According to global information company The NPD Group, 67 percent of unit sales in the top 100 literary fiction books in 2019 came from books written by female authors. The top fiction title of the year was “Where the Crawdad’s Sing,” by Delia Owens, selling more than 1.2 million print copies.
“March is Women’s History Month, which makes it the perfect time to review the many contributions of women authors to the U.S. publishing industry,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD. “Women have increased their share of bestsellers in the last decade, particularly when it comes to fiction.”
Women authors’ influence in publishing varies by category
Women authors were responsible for 42 percent of unit sales for the top 100 books in the overall print book market in 2019—up from 30 percent in 2010. Last year 39 of the top 100 bestselling authors were women, up from 33 in 2010. In fact, over the 16 years NPD BookScan has been tracking the U.S. publishing market, the bestselling author is a woman. Total sales of all of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series exceeded 55 million copies, across more than 300 editions of her many titles for children and adults.
Combined unit sales of books with a focus on subjects about, and of interest to, women have enjoyed seven consecutive years of growth; and women-related subcategories have been responsible for overall growth of a wide variety of publishing areas. Women-related subcategories in comics and graphic novels, drama, history, poetry, and political and social science collectively increased 7 percent in 2019 over the previous year.
Pages & Co author Anna James hash created an online and interactive middle-grade book club called The Bookwanderers Club, supported by her publisher HarperCollins Children’s Books.
The book club will be made up of a weekly programme of interviews with some of the biggest stars and upcoming authors of the middle-grade world chaired by James and streamed live on her YouTube Channel.
James said: “So many authors are keen to help support readers, parents and teacher who are at home, and the idea for the Bookwanderers Club came out of trying to create a centralised, regular place to provide fun, inspiring content around children’s books, and also help support authors and independent bookshops during uncertain times.”
It used to be that nobody ever called me. I’d get lonely notices on my phone, reading, “Last week you had one minute and twelve seconds of screen time.” Now, though, with the coronavirus pandemic, I’m Mr. Popular. The first person I usually hear from is my sister Lisa, who will start with an update from her local Costco, in Winston-Salem. “They announced a new delivery of toilet paper, but it was gone by the time Bob and I got there.”
In New York, my sister Amy came for dinner and showed me a Rolling Stone photo essay on shoppers hoarding at superstores. Because everything’s sold in such great quantities, the carts look miniature.
“Gun sales have gone up, as well,” Hugh said.
Amy put her phone away. “So people can protect their toilet paper.”
Our friend Cristina was at the table, too, and we told her how bad we are at hoarding. “You have to understand, I grew up shopping with my father,” Amy said. “With a professional.”
I remembered him during the oil crisis of 1973, heading to the Shell station with empty cans and getting in line at 4 a.m. All our cars had full tanks, but he needed the next guy’s ration, as well. I didn’t even drive, but, still, he taught me how to siphon. I remember the shock of a mouthful of gasoline, spitting it onto the street and thinking, Someone could have used that.
“Can you imagine dad twenty years younger?” I said to Amy. “He’d be out there every day, buying pallets of fruit cocktail. And toilet paper—he’d have a forest’s worth under the tarp in the back yard. If rats chewed holes in the plastic and it got rained on, he’d stick the rolls in the oven, or go at them with a hair dryer.”
How can we—his children—be so bad at the kind of shopping he prided himself on? I tried to hoard at Whole Foods the other day, and came away with two steaks and a pouch of dried coconut.
. . . .
That night, at Morton-Williams, I tried again, and returned home with a package of Ball Park hot dogs, a pint of buttermilk, and some taco shells.
Absent Mrs. PG’s influence, PG would not be a very conscientious shelterer. The past few days, he has read each issue of The Wall Street Journal (electronic version) more thoroughly than usual. Fortunately, he has some client work, but, for anything that involves New York City, the book business appears to be firmly closed down.
PG sends best wishes to fellow-shelterers around the world. May no virus darken your door.
Walmart Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and CVS Health Corp. are among about a dozen large companies looking to hire nearly 500,000 Americans in coming weeks, a spree that would mark a major shift of the U.S. workforce from smaller businesses and others that have cut staff to survive the coronavirus.
The companies are managing a surge in demand for food and other household products that have taxed their stores and warehouses. At the same time, they are seeking to lure hourly workers to front-line or logistics jobs where they face risks of being near co-workers or consumers who could have been exposed to the deadly respiratory virus.
“There are too many customers for our staffing to handle most of the time,” said Cody Clark, who works at Brookshire’s Food & Pharmacy in Tyler, Texas. Ms. Clark, 22 years old, said she has been nervous about going to the store. “Customers come in and get frustrated whenever we don’t have something. They don’t understand we’re putting ourselves out there.”
. . . .
Many of the big chains have started offering enhanced benefits, such as paid sick time and child-care services, even for temporary or part-time workers. They have also temporarily boosted their hourly wages or promised cash bonuses for the people who run cash registers, unload trucks or work in e-commerce warehouses.
Separately, Instacart Inc., a grocery-delivery company, said Monday it plans to add 300,000 workers over the next three months, more than doubling the size of its current workforce of about 200,000. As part of the effort, the closely held company is looking to bring on 54,000 workers in California and 27,000 in New York. Instacart shoppers, who fill grocery orders for customers, are independent contractors who get paid per delivery.
In recent weeks, Instacart’s number of orders has more than doubled, and the size of its orders from the year prior has increased by 15%. The company also started offering up to 14 days of pay for its shoppers affected by Covid-19 or placed in mandatory quarantine.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)
PG notes the link to the WSJ story was posted late on Monday night and there was no permalink available (as is normal with WSJ articles), so the link may change before some visitors to TPV have a chance to read the OP.
PG apologizes for not posting anything earlier. No contagion around Casa PG, however.
From The New Yorker:
When the plague came to London in 1665, Londoners lost their wits. They consulted astrologers, quacks, the Bible. They searched their bodies for signs, tokens of the disease: lumps, blisters, black spots. They begged for prophecies; they paid for predictions; they prayed; they yowled. They closed their eyes; they covered their ears. They wept in the street. They read alarming almanacs: “Certain it is, books frighted them terribly.” The government, keen to contain the panic, attempted “to suppress the Printing of such Books as terrify’d the People,” according to Daniel Defoe, in “A Journal of the Plague Year,” a history that he wrote in tandem with an advice manual called “Due Preparations for the Plague,” in 1722, a year when people feared that the disease might leap across the English Channel again, after having journeyed from the Middle East to Marseille and points north on a merchant ship. Defoe hoped that his books would be useful “both to us and to posterity, though we should be spared from that portion of this bitter cup.” That bitter cup has come out of its cupboard.
In 1665, the skittish fled to the country, and alike the wise, and those who tarried had reason for remorse: by the time they decided to leave, “there was hardly a Horse to be bought or hired in the whole City,” Defoe recounted, and, in the event, the gates had been shut, and all were trapped. Everyone behaved badly, though the rich behaved the worst: having failed to heed warnings to provision, they sent their poor servants out for supplies. “This Necessity of going out of our Houses to buy Provisions, was in a great Measure the Ruin of the whole City,” Defoe wrote. One in five Londoners died, notwithstanding the precautions taken by merchants. The butcher refused to hand the cook a cut of meat; she had to take it off the hook herself. And he wouldn’t touch her money; she had to drop her coins into a bucket of vinegar. Bear that in mind when you run out of Purell.
“Sorrow and sadness sat upon every Face,” Defoe wrote. The government’s stricture on the publication of terrifying books proved pointless, there being plenty of terror to be read on the streets. You could read the weekly bills of mortality, or count the bodies as they piled up in the lanes. You could read the orders published by the mayor: “If any Person shall have visited any Man known to be infected of the Plague, or entered willingly into any known infected House, being not allowed: The House wherein he inhabiteth shall be shut up.” And you could read the signs on the doors of those infected houses, guarded by watchmen, each door marked by a foot-long red cross, above which was to be printed, in letters big enough to be read at a distance, “Lord, Have Mercy Upon Us.”
