writer knows. (If the royalties were computed differently, the advance would be paid back much sooner. Which is why publishers never sweat the fact that most books don’t earn their advances. Well, really, the publisher makes money whether the books earn their advances or not [unless the advance was unrealistically high].)

Traditional writers, in other words, rarely make more than their advances, and if they do, the money comes in smallish checks every six months or so, accompanied by an indecipherable royalty statement. (Writers who have audited their publishers often find thousands of dollars in missed payments—provided the auditor can get to the bottom of all of the creative accounting.)

Technically, Kickstarter projects start out in the hole as well. Usually, I try to have the writing done by the time I do a Kickstarter, so we can just fulfill. That’s what has happened with all of the Diving Kickstarters, and will happen with the next one.

. . . .

After that, every single book sale is gravy. And unlike traditional writers who have earned out their advances, I will make 70% of each sale. Traditional writers make 10-15% (maybe one or two get 19%, but no one gets more than that. See my licensing posts to understand why). These days, traditional writers often aren’t even making that much, because their contracts include massive discount clauses.

What those clauses essentially say is this: if the book is sold at a discount (Walmart, Target, Costco), the writer will get a much smaller royalty (generally 2%). Sometimes, the writer gets no royalty. Those hardcover books you find in a bin for $5 at places like Office Depot? Writers get no royalty on those sales, because the books are being sold at what’s called a deep discount.

And we’re not even going to discuss traditionally computed ebook royalties.

. . . .

Oh, and one last thing. If you want to read the Fey, the best way to do so is to back the Kickstarter at the $30 level. You’ll get all seven existing books of the Fey, the new novella, the only Fey short story (at the moment), four other fantasy novels, and $600 in online writing workshops (at the time of this writing), all for your $30.

So…lots of reading and lots of learning.

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.