Francesca

This morning, when I was in the train, I read the Fourth [sic] Canto of Hell and was seized with a burning desire to write a symphonic poem on Francesca.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

8 Manga About School Life

From Book Riot:

High school kids fill the pages of many manga series. In fact, it’s a common complaint from readers. Aren’t there any older protagonists? But it makes sense that teen characters dominate the format because this is such a pivotal time in life. This is never more apparent than in manga about school life. Discovering yourself. Remaking your personal image. Forging lifelong friendships. First loves. All these themes, and more, can be found in manga set in school.

But despite the seemingly limited setting, there’s still a lot of variety in the genre. To that end, here are some recommendations for manga about school life:

HORIMIYA BY HERO AND DAISUKE HAGIWARA

Anime fans have probably heard of this series, thanks to the adaptation that aired earlier this year. It introduces us to Kyoko Hori, a pretty and popular high school student, and Izumi Miyamura, her nerdy classmate. But that’s only in school! At home, Kyoko takes care of her little brother and kind of has a bossy and terrible personality. By contrast, despite his in-school reputation, Izumi has multiple tattoos and piercings. And one fateful day, their two paths cross outside of school.

BLUE PERIOD BY TSUBASA YAMAGUCHI

At first glance, Yatora has no reason to complain about his high school career. He’s well-liked by his classmates. He has good grades. What’s there to complain about? But he feels empty inside. That is, he does until a painting catches his eye and he joins the school art club. We’ve all had the experience of going through the motions to please other people at some point in our life, and this really hits that note—and how everything can change when you find your one true driving passion.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG knows nothing about Manga other than they are immensely popular in Japan. He will rely on those more knowledgeable than he is for further information.

If you click on the Amazon affiliate links above, you can use look inside on Amazon to see English-language versions of a lot of different Manga, but the Amazon WordPress embed app that allows PG to include look inside capability on TPV isn’t working.

This is a problem he’s encountering on a more frequent basis with a variety of different Amazon ebooks. He’s not certain whether the WordPress app needs an upgrade or if some publishers are doing something to prevent the app from working. He’s seen this problem even when the Look Inside function works fine on Amazon.

10 More Naming Words Ending in -nym

From Daily Writing Tips:

eponym
The person for whom something is named: chauvinism, Caesarian Section, boycott.

exonym
A name for a people used by outsiders and not by the people themselves. For example, English-speakers call the people of Wales the Welsh.

autonym
A name by which a people refers to itself. The name the Welsh people call call themselves is Cymry. They call their country Cymru. Switzerland, which has four official languages, each of which has a different word for Switzerland–Suisse, Schweiz, Svizzera, Svizra—uses the Latin word Helvetica for the country on its postage stamps and for other uses. Here are some more country autonyms with their English exonyms:

Austria—Österreich
Belgium—Belgique
Germany—Deutschland
Greece—Hellas
Israel—Yisra’el
Japan—Nippon
Poland—Polska
Spain—España
Sweden—Sverige

ethnonym
The name of an ethnic group, tribe, or people. The residents of the United States are called Americans. Other ethnonyms used by Americans include African-American, Black, Indian, Native American, and Asian-American. A similar term, demonym, is a term that refers to the inhabitants of a place. For example, Chicagoans, Londoners, Mancunians (inhabitants of Manchester, England).

toponym
The name of a place. Because the Romans occupied Britain for three and a half centuries, many British place names derive from Latin words. For example, the Romans called their camps castra, a word that developed into the suffix chester/cester, giving modern Manchester, Winchester, and Cirencester.

caconym
“An erroneous name.” The Greek word for badkako, gives us several English words. Cacophony is “bad sound,” for example from an untuned musical instrument, or harsh- sounding words. A cacodemon is an evil spirit. A caconym is a “bad name,” i.e., an incorrect or faulty term. A malapropism, for example, is a caconym.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

The Art of Fiction

From The Paris Review:

Kenzaburo Oe, The Art of Fiction No. 195
Issue no. 183 (Winter 2007)

INTERVIEWER

Many writers are obsessive about working in solitude, but the narrators in your books—who are writers—write and read while lying on the couch in the living room. Do you work amid your family?

OE

I don’t need to be solitary to work. When I am writing novels and reading, I do not need to separate myself or be away from my family. Usually I work in my living room while Hikari listens to music. I can work with Hikari and my wife present because I revise many times. The novel is always incomplete, and I know I will revise it completely. When I’m writing the first draft I don’t have to write it by myself. When I’m revising, I already have a relationship with the text so I don’t have to be alone.