Reading is an infection, a burrowing into the brain: books contaminate, metaphorically, and even microbiologically. In the eighteenth century, ships’ captains arriving at port pledged that they had disinfected their ships by swearing on Bibles that had been dipped in seawater. During tuberculosis scares, public libraries fumigated books by sealing them in steel vats filled with formaldehyde gas. These days, you can find out how to disinfect books on a librarians’ thread on Reddit. Your best bet appears to be either denatured-alcohol swipes or kitchen disinfectant in a mist-spray bottle, although if you stick books in a little oven and heat them to a hundred and sixty degrees Fahrenheit there’s a bonus: you also kill bedbugs. (“Doesn’t harm the books!”) Or, as has happened during the coronavirus closures, libraries can shut their doors, and bookstores, too.
But, of course, books are also a salve and a consolation. In the long centuries during which the plague ravaged Europe, the quarantined, if they were lucky enough to have books, read them. If not, and if they were well enough, they told stories. In Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, from the fourteenth century, seven women and three men take turns telling stories for ten days while hiding from the Black Death—that “last Pestilentiall mortality universally hurtfull to all that beheld it”—a plague so infamous that Boccaccio begged his readers not to put down his book as too hideous to hold: “I desire it may not be so dreadfull to you, to hinder your further proceeding in reading.”
The literature of contagion is vile. A plague is like a lobotomy. It cuts away the higher realms, the loftiest capacities of humanity, and leaves only the animal. “Farewell to the giant powers of man,” Mary Shelley wrote in “The Last Man,” in 1826, after a disease has ravaged the world. “Farewell to the arts,—to eloquence.” Every story of epidemic is a story of illiteracy, language made powerless, man made brute.
After the publication of WhiskeyTales in 1925, things were looking up for Jean Ray. This debut collection earned him recognition from, among others, Maurice Renard, who called Ray “the Belgian Poe.” Sadly, Ray’s bright literary future darkened all too soon: on March 8, 1926, he was arrested and incarcerated. Contrary to the legend, which Ray himself helped perpetuate, he was charged not with smuggling alcohol but “misappropriation of funds” concerning his literary journal. His publisher promptly cut Les Contes du whisky from its catalog and canceled two subsequent collections. Ray, aged 38, found himself in a cell in Ghent’s De Nieuwe Wandeling prison, where he would spend three years.
De Nieuwe Wandeling (“The New Promenade”), which first housed inmates in 1862, was inspired by the 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s design for the most efficient institutional building. A rotunda with an observation post at its center, Bentham christened his ingeniously baleful brainchild “the panopticon” (from the Greek word for “all seeing”). The devilishly clever detail is that the central observation post is installed with blinds, preventing the prisoners in the surrounding cells from knowing when (or if) they are being observed. As Bentham puts it in Panopticon, or the Inspection-House (1791), inmates constantly face “the apparent omnipresence of the inspector […] combined with the extreme facility of his real presence.”
Bentham’s italicized phrases help bring into focus the eerie atmosphere of the tales in Ray’s second collection, Cruise of Shadows: Haunted Stories of Land and Sea (1931) — all written during his incarceration. In almost every story, a narrator finds himself confronted by an “apparent omnipresence” of malevolent intent — sometimes from physical objects themselves — only to discover a real (if inscrutable) “presence” that means him no good. It is as though Ray channeled into his fiction the isolation, gloom, and, most of all, the unobservable presence of watchful eyes he endured within the quaintly named “New Promenade” panopticon. Imprisonment even marked Ray’s language: as translator Scott Nicolay points out, the three most frequently used words in the book are tumulte, clameur, and gifle — the last rendered as “smack” or “slap,” the sound of a bare foot hitting the cold stone floor of a cell. In the opening story, “The Horrifying Presence,” the unfortunate gold prospector, distinguished (to borrow Nabokov’s phrase) by being “ideally bald,” thus describes first hearing the “presence” outside his hut: “Footsteps on the ground outside, quite clear, like sharp little smacks [gifles].” He calls the invisible stalking entity simply “the thing.” Here, the bald prospector is — like many of Ray’s characters — telling others about his fearful encounter with the Unknown [l’Inconnu].
The Unknown, however, pervades Ray’s work not only because it is (or can be) terrifying, but also because it acts as shorthand for the way the stories repeatedly stage his characters’ groping for the words needed to capture what cannot be firmly grasped: the mystery shaping what is said. In “Dürer, the Idiot,” the narrator, another unfortunate soul who has had to confront the incomprehensible, reflects: “Our intellect demands a prelude for every event. It has a horror of the instantaneous and expends three quarters of its power in an effort to anticipate. It wants to come at all things by a gentle slope.”
This kind of ruminative aside, in the face of that which does not abide rumination, is typical of Ray’s style. During their walk along “a narrow street of the old town, a street of dark gables,” the narrator sees his companion, Dürer, suddenly make “the most peculiar gesture, as if he meant to grab my arm,” and then dash through the open door of a “little pink and green house” — never to be heard from again. This little house magnetizes the narrator, causing him to dream strange dreams. Toward the end of the story, when he watches a door open on its own inside the selfsame house, his intellect is floundering: “I turned my eyes once more to that straw of common sense adrift upon the lonely ocean of my terror.” This response is understandable, given that even the furniture prompted him earlier to say: “I stared with suspicion at lifeless objects like armoires and chairs[.] […] Has it ever struck you, the hostile attitude of some piece of furniture, familiar and inert among the others?”
The coronavirus outbreak is punishing the economy, but as a debut author, I never imagined the release of my forthcoming anthology would illustrate the impact of economic ripple effects.
In 2017, I published a call for submissions asking women to send their stories of how they’ve been affected by Donald Trump and his policies. I received over 200 essays, spent nine months winnowing that number down to 38, then prepared a proposal for the collection, entitled Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era.
I celebrated when Pact Press, an imprint of Regal House Publishing, offered me and my coeditor a publishing contract. I celebrated again when I received the ARC by mail, and again when the first glowing review came out. On March 24, I was scheduled to begin a 22-city book tour, complete with voter registration tables at events in swing states and interviews with women for a later podcast. Contributors to the anthology were to join me at various stops along the tour. Then Covid-19 hit.
After learning about what it takes to “flatten the curve” of contagion, I decided I couldn’t in good conscience travel from city to city hosting large gatherings. Nor could I then return home and possibly infect my husband, who falls into a high-risk category. So, with equal parts conviction and despondency, I emailed the bookstores on the tour and asked to reschedule.
. . . .
Personally, I never expected to get rich off book sales. The time and toil I put into Fury was always about political activism and documentation. My financial goals were to earn enough royalties to fund the tour, pay contributors an honorarium, and offset my $925-per-month health insurance premium for the remainder of the year. It looks like even these modest goals may have been too ambitious.
. . . .
For Regal House Publishing, a North Carolina–based, woman-operated indie press, event cancellations mean a high influx of book returns from retailers. These come at significant cost to the press’s bottom line.
Jaynie Royal, publisher and editor-in-chief of Regal House, said the company is already feeling the pinch of the coronavirus. “Print runs for Fury and our other spring catalogue titles were determined by retail preorders in the fall of 2019, long before coronavirus was on anyone’s radar,” Royal explains, “and, like all trade publishers, Regal House relies upon bookstore events to drive buzz and ultimately revenue to recoup invested production and printing costs.”
. . . .
Politics and Prose events coordinator Beth Wang initially offered me assurances that the Washington, D.C., store was taking extra precautions—including rigorously sanitizing all event areas, making hand sanitizer available, placing chairs further apart, announcing to attendees that no physical contact with the author should be initiated, and offering authors latex gloves or a presigning (instead of a signing line) to minimize physical contact with the audience.
Even with assurances like these, however, authors canceled their in-store events due to fear of contracting the virus, a sense of moral obligation, and/or because they anticipated a low turnout. Given the fluid circumstances, Politics and Prose now offers authors a digital option.
. . . .
Finally, there is the book industry as a whole, for which book tours are a fading tradition. Since the Great Recession, publishers have tightened their collective belts and have all but eliminated book tours for debut authors, let alone for anthology editors like myself. Nevertheless, publisher tours for celebrity authors and those with established audiences, whose books are guaranteed to sell well, contribute to propping up an industry with wafer-thin margins.