I have a study on the second floor, but it’s rare that I work there. The only time I work in there is when I’m finishing up a novel and need to concentrate—which is a nuisance to others.

.

The Blind
By Sigrid Nunez
Issue no. 222 (Fall 2017)

There are things I’d like to know, too. For example, why, when these two girls want to talk, do they keep getting into their cars and driving to each other’s houses? Why do they never use their phones, not even to text to find out first if the other one is home? Why do they not know things about each other that they could easily have learned from Facebook?

It is one of the great bafflements of student fiction. I have read that college students can spend up to ten hours a day on social media. But for the people they write about, though also mostly college students, the Internet barely exists.

“Cell phones do not belong in fiction,” an editor once scolded in the margin of one of my manuscripts, and ever since—more than two decades now—I have wondered at the disconnect between tech-filled life and techless story.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

The political history of dubbing in films

Not exactly about books, but Felix suggested it and I usually agree with him.

From Salon:

English-speaking audiences rarely come across dubbed films and television programmes. This probably explains why they tend to find dubbing so, well, weird. Dubbed voices usually sound a bit flat and never quite sync up with the mouths we see onscreen. This can be off-putting and perhaps even a bit unsettling.

But since the birth of sound cinema in the late 1920s and 1930s, dubbing has been commonplace in many countries, including (looking just at Europe) Italy, Spain and Germany. Dubbing is still used in many of these countries as a way of translating foreign films and television. In Italy, the dubbing system became so developed in the 1930s that it was even used to add voices to Italian films, right up until the 1980s when the growth of TV (which used directly recorded sound) led to changes in standard industry practice.

So why did such a seemingly bizarre practice gain a foothold in these countries’ burgeoning film industries? After all, aren’t subtitles a better way to keep the original film intact and translate it at the same time? There are a few reasons.

. . . .

In the early 20th century, much of Europe’s film-going population had low literacy levels. Subtitles are useless if you can’t read them (or read them fast enough). There’s also the argument that subtitles ruin a film’s images and keep the viewer’s eyes glued to the bottom of the screen. However, perhaps the most important reason for dubbing’s favour was political.

Dubbing is a brilliant tool for film censorship. Sound films began to appear in the early 1930s, a time when many countries were falling under the sway of totalitarian regimes. In Europe, these included those of Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco and the Nazis. Censorship had been a feature of film production and distribution in Italy, Spain and Germany since before these dictatorships took power, but it increased markedly after they did so.

Italy and Spain, in particular, found dubbing ideologically useful. Mussolini’s Fascists, for example, manipulated foreign films during the dubbing process by changing dialogue to remove any unflattering reference to Italy or Italians. They also used dubbing to alter morally undesirable elements of film plots. For example, the Italian dub of the 1931 American film “Men in Her Life” was altered to remove a reference to Mussolini.

. . . .

Perhaps even more nefariously, they also insisted that films be dubbed into standardised national Italian (the official form of the language that was generally understood around the country). This was an effort to stop people in different regions from speaking local dialects and minority languages, and to prevent foreign words from entering Italian culture. Dubbing became a key nationalist tool that could unify and isolate Italy at a fundamental socio-cultural level.

The same story played out in Franco’s Spain where dubbing kept films ideologically acceptable and marginalised minority languages like Catalan, Basque and Galician. In post-Nazi Germany, dubbing was used to alter film dialogue to play down references to the country’s Nazi past and the atrocities it entailed. For example, the Nazis in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 “Notorious” were rebranded as generic drug smugglers.

. . . .

In the post-second world war period, western Europe (with the exception of Spain) broke free of totalitarianism and literacy began to increase, but dubbing remained. This was partly because it had become an established and familiar habit. But dubbing had also become vital to the system of co-production, which European cinema was increasingly reliant upon. Co-production basically involved two (or more) production companies in different countries teaming up and making a film together. It was popular with producers as it meant they could pool resources and access grants and tax relief from multiple governments.

. . . .

Dubbing meant that each actor could act in the language of their choosing on-set (if you watch an old dubbed film closely, you can often tell that actors are speaking different languages. Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a clear example of this practice). The films were shot without sound and a range of different dubs in different languages were produced in post-production, using various teams of voice actors.

. . . .

Dubbing is still used as a key method of audio-visual translation in many countries and it still attracts politicised debates. For example, the film market in French-speaking Canada has argued that dubs produced in European French are not appropriate for that territory. Dubbing frequently and unsurprisingly ends up at the centre of debates around the politics of language and cultural imperialism, the imposition of one country’s culture onto another country or people.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Pay the writer

From The Bookseller:

I’m currently reading Capitalism’s Toxic Assumptions (Bloomsbury, 2015) by the brilliant writer, Eve Poole. The book meticulously slays capitalism’s dragons in fairy dresses: the assumptions of competition, the invisible hand, ‘market pricing is just’, the supremacy of the shareholder, the legitimacy of the limited liability model and more. It is a very thorough and intellectually robust read. I strongly recommend it.

I did notice that the book doesn’t cover one key toxic assumption that capitalism appears to consider to be fact: writers neither want or need to get paid.

I cannot think of any other reason why anyone would consider it wise or fair to approach a professional writer to work for them for free. I also cannot think of any other realm of professionalism (outside of the creative sphere) in which mega profitable organisations expect to be able to extract labour and expertise for free.  

Don’t cry for me -I am to blame for my own woes. I struggle to resist Twitter and often put ideas out there, like many people. Perhaps I accidentally gave the impression that I like giving away my labour for free. So, it should probably come as no shock that the source of my current bewildered disdain permeates from a tweet I wrote.

I was approached by a blue-chip multinational corporation to write a piece for them on the governments’ seeming push to regulate social media organisations in light of the racist abuse faced by England footballers.

Noticing they hadn’t mentioned a fee, I asked what it was. Their response:

“Sadly there is no fee for opinion pieces ☹ I am told it’s because it is the ‘foundation’ so it’s all meant to be charitable.”

I’d have no problem contributing my time to a charity. But context is critical here: the ‘foundation’ arm of a corporation that made $5.98bn last year asked me to clear my diary, research, write, rewrite, battle with my self-doubts (and demons), rewrite again and then send them a professionally written piece. For free. Or, as they put it, ‘for charity’. I passed.

The representative of the organisation came back to me and said: “That’s fair enough. I am fighting internally for opeds [sic] to be paid so I’ll keep you in mind in case it changes. Have a lovely day!”

. . . .

“I hope that works out well internally. I am part of an organisation called the Black Writers’ Guild and we’re very strong on this. Being a Black writer is often a double whammy – our labour as Black people and then as writers is often not valued. I understand this is a ‘foundation’ but I’m assuming everyone in your hierarchy is getting paid for their labour. Writers have bills too. If the ‘foundation’ wishes to contribute their proceeds to charity – that is admirable. But it is an unfair assumption that writers can afford for the fruits of their labour to go to charity. Home is where charity starts after all. And we won’t have homes if we don’t get paid for our labour.”

. . . .

This is not the first or tenth time this has happened to me. I was once asked to come and spend half a day with another multi-billion-pound organisation. Upon enquiring about pay they offered me “five thousand dollars…”. ‘HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN THE SKIES ABOVE ARE CLEAR AGAIN!’ I thought… until I read the sentence in full: “…five thousand dollars… in Ad Credit… to a non-profit organization of interest to you”. Again, I passed.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG has a somewhat different take on the free work than the author of the OP. PG’s take is based on his experience of many years as a retail attorney in a low-income area.

One of the (many) things that malpractice insurance companies warn attorneys about is what is sometimes called, “street-corner advice” or “coffee-shop advice.”

Attorney bumps into an acquaintance who owns a factory that employs a couple of hundred people at a street corner. The factory owner is someone who would make a nice client. The two stop and chat briefly then the acquaintance says something like,

"I was thinking about you the other day after my kid, who just got his drivers' license, bumped into another car in the high school parking lot. 

It was a little thing that didn't do much damage and nobody got hurt. Since he's a new driver, my car insurance premiums will go through the roof if I tell my agent about it. 

There's nothing wrong with me keeping the whole thing quiet and just giving the other kid's family a couple of hundred dollars to fix the scratches is there?" 

The attorney wants to do this guy a favor because then when he needs help with something bigger, the factory owner might remember how nice the attorney was when his kid had a problem. He smiles and says, “Bob, you’re probably right. I do some work on accidents and know all about those crazy auto insurance bills. Sometimes handling little things like this off the books is best for everybody.”

Bob smiles and says, “Thanks a lot. I won’t forget how you helped me.” Attorney walks back to his office smiling even though there’s nobody sitting in his waiting room.

A couple of months later, the helpful attorney receives a letter from the largest law firm in town announcing that the firm has been retained by the factory owner to pursue a legal malpractice claim. That claim is based upon the incorrect legal advice their client received when the helpful attorney suggested that he not report the accident to his insurance carrier to avoid a premium increase.