“The absence of book tour events at independent bookstores will have a profound impact on the industry,” says Jamie Fiocco, president of the ABA and owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C.
PG is leagues outside of the target audience for this book, but he expects the attitudes of those within the book’s audience to recent events and the President’s response to various critics of the Administration have not transformed the feelings of those who don’t like him.
PG also has to say that the cover of the book looks a bit down-market to him, the photo and, especially, the typography (generic and doesn’t really do much to make the book feel like a quality title).
PG thinks that even his amateur Photoshop talents could have improved the look of the photo – gray overcast skies are the bane of good photographs and mid-day images typically don’t show the subjects – people, buildings, mountains – at their best, but there are easy ways to punch things up a bit. Does the dull gray sky behind the title and sub-title communicate anything useful or make the book stand out on a bookstore shelf?
With respect to basic Photoshop talents, what’s that little piece of something above the roof of the building on the right? And what do flying bird-specks add to the cover’s message? Those are ten-second photoshop fixes.
As I write this, Sydney, the city where I’ve set my life and much of my fiction over the past 27 years, is ringed by fire and choked by smoke. A combination fan and air purifier hums in the corner of my study. Seretide and Ventolin inhalers sit within reach on my desk. I’m surrounded by a lifetime’s accumulation of books, including some relatively rare and specialist volumes on China, in English and Chinese. This library might not be precious in monetary terms, but it’s priceless to me and vital to my work. I wonder which books I would save if I had to pack a car quickly and go. The thought of people making those decisions right now, including people I know, twists my gut.
I check the news online and the Fires Near Me app (with watch zones set for friends’ homes) compulsively. Distracted from the book I’m writing, a short history of China, I compose furious, polite, pleading letters to politicians about their failure to declare and act on our climate emergency, and their continuing support for coal. Then I try, with the aid of other apps like Freedom, to remove myself from my digitally infused physical surroundings so that I can write about place. So that I can write this. The best places for writing are those that fade from consciousness as the landscapes of the imagination take over.
Back in August, on the first day of a visit to Spain, I considered setting the start of this essay in Barcelona. Bit of a cliché, of course, how being in a new place sharpens the powers of observation. But it’s true if you make it so. It’s also a vital habit to cultivate for a novelist and travel writer. Many a beautiful notebook bought with the intention of keeping a daily journal has become a beautiful failure. But put me on a plane, and I’ll fill two pages before we even land. Do you want to know the name of every film I’ve seen on planes? Neither do I. But they’re all there. My travel journals are a continual source of wonder. All those details: Who was that brilliant and witty person I seemed so taken with? Others trigger memories that have slipped the loosely strung fishing net of my mind, which generally retains only the biggest catch, while everything else wriggles back into the sea. Recently, when in conversation, I likened my memory to a sieve, a friend objected: “It’s a filter,” he said. Nice thought, but sadly it’s not that deliberate.
. . . .
The fronts of buildings in Barcelona are lovely, with long, shuttered windows and balconies overspilling with flowering plants. The Catalan flag, fluttering off some balconies, proclaims the residents’ politics. The backs of the buildings are more intimate. In one apartment, a couple is rising from a siesta. The woman is putting on her bra. An arm reaches for her and pulls her out of sight for a moment. She reappears, and finishes getting dressed. The novelist in me imagines they are illicit lovers, doing what the French call the cinq à sept but from, let’s see, de la una a las tres in the afternoon. In the flat below, another woman, older, less obviously content, mops the floor, back and forth, back and forth, lost in thought, a lock of hair falling onto her cheek and sticking there. Upstairs, on a clothing rod suspended across the bottom of the window, a woman’s white slip flutters in a gentle breeze next to citrus-colored sheets and a hot pink pillowslip. In a higher window, too far up for me to see anything else, a bright ceramic plate hangs on the wall.
Daniel Defoe, that indefatigable hack, published Journal of the Plague Year in 1722. Writing about the bubonic plague sweeping through London in 1665, when Defoe himself was no more than five years old, he characteristically, and cannily, presented his fiction as nonfiction, an eyewitness account filled with “the shrieks of Women and Children,” blazing comets, and ghosts walking upon gravestones.
Our experience of dread, of the uncanny forcing some of us back into our homes, and many of us into our alienated inner lives, is a little different. The pandemic of 2020 projects its power over us in real time, but unless we’re directly affected—or infected—it comes across to us in means primarily visual and textual. Eerie panoramas of deserted airports and Instagrammable tourist sites; close-ups of surgical masks in turquoise green and powder blue; images of figures in hazmat suits cleaning up our endless material spill.
The scrolling feeds on social media and the live updates on websites pull us together and yet, in the same moment, effortlessly cast us asunder. What is the status of your passport? Do you have health insurance or do you work in the gig economy? If you have children, what kind of school do they attend? Are you in a rich country, a poor country, or in between?
. . . .
A week before private educational institutions in and around New York began suspending classes and moving them online, some of the students in my fiction workshop confessed to feeling “freaked out” by the novel we were reading—Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. In the book, a virus called Georgia flu—Georgia the nation, not the U.S. state—wipes out a significant portion of the world’s population, triggering an apocalypse and returning North America to the state of medieval Europe. As in England in the aftermath of the 1665 plague, a group of traveling artists move by horse and foot through the Midwest in the aftermath of the Georgia flu. They struggle for survival, of course, but in what is perhaps the most distinctive, and moving, feature of Mandel’s novel, they also privilege art, performing Shakespeare and classical music in a landscape blighted by the collapse of modernity. What does it mean that we’re reading this novel as the coronavirus spreads? I asked. That you have superpowers? a student responded.
. . . .
For Camus, writing The Plague in the 1940s, sickness was political and moral as much as physiological. His version of the bubonic plague is also fascism, the sealed gates of the Algerian coastal city of Oran, where the novel is set, an allegory of the Nazi occupation of France. Like fascism, Camus’s plague does not arrive out of nowhere. There are many signs of the impending crisis: the dead rats in factories, warehouses, and apartment buildings. “It was as though the very soil on which our houses were built was purging itself of an excess of bile, that it was letting boils and abscesses rise to the surface, which up to then had been devouring it inside,” Camus’s narrator, Dr. Rieux, writes. Yet these manifold traces are ignored by complacent authority figures until the plague has broken out and the town has to be closed off from the larger world. Within the confines of Camus’s closed town—closed and confined in ways beyond Camus’s vision, given that it is set in French-occupied Algeria but features not a single Arab character—the characters must come to terms with the relation between individual survival and collective solidarity.
Mann, writing just before the first of the great wars that would plunge triumphant, industrialized, and colonizing Europe into despair and destruction, is even sharper in his vision and his indictment of respectable bourgeois Western society. Aschenbach, the elderly protagonist of Death in Venice, is a celebrated writer, revered in Germany. On holiday in Italy, he becomes infatuated with a teenage boy called Tadzio, stalking him around a Venice devoted to commerce, where the sweetish, medicinal smell of germicide and rumors of plague are suppressed vigorously by all those with a stake in the tourist trade. Only an English clerk admits the truth, tracing a history of the sickness that has arrived in Europe.
For the past several years Asiatic cholera had shown a strong tendency to spread. Its source was the hot, moist swamps of the delta of the Ganges…. Thence the pestilence had spread throughout Hindustan, raging with great violence; moved eastward to China, westward to Afghanistan and Persia; following the great caravan routes, it brought terror to Astrakhan, terror to Moscow. Even while Europe trembled lest the specter be seen striding westward across country, it was carried by sea from Syrian ports and appeared simultaneously at several points on the Mediterranean littoral; raised its head in Toulon and Malaga, Palermo and Naples, and soon got a firm hold in Calabria and Apulia.
Mann’s plague, though, is internal as much as external, mutating through the repressed desire that lurks beneath Aschenbach’s veneer of wealth and respectability. That desire is present in the changes Aschenbach makes to himself through the course of the novella, dyeing his hair and getting his face painted, attempting vainly to render himself more youthful and closer in age to Tadzio. Increasingly a voyeur and a caricature, someone who has brought his own kind of sickness to Venice, Mann’s protagonist is a somber reminder of the infection within, an eerie forerunner of the elite who populate today’s ruling classes.