The accident in the school parking lot resulted in $25,000 in damages to the other driver’s new Mercedes, a birthday present from her parents. The other driver has also been seeing an orthopedist for back pain and may require back surgery.

The factory owner’s auto insurance company has cancelled his policy and is refusing to pay damages because the factory owner failed to make a timely report of the accident to the company and admitted his child’s liability for the accident while offering the injured girl’s parents money in exchange for their signatures on an agreement to hush up the whole affair.

And the son totaled the family Rolls Royce the day after the policy was cancelled.

End of over-long hypothetical lawyer horror story.

Like nearly every other attorney who has practiced for very long, PG was sometimes asked for informal advice in a non-business setting. His response was usually something like, “I’m so sorry to hear you’re having trouble and I’m happy to help. I’ll have my assistant call you to schedule an appointment as soon as I get back to my office on Monday morning.”

The response accomplished a couple of things:

  1. It communicated that PG was a concerned acquaintance and was happy to help and
  2. PG was a professional and wanted to handle the problem in a professional manner.

PG did a lot of free legal work, but he wanted to choose who he did free work for and what types things he would do without charge instead of having free legal work choose him.

When PG was in his office, he was in friendly lawyer mode and did things like ask a lot of questions, take a lot of notes (which included a summary of what the client told him) and treat the matter in the same way he did other legal matters when he was asked to give legal advice.

With the help of his brilliant and hard-working assistant (No sarcasm whatsoever intended – she was both brilliant and hard-working. So was his other assistant who handled billing and bankruptcies.) he would set up a file for each client that included his notes, letters or emails he sent and a record of the things he did and what he said. In some cases when he gave verbal advice, he would send a follow-up letter to the client summarizing his advice so he was as certain as he could be that the client understood the advice.

There was some CYA in this process, but it also was a way to help PG make certain that he had done his best to clearly explain and communicate his advice to his client and could remember that advice and his basis for it if the client asked him a question about it two years later.

If he wanted to be an effective professional lawyer, acting like an amateur wouldn’t help him reach that goal.

So how does this apply to a professional author (or would-be professional author), like the creator of the OP?

A couple of things come to mind:

  1. If you would like to write for an individual or organization at no charge, you choose the recipient of your charity. There are many that would welcome the help of someone who is talented in written communications.
  2. If someone asks you to provide your professional expertise at no charge, think about how you will respond ahead of time. Your planned response might include something like, “I’m flattered by your offer, but I’m a professional author. Writing is what I do to help support myself, so, unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of extra time to provide my professional services without monetary compensation.”

(PG notes that the end of the hypothetical response included in item #2 above strayed into a bit of lawyer-speak, but sometimes he can’t help it.)

Perhaps PG was a little put-off by the OP author’s complaints about people who asked him to write for free. PG heartily agrees with the sentiment, “Pay the writer!” (and “Pay the attorney!”), but he doesn’t complain if people don’t understand everything about what he does to earn his money.

Covid Literature

One of PG’s offspring, eight years old, has been writing a series of stories about two imaginary characters, Fred and Joe.

PG just learned that the latest Fred and Joe story involved an unexpected side effect of Covid vaccinations that caused Fred and Joe to develop four arms.

During a text-message discussion of this literary work, this young author’s mother, PG was informed that Covid RomComs have shown up on BookBub.

This raised a question in PG’s mind – what will the long-term effect of Covid and all its related shutdowns, shelter-in-place, AntiVaxxers, etc., etc., have on literature of all sorts?

Feel free to opine.

(Brief update on PG’s water-in-the-basement adventures: Water no longer seems to be increasing. Wet places appear to be drying out. Another visit from the good plumber expected tomorrow morning.)

Water in the Basement

PG apologizes for light blogging yesterday.

A short time ago, PG noticed some dampness in the carpet in part of his basement. Since he had lost confidence in a previous service that sent out someone to check on heating, plumbing and air conditioning and provide preventive maintenance on a periodic basis for a flat monthly fee, PG contacted a friend who builds houses and asked for recommendations for a plumber.

The recommended plumber stopped by the next day. For PG, he had one thing to recommend him besides the referral from PG’s friend – he was a man of mature years. He was also very pleasant to deal with and happy to answer PG’s questions.

Within about five minutes, he pointed out to PG that a prior plumber had re-inserted a plug in an interior drainage access point improperly. Upon, close observation, PG could see how the prior plumber had made a dumb mistake – cross-threading the plug.