Recently I began to wonder what books people were reading and talking about a hundred years ago. All I knew about 1920 was that it was the year Prohibition began. And I knew that the First World War was over, and that Winston Churchill, the War Secretary, was bombing Mesopotamia and raving in the newspaper about the “poison peril” emanating from Russia – the Russia, he said, “of armed hordes smiting not only with bayonet and with cannon, but accompanied and preceded by the swarms of typhus-bearing vermin which slay the bodies of men, and political doctrines which destroy the health and even the soul of nations”. In January 1920, Lloyd George said, “Winston has gone mad”. One thing pleased the War Secretary very much, though: a book deal. He had a contract to write a history of the vast conflict over which he had just presided, and what with serialization payments from newspapers in Britain and the United States, he was going to receive half a crown per word for The World Crisis. The pay rate was exhilarating, he told the press baron George Riddell.
So that was my working sense of 1920 – very incomplete. What other interesting bookish events went on that year? I will tell you. In May, a writer named Hope Mirrlees published a poem. It was a longish work – twenty-three pages – about a person wandering around Paris on a single day in 1919. “Paris is a huge home-sick peasant”, she wrote. “He carries a thousand villages in his heart.”
Virginia Woolf, who thought the poem was “very obscure, indecent, and brilliant”, typeset it, printed it on a small press, corrected typos, and then sewed the bindings of 175 copies. The cover said “PARIS” and “HOPE MIRRLEES” in thin red letters; its paper bore a pattern of harlequin diamonds in red, blue and gold. The book was one of the earliest publications of the Hogarth Press, of Paradise Road, Richmond – Leonard and Virginia Woolf, proprietors. “This little effusion looks at the first blush like an experiment in Dadaism”, wrote a reviewer in the TLS, on May 6, 1920, “but there is a method in the madness which peppers the pages with spluttering and incoherent statements displayed with various tricks of type. It seems by a sort of futurist trick to give an ensemble of the sensations offered to a pilgrim through Paris.” A copy went to the British Museum, where it was stamped “May 12 20”.
The poem (available in facsimile on the British Library’s website) begins: “I want a holophrase”. And then it quotes Parisian signage: “NORD-SUD, ZIG-ZAG, LION NOIR, CACAO BLOOKER”. A holophrase, in nineteenth-century philology, is a “sentence word” – a brief utterance that carries much meaning in a short space. It was a word used by Mirrlees’s companion, the Cambridge classicist Jane Harrison. Harrison gives an example of a holophrase taken from one of the indigenous languages of Tierra del Fuego: mamihlapinatapai, which means “looking-at-each-other,-hoping-that-either-will-offer-to-do-something-which-both-parties- desire-but-are-unwilling-to-do”. Paris, with its flashing holophraseology, its saffron skies and its wicked moon, its private anthology of multilingual quotations and its explanatory endnotes, was not much read in 1920. It’s now celebrated as a lost landmark of modernism, an influence on T. S. Eliot as he wrote The Waste Land in 1921, during and after his mental breakdown. I like Mirrlees’s free-verse epic better than Eliot’s, honestly – Eliot’s poetry effortfully hauls itself out of despair, “dragging its slimy belly on the bank” like the rat of “The Fire Sermon”, while Mirrlees’s world is full of sunlit buildings and manic joy – but maybe I’m just being contrary. She even quotes the historic plaques on buildings: “VOLTAIRE / EST MORT / DANS CETTE MAISON / LE 30 MAI 1778”.
Another noteworthy book from 1920 is Agatha Christie’s first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which appeared in October, advertised by the publisher as “a very ingenious detective story, introducing a new type of detective in the shape of a Belgian”. What an astonishingly skilful beginning to one of the great fictional runs of all time, and narrated by Hastings himself! “You are agitated; you are excited”, says Poirot to Hastings, early on. “It is but natural. Presently, when we are calmer, we will arrange the facts, neatly, each in his proper place.”
While there probably are people in the publishing industry who—even in a life-and-death world pandemic—will not want to say that Amazon is doing the right thing, Amazon is doing the right thing in announcing that, “We are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and ship these products to customers.”
Books, along with many other product classifications, for the moment are being deprioritized.
At Publishers Weekly, Jim Milliot and John Maher reported Tuesday (March 17), “Amazon has told other suppliers, including publishers, that their goods will receive a low priority until at least April 5, according to both a letter PW has obtained that was sent to independent publishers earlier today.”
“We will let you know once we resume regular operations,” Amazon writes to its third-party vendors. “Shipments created before today will be received at fulfillment centers.”
. . . .
Describing Amazon’s new move to channel its forces toward crisis response first, Rachelle Hampton writes at Slate, “As more cities resort to drastic shelter-in-place measures and photos of empty grocery store aisles circulate on the internet, the giant e-tailer has stepped in to fill the gaps, but even it’s straining under the weight of an unprepared country. Many listings for items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper showed that they were out of stock or that delivery would be delayed by several days.”
Milliot and Maher at PW add, “The letter [to vendors] closed by noting that the e-tailer is aware of the effect this will have on businesses, and is ‘working around the clock to increase capacity, and on March 16 announced that we are opening 100,000 new full- and part-time positions in our fulfillment centers across the US.’”
PG notes that, in typical Big Corporate Publishing style, no mention is made that Amazon (and other etailers) is/are still selling lots and lots of ebooks to readers who are staying inside.
PG also notes that an Amazon search for coronavirus will yield (at least in the US) a link from Amazon at the top of the results to coronavirus information from the Centers for Disease Control followed by some dodgy-sounding and very recently published books about topics such as how to make your own hand sanitizer (63 pages) and instant home school (33 pages).
For more than twenty-five years, Philadelphia homicide detective Bree Taggert has tucked away the nightmarish childhood memories of her parents’ murder-suicide…Until her younger sister, Erin, is killed in a crime that echoes that tragic night: innocent witnesses and a stormy marriage that ended in gunfire. There’s just one chilling difference. Erin’s husband, Justin, has vanished.
Bree knows how explosive the line between love and hate can be, yet the evidence against her troubled brother-in-law isn’t adding up. Teaming up with Justin’s old friend, former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler Matt Flynn, Bree vows to uncover the secrets of her sister’s life and death, as she promised Erin’s children. But as her investigation unfolds, the danger hits close to home. Once again, Bree’s family is caught in a death grip. And this time, it could be fatal for her.
. . . .
Let’s introduce you to readers – who are you and what do you do for a living?
My name is Bree Taggert, and I’m a homicide detective with the Philadelphia PD. But I was born in upstate New York and spent my early childhood in Grey’s Hollow.
How did you fall into that line of work?
I’ve wanted to work in law enforcement since I was a child. The county sheriff rescued me and my siblings from under our porch the night my father killed my mother and then shot himself. To me, cops have always been heroes.
Where did you live before moving back to Grey’s Hollow?
I live and work in Philadelphia, where I was raised by a cousin since the age of eight, while my siblings lived in Grey’s Hollow with our grandparents. Growing up, I missed my brother and sister and wished we hadn’t been separated. My little brother and I have grown apart over the years. Now that I’m back in town, I’m determined to develop a closer relationship with him.
What brought you back to town?
My younger sister, Erin, called me for help. I headed north as soon as I could. But by the time I arrived in upstate New York, I learned she’d been shot to death. To make matters worse, my brother-in-law is missing and wanted for questioning in connection with the crime. I hate to think Erin was killed in exactly the same way as our mother. I feel guilty for not being here when Erin needed me. I must find out what happened.
Do you think history has repeated itself? Did Erin’s husband kill her?
I’m not sure. I hope not, but I know the statistics. Most female murder victims are killed by their significant others, a fact I witnessed long before becoming a cop. But his best friend, former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler Matt Flynn, says he’s innocent. Matt wants to investigate the shooting together. I agreed. I need someone to watch my back. Plus, he’s going to look into the murder anyway. I want to keep an eye on Matt and his investigation.
In these isolated times, many people are inside reading, but the book business, like others, is bracing for catastrophe. Major literary festivals and fairs around the world have been canceled. Public libraries have closed. Author tours, signings and bookstore appearances have been scrapped.
As the severity of the coronavirus outbreak continues to intensify, authors, publishers and booksellers are struggling to confront and limit the financial fallout. Many fear the worst is yet to come, including more store closures and potential disruptions to warehouse and distribution centers, as well as possible paper shortages and a decline in printing capacity.
“There’s no question we’re going to see a drop in sales,” said Dennis Johnson, co-publisher of the Brooklyn-based independent press Melville House, who has directed staff to work from home. “It’s unprecedented. Nobody knows what to do except hoard Purell.”
The Sydney Writers’ Festival, which typically draws an audience of 80,000 and was scheduled to begin on April 27, was called off this week, following cancellations of major book fairs in England, France, Germany and Italy. In the United States, The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Tucson Festival of Books, the Virginia Festival of the Book and The Believer Festival in Las Vegas were among the many shuttered events, which draw tens of thousands of readers and can be a critical sales venue for authors and publishers.
On Monday, PEN America announced that it was calling off its World Voices Festival, which was set to take place in early May in New York, with planned appearances by Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Jenny Slate, Elif Shafak and others.
BookExpo, a pivotal annual trade show for publishers, booksellers and librarians, is currently still scheduled to take place at the end of May at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York, according to the event’s organizer, Reed Exhibitions. “We remain optimistic that we can take the appropriate measures to see ourselves on the other side of this by the end of May and carry on as planned,” BookExpo’s director said in a statement on its website. “That being said, we will continue to follow guidelines and precautions suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
. . . .
The potential long-term effects for book retailers are sobering. Many in the industry are worried that independent bookstores will be devastated as local and state officials mandate social distancing and order some businesses to temporarily close.
. . . .
Mitchell Kaplan, the founder of Books & Books, an independent chain in South Florida, said sales have fallen at the company’s stores and cafes, and author appearances have been canceled.
“The irony of all this is that what makes bookstores so potent, our ability to be community gathering places, has become our biggest liability,” he said.
Some of what we have learnt about working at home as part of a publishing team over the past six years is true of all remote workers.
But some of the challenges and rewards are very specific to book publishing – and so glaringly obvious that they can be easy to overlook…like the fact that the majority of the publishing industry still works to produce physical objects (alongside all the digital material, reports, communications and e-editions modern publishing needs). There’s nothing remote about a hardback – it needs heft, tactility and appeal – so there are particular challenges for publishers to this new reality.
Here are the things we’ve learnt in the past six years. Often the hard way:
1 Anyone involved in creating the physical product must have access to a decent printer. Type size always looks bigger on screen than the page. And many designers seem to have weirdly good eyesight and a love for tiny text.
Production checks take longer as everything has to be physical sent. Schedules are slower. And it costs way more if your team are sending things rather than walking them down to sales or editorial for sign off.
Royal Mail is a million times more reliable than most couriers i.e. Hermes. In fact, if we can impart one piece of useful advice: don’t use Hermes, ever.
Cover proofs are still worth spending money on. Colours are always brighter on screen. It’s a lot cheaper to do a few proper cover proofs than reprinting a whole jacket.
So much of publishing is about interaction with different kinds of people and businesses. Each project involves creatives, departments with commercial agendas and teams with logistical imperatives. That’s a lot of links and tasks that can go wrong. The person who can bring all that together in a meeting may be a different person from the one who can generate momentum and decisions online. Put simply – the best remote team leaders may be different people from office team leaders.
This is because working and managing remotely is a very real, very new skill. We just published a book about this called Invisible Work by John Howkins. Those who are good at it will chose teams and collaborators who actually answer emails and phone calls. Not the interesting genius who buries their head in the sand and produces something for the meeting at the last minute. Those people belong to a different workstyle (or era).
It’s easier to disagree and throw your weight around on email than in a phone call, but you can’t see how it’s being received. Use the phone for anything delicate or problematic then follow up with positive notes of the points agreed.
. . . .
9. In the end you will make more decisions alone when working from home. Which can start to feel lonely. Don’t be afraid of picking up the phone for input or a friendly colleague’s ear. We have got out of the habit of phoning friends and into the habit of messaging andf emailing colleagues rather than calling them. Reclaim the phone call to ensure home-alone sanity.
10. If you are working from home all the time you lose your day at home to focus. Work out the best time for the deep concentration jobs – whether its data analysis or manuscript reading. We find it easiest to do the deep stuff straight way – before we have been distracted by emails, sales figures, requests, social media. In any case, do change the space you are in if you can. And turn off wi-fi.
This year’s installment of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference, held in San Antonio during the first week of March, was supposed to draw around 12,000 creative writers to the Henry B. González Convention Center to buy books, gossip, and drink. But it didn’t happen that way. At all.
The saga might have started in 2018, when the AWP fired David Fenza from its leadership team. It might have started when that first coronavirus patient in the U.S. sneezed on a stranger. Or when tweets about other conferences’ cancellations materialized in the writing community. I really don’t know.
I can only begin with what you definitely need to hear about AWP 2020: the directors and board of AWP had no good choices this year, trying to figure out whether or not to cancel the San Antonio conference in light of the fast-spreading coronavirus. On the side of going forward, many small presses would have no operating budget for the year without the sales they achieve at AWP; on the side of cancelling, the risk of 12,000 writers bringing coronavirus back to their homes across the world is difficult to countenance. The board elected to go forward, incurring anxiety, wrath, and self-righteousness across all sectors of the community.
I’d guess, unscientifically, that at least half of the writers and exhibitors with AWP plans cancelled them. The convention center was empty. Exhibitors abandoned so many booths that presses and magazines moved around and spread out (without reprisal), and random writers sat at empty tables with their laptops.
. . . .
I think that the cancellations of many major exhibitors (Tin House, Creative Nonfiction, McSweeney’s, W.W. Norton) forced attendees to spend more time at the tables of little presses they might not have heard of, or might have otherwise missed in the noise of the conference.
. . . .
Panels substituted most or all of their intended presenters, leading to a looser, perkier atmosphere in which anything could happen. Individual authors set up displays at empty booths, selling their books on the barrelhead. Offsite events went awry, but plucky, quick-thinking writers (ahem) saved them. We depended on our wits and the resources we could scrounge up, rather than well-laid plans, to make this conference fun and meaningful. It was kind of great.
Serious questions linger about the future of the conference, and its sponsoring organization. The leadership problem at AWP is not going away, and in fact seems to be worsening.
Why is it that some characters just don’t disappear? The book is finished, the edits have been completed, the next work is in progress and yet… a particular character is still refusing to rest or retire or whatever it is that characters do when the writer has finished the book.
I’ve been reflecting on this, because there is still a character that is very much with me – one that just simply refuses to let me go. To Keep You Safe was e-published in October last year and the print copy is out in March 2020. The premise is: how far would you go to keep a child that wasn’t yours safe?
The story is of teacher Jenni, who becomes concerned that her vulnerable pupil, Destiny, is at risk of being snatched by a gang: unless she acts immediately Destiny will be lost forever.
I won’t say if it’s Jenni or Destiny (answers on a postcard please), that still stalks me silently, side-stepping me in my shadow, so that she is always, still, well, just here. But it has left me thinking why. Why is she still here with me when the other characters, are well, for want of a better word, simply asleep?
I know I’m not alone with characters that live on beyond the book.
Two traditional publishing news stories caught my eye, primarily because I blog about contracts all the time, trying to convince writers to stay away from traditional publishing contracts for their books—or at least to negotiate the hell out of those contracts.
. . . .
The first story to catch my eye was about Ronan Farrow, who rose to fame through his nonfiction about Harvey Weinstein. All of this was at the beginning of the #MeToo Movement, which still continues. The book Farrow wrote, Catch and Kill, was one of the fall’s big books. It’s also a hell of a read.
It was published by Little, Brown, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, which did all the right things to promote the book. Hachette set up the proper media coverage, got Farrow on many talk shows, sent him on the right kind of book tour, and started the buzz early. Farrow’s editors and his media team Got It. They took the moment, and used it, in a way traditional publishers almost never do.
This week, Farrow announced he was leaving Hachette because he couldn’t work with them in good conscience given a book they planned to publish in April. An imprint of Hachette, Grand Central, acquired a book by Farrow’s father, Woody Allen, titled Apropos of Nothing. Farrow’s sister, Dylan, has credibly accused Allen of sexually molesting her when she was a child, and Farrow has backed her up. He even documented the allegations in Catch and Kill, a book that was heavily vetted by lawyers.