(Sorry if that’s too technical, but it’s the same thing that happens when you try to screw a lid on a jar and the lid won’t screw all the way on. You unscrew the lid, line it up properly on the jar and the lid closes as it should. The lid was cross-threaded the first time you tried.)

The earlier plumber appeared to have put a bunch of sealant on the plug which may have delayed the appearance of consequences of his error for a few months.

The new plug was properly installed and the mature plumber went on his way in a short period of time. In an act that will probably get him disinvited from the annual Plumbers’ Ball, the old guy declined to send PG a bill for his services.

All was dry for several days, but then the dampness returned. PG called the mature plumber again. After the plumber examined the situation and found the plug was still in place and working as it should, he said he would send his son to cut open the wall to see why the leak had returned.

It didn’t occur to PG that the dampness problem may have had more than one cause. Problems with more than one cause are regarded by PG (and many others) as more disturbing than problems with a single cause. They tend to be tougher to diagnose and fix.

The mature plumber’s son arrived yesterday as promised, examined the dampness and cut a hole in the wall with his saw. The hole didn’t disclose the type of problem the mature plumber thought might be easily fixable, so the son (who struck PG as a younger version of his father) began a more extensive investigation.

To shorten a long, damp story, one or more of the much younger representatives from the old plumbing service had screwed up in at least couple of different ways – after servicing PG’s central heating and air conditioning, a careless representative had left a pipe that should have been sending condensed water from the air conditioning system down the drain closed. Hence the condensed water was running toward the back of the floor in the furnace room, wetting the back wall, then draining downward to a point where it flowed back forward under the floor to soak PG’s carpet as well as a whole bunch of other things.

In defense of yesterday’s plumber’s father, the Mature Plumber, when he came to visit, PG’s air conditioning had not been running much, so there wasn’t much condensed water. In the last week or so, the weather has been very hot and the AC has been extremely active.

Yesterday’s plumber fixed the AC drainage problem by opening the drain pipe, but also discovered that, apparently due to some sort of improper installation (PG was out of the house on a mandatory task and got the explanation from Mrs. PG), one or both of PG’s two water heaters were also leaking and contributing to the dampness problem as well.

In addition to problems with more than one cause, problems with hidden consequences are also quite disturbing. PG has done some squirming around with a flashlight and confirmed the problems yesterday’s plumber discovered with the water heaters. He’s not sure where to look for the AC drain pipe.

The problem yesterday’s plumber discovered with the AC drainage valve reminded PG of a couple of reasons he quit using his prior preventative maintenance service:

  • After one of the last visits from the prior service, PG discovered that the young technician had turned off the natural gas valve that sent gas to PG’s furnace and neglected to turn it back on before he left. Casa PG became a bit chilly before PG discovered the problem.
  • After the last visit from the prior service, PG discovered that the young technician had turned off the electric switch that powered PG’s air conditioning compressor outside the house and neglected to turn it back on before he left. The fan was blowing inside Casa PG, but no cold air was appearing. PG found and fixed that problem as well.

Throw in a phone conversation with his homeowners insurance agent and with a claims representative and yesterday was chock full of things that PG enjoys less than making blog posts on TPV.

If anyone lives near PG, he has recommendations local plumbing/heating/AC people who are very good and those who are to be avoided at all costs.

Hotel California

PG is frustrated with what should be the most mundane of internet tasks – transferring a domain from one internet service provider to another.

As he ran the process a second time with a large, but shady ISP after the first one got lost somewhere in the bowels of their subnormally-automated systems, he was reminded of the following lyrics from an old song by the Eagles titled, “Hotel California.”

Relax,” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave.”

Only idiots

Only idiots are confident. It requires a great amount of wisdom and knowledge to be confused.

Abhishek Leela Pandey

Waterstones employees not expected to police mask wearing

From The Bookseller:

Waterstones employees will not be expected to intervene or attempt to police mask wearing in stores from 19th July, the retailer has confirmed, after announcing it would “encourage” customers to don face coverings and observe social distancing after restrictions are lifted across England.

On 13th July, Waterstones tweeted it had made the decision because of the “enclosed browsing environment” in stores.

However, the chain’s stance was met with some strong reactions on Twitter. Many praised the store for its measured policy, but some, including former actor and political activist Laurence Fox and Talk Radio’s Julia Hartley Brewer, criticised the move. Brewer said: “I make a point of buying books at my local Waterstones rather than ordering on Amazon because I want bookstores to thrive, but if I go into your store and a member of staff asks me to wear a mask, you will lose my business forever.”