Allen’s book was not vetted. And it had been rejected by a number of other publishers because, in most of the entertainment world, Allen is considered as toxic as Weinstein. So when Farrow found out through media reports that Hachette was going to publish Allen’s book, Farrow tried to convince them not to.
Of course, that didn’t work. As the U.S. CEO of Hachette, Michael Pietsch, told the BBC, Hachette does “not allow anyone’s publishing programme to interfere with anyone else’s.”
In other words, Hachette, like the other Big 5 publishers, did not sign a non-compete clause demanded of the publisher by authors. If one author’s book competes with another, so what? Hachette can publish both of them. But in most cases, the author must sign a non-compete clause that states that the author can’t publish a book with another company that will compete with their own book from Hachette.
Patently unfair, and something I’ve urged writers to fight against for years.
Put it this way: If one of Hachette’s authors writes a bestselling thriller featuring augmented cats, and augmented cats become a trend, then the author can’t take another augmented cat book to a different publisher even if Hachette passed on the book, provided the author signed a standard non-compete.
However, Hachette could publish two dozen augmented cat books by different authors, even though those books would compete with and possibly hurt the sales of the book by the original author.
Farrow had no leg to stand on to get Hachette to reject Allen’s book. And in publishing terms, by the time Farrow discovered the betrayal, it was much too late. Hachette was a little over a month out from publishing the book. That means Hachette invested money in Allen’s book, in a promotion campaign, in copy editing, design, and printing costs. If the book’s run was a standard run for a minor bestseller, Hachette had invested about half a million dollars in that title by the time Farrow found out about it.
No company would pull the plug on a book that late in the game because one of its authors complained.
Unless the author had standing, a sterling reputation, and 968,000 followers on Twitter.
Farrow’s comments reverberated through the industry and made headlines worldwide. On Thursday, employees of Hachette staged a walkout, protesting the publication of Allen’s book. They hadn’t known about it either (many of these imprints don’t talk to each other about purchases).
The news story wasn’t going to go away. It was large and it would get larger by the time the book dropped on April 7. In fact, when the book dropped, the protests and Farrow’s opposition would have been all that the media would talked about. Hachette Book Group’s reputation would have continued to take a hit. So, the question the bean counters had to answer was…was that hit worth the half million that the company had already spent on Woody Allen’s memoir, or would Hachette lose twice that amount (or more) in bad publicity?
The answer came swiftly. On Friday, Hachette canceled Allen’s book. Not because of contract terms, not because Farrow had any right to ask the company to live up to some mythical co-equal non-compete clause, but because publicity forced the company to pay attention to their own idiocy.
The Farrow story shows traditional publishing at its most hypocritical. Pietsch’s comment about not allowing one author’s publishing program to interfere with another’s is patently untrue. And his comments later, that Hachette “protects” their authors, is also false.
This entire event shows the kind of cold calculation that the people at the top of big publishers make about publishing. They demand that authors sign contracts that will actively harm the authors’ careers while refusing to sign the same kind of agreement themselves.
Contracts are supposed to be equitable agreements between two equal parties. Contracts are not that in traditional publishing, as I have written about many, many, many times.
So I had to stop here and actually gloat when a publisher finally suffered the fate that it has forced hundreds of its authors into—making a business decision that will cost it both in reputation and earnings because of a pre-existing agreement.
How many writers have been told to stand down from a contract they signed with a competing book publisher? How much money have writers lost because publishers want everything? The number is unknowable, bcause most authors don’t or can’t discuss their contract terms (yet another bad contract term authors sign).
People sometimes ask why I chose the Great Depression as one of the central time periods of my novel, Waltz in Swing Time. After all, they reason, it’s a dreary chapter in history. One bookseller remarked, “we don’t want to relive it.”
Perhaps that’s why a surprisingly large number of twentieth century historical novels take place instead during World War II. Wonderful books such as The Nightingale, Motherland, and All the Light We Cannot See feature heroic protagonists — soldiers, spies, medical personnel, ordinary citizens — who defy or resist totalitarian governments, despite great personal danger.
In the thirties, United States citizens didn’t struggle against an oppressive regime, but many suffered severe hardships after losing their jobs and income. The country faced an economic divide between the wealthy bankers and Wall Street investors whose reckless speculations may have precipitated the crash of 1929, and the rural communities who struggled to keep their farms as their crop income declined and they couldn’t make mortgage payments.
This may sound all too familiar. In fact, not only did I write about the Depression because of its odd under-representation in historical fiction, I chose it because I see striking parallels between the economic inequality of the thirties and our current economic climate.
. . . .
In Waltz in Swing Time, Irene Larsen and her family struggle to make ends meet on their farm in Utah. They’re forced to sell prized possessions and take in boarders, and they watch neighbors lose their farms to bank foreclosures. Unfortunately, this was an all too common reality in the thirties, where in the U.S., the unemployment rate rose as high as twenty-five percent. In urban areas, some homeless Americans lived in shantytowns known as “Hoovervilles,” and reluctantly turned to soup lines for meals. After FDR took office as the nation’s thirty-second President in March 1933, his New Deal programs gradually began turning the tide; and the Depression officially ended with the start of World War II.
In their own way, the people who made it through the Depression were heroic. Sure, they didn’t rescue injured airmen from burning planes or smuggle Jews to safety through the Pyrenees, but they made tough choices and sacrifices for their families and communities. Many of them came together to help each other through difficult times – buying back farm possessions at penny auctions, for example, or raising community gardens to feed neighbors.
It is often said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover; but what about first lines? So many classics have become synonymous with their beginnings — and for good reason. Who could ever forget Charles Dickens’ opener in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Or what about Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
The best first lines, in my opinion, both dazzle and invite intrigue: they share a bit about the writing style, give color to the voice, and attempt to arrest your attention and invite you into the world that the author is about to unveil. There is nothing like the excitement of a first line. So in homage, the Amazon Books editors have pulled a few favorites from the past decade. Without further ado…
“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.”
The Amazon Books editors named The Sympathizer a Best Book of the Month and a Best Book of 2015, and it also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, an Edgar Award, and the Andrew Carnegie Medal in fiction. The first line says it all — set during the Vietnam War and afterwards, this award-winning novel tells the story of a man playing both sides, who must face the consequences both at home and abroad.
“In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.”
Michael Ondaatje’s most recent novel swept us away — we named it a Best Book of the Month in 2018 — and arrested us with its distinctly dramatic first line, narrated by 14-year-old Nathaniel. Together with his sister, he finds himself living in bombed-out London with two shady characters after the disappearance of their parents at the close of the WWII. As the years go on, Nathaniel learns about the covert goings-on of his mother as a spy, discovering the past was not quite as he remembered it.
You were due to be very busy at LBF, with six events scheduled across the three days. What is the pull of the fair?
I have been to LBF most years since I started publishing five years ago. This year I was planning on bringing more of my Dark Skies Publishing books to the trade. I had a packed diary of LBF events lined up; I hoped to talk about a lot of the same issues: what being an empowered author means, and discussing the various ways you can futureproof yourself as an author. I think this crosses boundaries, too, because whether you are an indie author, a hybrid, or you choose to publish solely with a traditional publisher, every one of us has to think about a number of things: marketing, connecting with your audience in the best possible way, and what is unique to you—how you can use your unique selling point to stand out in what is quite a saturated market.
. . . .
Were you not tempted to do physical publishing with a big house?
At some point or another my agent [United Agents’ Millie Hoskins] and I have had conversations with some big publishers—if not all of them. I have always approached them with an open mind, and I would never say never. But I always take what I think is the best option at the time. At this stage of my experience, and after being so long as an indie author, it is difficult to think about changing. Maybe this just comes down to a personality thing. Some authors would quite reasonably not want to take on managing all the systems and processes. It’s the difference of being self-employed or not. But I love running my own business and have access and oversight to all of those processes.
It has been a learning curve [with Dark Skies] and we had to learn a lot about all our new partners: the distributors, the booksellers, sales teams. But all of that is quite exciting. Could I hand over all of that? I’m not sure. I love all of it, right down to the granular elements—the data, working with the designers—and some people might not like it.
PG thought a little off-topic, unbalanced humor might be appropriate.
From The Babylon Bee:
The nation’s nerds woke up in a utopia this morning, one where everyone stays inside, sporting events are being canceled, and all social interaction is forbidden.
All types of nerds, from social introverts to hardcore PC gamers, welcomed the dawn of this new era, privately from their own homes.
“I have been waiting my whole life for this moment,” said Ned Pendleton, 32 — via text message, of course — as he fired up League of Legends on his beefy gaming PC. “They told me to take up a sport and that the kids playing basketball and stuff were gonna be way more successful than us nerds who played Counter-Strike at LAN parties every weekend.”
“They all laughed at me. Well, who’s laughing now?”
To prepare for the onslaught of the deadly disease, nerds are changing absolutely nothing and are expected to rise up to rule the post-Coronavirus society, as they are the ones best adjusted to being sheltered in a basement, garage, or room for many days at a time marathoning Halo, Half-Life, The Legend of Zelda, Red Dead Redemption, or Horizon Zero Dawn.
This item is a little more on the legal side of things than PG usually includes in TPV, but he thought it might be of interest to those who don’t know about various state price-gouging laws.
At the time of publication, at least twenty four states, plus Washington D.C. have declared states of emergency related to the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”), with that number growing by the hour. In addition to making more resources available to residents, in many cases, the declarations also trigger additional protections to consumers in the form of anti-price gouging laws. These laws, which automatically go into effect, are intended to prevent merchants from significantly increasing the cost of consumer goods and services during a crisis.
For instance, in New Jersey a ten percent (10%) price increase during an emergency would be unlawful under most circumstances. In Pennsylvania, there is an assumption that a twenty percent (20%) increase is unlawful, but lower price increases could be deemed unlawful depending on the circumstances.
Even in states without anti-price gouging laws, the declaration of a state of emergency can result in emergency legislation. For example, Maryland does not currently have an anti-price gouging law in effect, but shortly after the Governor declared a state of emergency, both houses of the General Assembly introduced legislation aimed at limiting increases in consumer goods and services during the emergency to no more than ten percent (10%).
The particulars of the laws vary with each state. Some states set a percentage above which the merchant cannot increase the price. Others simply state the price increase cannot be “unconscionable.” Some laws apply to any party in the distribution chain, whereas others make allowances for increases if the party is simply passing along its own increased cost. As a result of the differences, ensuring compliance with these laws can be challenging for businesses that provide consumer goods and services in different states, as a one-size-fits all approach will likely not work. Violations can range from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars in penalties, injunctions, lawsuits, criminal penalties and/or other measures.
PG will note that it is not unusual for a merchant’s cost of goods or of doing business to increase during an event that will trigger a state of emergency declaration by a government official.
In the event of a hurricane, for example, a store may run out of certain types of goods as many more customers than usual purchase certain items such as protective tarps or plywood to board up windows.
Under such conditions, the cost of goods for the merchant may increase substantially due to shortages of supply at wholesalers, road closures that make transportation of goods more expensive, higher demand from locations that have already suffered damage from the hurricane, etc.
Depending upon the wording and judicial interpretation of price-gouging laws, it may not be worth the trouble and expense for the merchant to make extraordinary efforts or pay higher costs in order to keep products in stock. Indeed, if there is a potential legal penalty for a pricing misstep, the merchant might make a financial decision to just close its doors or to not restock until after the emergency passes.
Needless to say, if a hurricane is on the way, a merchant might find that her/his/its attorney’s office is close and not accepting calls.
Publishing festivals and writers conferences are getting canceled right and left, too numerous to really name. But shout out to the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute where I was supposed to speak in a few weeks, hope to see you all at the rescheduled date.
Two interesting articles about how the coronavirus is affecting the publishing industry, first LitHub takes a look at how COVID-19 has ground the Chinese publishing industry to a halt. And Slate takes a look at how the pandemic is impacting a bookstore in Washington state.
In 1998, two years before his death at the age of eighty-five, Patrick O’Brian was asked by David Kerr in a BBC documentary – Patrick O’Brian: Nothing personal – how long he had lived in his house in the South of France. “I’m not going to answer that!”, he barked. “The next thing you’ll be wanting to know is how much I paid for it!” O’Brian (who never understood how to operate a television set) was famously testy in interviews. “Question and answer”, says the secretive surgeon Stephen Maturin in Clarissa Oakes (1992), “is not a civilised form of conversation”, and in his diary O’Brian described Kerr’s questions as “verging on the 3rd degree”. The film crew, he added, were “good fellows in their way” but “heavy and unread”, which makes them sound like the crews of HMS Sophie or any of the other men-of-war commanded by “Lucky” Jack Aubrey, hero of the Aubrey–Maturin series.
It is surprising that O’Brian, described by Nikolai Tolstoy in Patrick O’Brian: The making of the novelist (2004), the first volume of this two-volume Life, as “one of the most secretive authors who ever lived”, agreed to be filmed at all, but he had been in his French hide-out long enough (nearly fifty years) to have forgotten the “skulduggery” of the British media. After years of struggle, O’Brian’s historical novels had attained cult status. He had recently received an advance of $1.6 million from Norton for the nineteenth and twentieth books in the Aubrey–Maturin series, and the British Library had published a laudatory apparatus containing appreciations by John Bayley and Charlton Heston, as well as a rare autobiographical essay by O’Brian himself in which he described being sent, after his mother died, “to live with more or less willing relatives in Connemara and the County Clare”. The introduction by William Waldegrave emphasized the importance to O’Brian’s novels of his “Irish, French and English childhood” and “firsthand experience of the sea”. O’Brian, like Conrad, drew from deep resources.
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The purpose of the BBC documentary, O’Brian was assured, was to explore the astonishing erudition that lent his novels their authenticity – authenticity being the term most associated with the Aubrey–Maturin books. Having dodged the bullet about how long he had lived in his house and a dozen other bullets besides, he made an anodyne remark about the origin of Aubrey that proved fatal to his reputation. The captain’s character was based, he said, on that of his elder brother Mike, who had served in the Royal Australian Air Force and been shot down by the Germans in 1942. But the researcher could find no trace of a Michael O’Brian. That was not because O’Brian did not have a brother killed in the war but because his brother was called Michael Russ, O’Brian being the name Patrick adopted by deed poll in 1945 when, aged thirty, he made what Tolstoy described in Volume One as a “conscious” decision to “obliterate his previous existence” and reinvent himself as an Irish toff. He had a fondness for Ireland, which he visited first as an adult, but not a drop of Irish blood, and his new name, explained Tolstoy, was picked “at random” from “a copy of a nineteenth-century marine-insurance certificate”.
That discovery – that the master of historical authenticity was inauthentic – led to a flurry of press stories which caused O’Brian to complain in his diary about the “jealous ill-will excited in small journalists etc by what I may without gross immodesty call relative success”. His nationality, however, was not a matter of indifference: O’Brian had recently been appointed CBE on the understanding that he was English (having been “conceived in Ballinasloe”, he explained, he was born “prematurely in Buckinghamshire”), and awarded an honorary degree by Trinity College Dublin, on the understanding that he was Irish. O’Brian’s annus horribilis came in 1998. His wife, Mary, died that March, and shortly before the documentary was aired in September he discovered that an American super-fan called Dean King was researching his biography. He forbade his friends from talking to King, who nonetheless uncovered, in Patrick O’Brian: A life revealed (2000), the story his subject was desperate to hide.
. . . .
Born in 1914, Richard Patrick Russ was the youngest son of nine children. His mother died when he was three or four (accounts differ), and his father, Charles Russ – a doctor of German extraction specializing in sexually transmitted diseases – would be declared bankrupt. Patrick’s siblings were dispatched to various relations and boarding schools; a sickly child, Patrick himself was left in the care of his chilly father, and after five years also his stepmother, Zoe (who was kind to him). The fragmented family moved around the country. Patrick attended various schools, but was educated principally at home, where he developed a love of botany and ornithology and wrote escapist stories. At the age of sixteen he published, with the help of his father, his first book, Caesar: The life story of a panda leopard.
Having failed to get into the Royal Naval College and the Royal Air Force, and breaking contact with his father, he married, at the age of twenty-two, a Welsh-speaking, semi-educated seamstress called Elizabeth, the daughter of a collier. The couple had a son, Richard, born in 1937, and two years later a daughter, Jane, who died of spina bifida in 1943. By now, however, Patrick – who apparently worked during the war for an intelligence organization (“more than that I shall not say”) – was living with Mary, Countess Tolstoy, whom he married in 1945 (it is not irrelevant that the man who wrote his own massive chronicle of the Napoleonic wars ran off with the wife of a man called Tolstoy). His second marriage coincided with his change of identity, the purpose of which, King reluctantly concludes, was to distance him from his first wife. Patrick and Mary moved from London to a primitive cottage in Cwm Croesor, a remote part of rural Wales, where his writing kicked into gear. Three Bear Witness (1952), the product of these years, was compared by Delmore Schwartz to Yeats.
It was easier, O’Brian reasoned, to be dirt poor in a hot climate, so in September 1949 they moved to Collioure on the border between France and Spain, where he continued to write fiction but made his living as the translator of Simone de Beauvoir and Henri Charrière’s Papillon. In 1967, the American publisher J. P. Lippincott suggested that he try his hand at a sea novel, and the first Aubrey–Maturin story, Master and Commander, was published in 1969. O’Brian – who appears to have had no practical knowledge of sailing at all – had found his voice. His subject, he told the Financial Times, was “human relationships and how people treat one another. That seems to be what novels are for”. In Aubrey and Maturin – one big, bluff and bright-eyed, the other small, dark and mysterious – we see a bifurcated version of O’Brian’s ideal self.
PG doesn’t think the man (or woman) makes the author or the author makes the man (or woman).
There are more than a few geniuses in many different fields who, for one reason or another, made a hash of their family and personal relationships. Typically, PG is willing to meet an artist on the terms the artist includes in the art she/he produces. PG need not feel the artist would make an excellent friend in order to appreciate that person’s skills. Aubrey and Maturin are, for PG, excellently-created characters and their experience are quite engaging.
For Employers: Coronavirus and US Safety and Health Law
The coronavirus, and the illness caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, are dominating headlines, stock markets and daily conversation. They are also raising many questions—and employers inVirus the U.S. are facing one such critical question: How do we help ensure the health and safety of our employees? Squire Patton Boggs helps provide some answers below.
Nearly all employers in the U.S. have a statutory duty to comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated by the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). . . . Therefore, it is important for employers to know and understand what specific OSHA standards may be implicated by and apply to the coronavirus.
In addition, nearly all employers in the U.S. have a statutory duty to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” As the coronavirus spreads, and invariably becomes more of a recognized hazard in the workplace every day, employers should evaluate their current health and safety protocols and implement additional best practices, as needed, to help ensure a safe work environment.
Occupational Safety and Health Standards
OSHA does not have a standard specific for the coronavirus or COVID-19. However, per agency comments thus far, it is possible that OSHA could attempt to use and enforce a variety of current OSHA standards to the extent that coronavirus presents an occupational exposure risk. Thus, employers should be aware of and familiarize themselves with the following OSHA standards:
The General Duty (referenced above) to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards. This standard requires employers to take reasonable steps to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. Such reasonable steps could include providing information regarding coronavirus and COVID-19 to employees, developing a safety and health policy, communicating and training employees on the policy, and enforcing that policy.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards, which generally require the use of gloves, eye and face protection and respiratory protection. When respiratory protection is necessary, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with the Respiratory Protection standard. The Respiratory Protection standard is technical and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Recordkeeping standards require covered employers to record certain work-related injuries and illnesses. While the common cold and flu are not required to be recorded, OSHA’s current position is that COVID-19 is required to be recorded when an employee is infected with coronavirus and falls ill in the course of employment.
General Environmental Control standards cover specific requirements for workplace sanitation, including general housekeeping, waste disposal and washing facilities.
The Bloodborne Pathogens standard applies to occupational exposure to human blood. While the coronavirus is not presently known to be transmitted through bloodborne pathogens, OSHA advises that this standard could still provide a framework for controlling coronavirus exposure to the extent transmitted via bodily fluids more generally.
Entrepreneur that she is, Mrs. PG expected that a lot of her readers or prospective readers might be spending more time than usual at home, so she will be starting some discount price promotions on some of her ebooks to make it less expensive to stay inside and read.
PG would not be surprised if Amazon saw an uptick in the overall demand for ebooks, Prime Video, etc., due to fewer trips out of the home for a significant number of its customers.
PG also suspects that Netflix, HBO, YouTube and other online entertainment providers will see an increase in signups and usage, and that internet gaming activity will go through the roof.
Social media is chattering about Stephen King’s “The Stand,” a novel revolving around a weaponized flu that kills almost all humans and animals on the planet. Although it came out in 1978, sales of the trade paperback were up 25% in the first eight weeks of 2020, while purchases of the hardcover more than tripled, according to NPD BookScan.
So many readers were trying to draw parallels between the book and the current coronavirus outbreak that Mr. King took to Twitter over the weekend to debunk the idea. “No, coronavirus is NOT like THE STAND,” he wrote. “It’s not anywhere near as serious. It’s eminently survivable. Keep calm and take all reasonable precautions.”
. . . .
Want to see inner angst in the Age of Corona? Look at how people are “relaxing” as they chase down the 2011 movie “Contagion” and buy up books on viral outbreaks, looking for psychic predictions in past work while steeping themselves in dread.
Nothing represents society’s ills quite like a pandemic. Trade paperback sales of several well-known novels about outbreaks rose in the first eight weeks of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, according to NPD: Sales of Max Brooks’s “World War Z,” for example, rose 33%, while Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” spiked 50%. Print sales of adult nonfiction about contagious disease as a category, meanwhile, were up 52%.
Some readers are so intrigued by books on deadly viruses, they’re chasing titles that aren’t even in print anymore—like Dean Koontz’s 1981 novel “The Eyes of Darkness,” which mentions a fictional virus called “Wuhan-400” from the same part of China where the current coronavirus started. The author’s agent, Richard S. Pine, says any connection to the current outbreak is misguided.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)
Some people in the industry say writers should only ever use “said” and “asked” as dialogue tags. This is because it forces the dialogue itself to do the work. Personally, I’m not wholly against alternative dialogue tags (“groaned,” “cried,” “yelled,” “lamented,” etc.) when used in moderation. I think they can be particularly effective when the dialogue itself, and the context of the story, can’t portray the way that it’s said. For example:
“That’s great,” Melody groaned.
But sometimes the chosen dialogue tag honestly doesn’t make sense. Such as . . .
“Elephants use their skin folds to crush mosquitoes,” Milo whined.
The direct dialogue doesn’t sound like whining. The content doesn’t sound like something to whine about, and the structure doesn’t sound like whining. (And I doubt in a story it could logically pass off as whining.) That dialogue tag doesn’t seem to fit.
“Elephants use their skin folds to crush mosquitoes,” Milo said matter-of-factly.
That’s better. But sometimes I see weird combos like this:
“Elephants use their skin folds to crush mosquitoes,” Milo whined matter-of-factly.
I don’t know about you, but “whined matter-of-factly” sounds like something that’s pretty difficult to pull off.
Make sure if you do use an alternative tag that what you write makes sense.
. . . .
Often the most powerful dialogue is indirect. This is because it contains subtext. What’s cool about subtext, is that it happens when the audience comes to a conclusion about what they are reading. So, it invites the audience to participate and experience the story, instead of just “spectating” it.
Here is an example of terrible, straightforward dialogue: “Jennifer, I love you! I love you more than the moon and the sun,” Cole said.
“I didn’t like you at first, but I guess over time I came to like you too,” Jennifer said. “Maybe we can be friends for now though.”
Straightforward dialogue releases tension. It has a place in storytelling for sure (like . . . when it’s time for the tension to be released). But most of your dialogue should not be so straightforward. In life, people often speak indirectly about things, and their words reveal more than what they are actually saying. Good dialogue does too. It says more than what’s on the page.