A spokesperson for Waterstones told The Bookseller: “From Monday 19th July, the English government will remove the mandatory wearing of face coverings in public and the legislative requirement to adhere to one-metre social distancing. Whilst we will not enforce mask wearing in our English shops, we respectfully encourage our booksellers and our customers to follow the spirit of government guidance, continuing to observe the same safety measures of wearing face masks in crowded and enclosed spaces, and maintaining the social distancing that have helped to create a safe shopping environment. We also ask our staff to continue employing the three primary control measures (face masks, appropriate social distancing and cleanliness and hand hygiene) that have kept both our staff and our customers secure during the ongoing pandemic.”

Waterstones staff seemed positive about the retailer’s decision. One employee told The Bookseller: “We are glad to see a more sensible approach taken internally and that customers will be encouraged to continue exhibiting the correct behaviours. This will be done through the use of signage with much of our current point-of-sale suite remaining in place for the time being. However there is no expectation that staff intervene or attempt to police this policy themselves, indeed, we are actively discouraged from putting ourselves in a situation that may lead to confrontation.

“Staff are encouraged to put their own safety first, continue to distance from customers and one another, wear a mask where possible and continue with hygiene best practice. With a lack of clear government policy on the issue, staff have no legal backing to enforce any behaviours from our customers and as such mask wearing and distancing will be largely self-policing. Many staff would like to see a stiffening of the wording being used by the government and a U-turn on the current path, with masks and distancing in crowded spaces and public transport remaining a requirement.”

They said that the shift in rhetoric from the government had already seen an increase in the number of people opting not to wear a mask as well as visitors pushing back against the current rules and abusing and challenging staff. “Sadly we expect this trend to continue after the 19th,” they said.

“Some branches have enjoyed a busy past few days. With many customers commenting that they too are concerned about the shift in policy and are looking to get in to our stores and stock up on reading material before going into a self-imposed period of isolation and that they will look to avoid busy/crowded places such as shops and shopping centres until the effects of the changing policy become more apparent.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

As an observer of human behavior, PG is fascinated with the mask/no mask situations that cause a significant number of people to become upset.

A month before Covid appeared anywhere, had one interviewed a representative sample of Americans about a hypothetical pandemic that caused government and health officials to recommend that people in well-defined areas and situations wear a face mask mask as a public as a health safety measure, PG doubts very many interviewees would have had a problem with following those recommendations.

If one then asked interviewees to consider that, after public health officials felt the danger had subsided and informed the public that wearing masks in public areas was no longer necessary for their safety, he doubts that very many of those surveyed would have hypothesized any problem following those recommendations either.

PG doubts that significant numbers of people would have responded that they had serious reservations about following either of those pieces of advice and would not comply.

As reflected in the OP, it appears to PG that at least some residents of the British isles have been behaving in much the same way as some of their American cousins have with respect to masks/no masks health decisions.

In PG’s definitely unscientific observation of human behavior among those with whom he has had interactions during the Covid Episode and news accounts he has read about the behavior of other Americans, he has concluded that there is a great deal of social conflict and argument over the mask issue that he would never have predicted.

For the record, PG and Mrs. PG each were vaccinated at the earliest opportunity and wore masks, followed social-distancing guidelines, etc., when local and regional government authorities advised or ordered that such behavior should be followed when they were in public and observed signs in public and private spaces regarding mask wearing wherever they went outside Casa PG.

After the same government authorities said mask wearing was no longer necessary for people like them, the PG’s quit wearing masks. If a business or proprietor of a public place requested or demanded that masks be worn on its premises, the PG’s complied. PG doesn’t remember becoming upset at being required to put on a mask when he entered a location that was being more cautious than the government authorities said was necessary.

What PG doesn’t view as rational behavior is people becoming upset and abusive toward those who are being more or less cautious than they are with regard their decisions about masks/no masks if public health experts and governments have ceased to mandate masks in public places.

PG has strong opinions about a wide variety of matters, but he doesn’t get upset with someone who holds differing opinions. If he were to ask his friends a series of questions about a variety of subjects and they held different opinions than he did, that wouldn’t bother him or interfere with his friendship with them under virtually any condition PG can imagine.

He doubts that any of his acquaintances hold the opinion that everyone should work hard to run over puppies crossing the street and drive accordingly or routinely insult and attack anyone who is over the age of 30 and under the age of 50, but admits he would probably steer clear of them it they acted that way.

As mentioned here before, PG has worried about the impact of long periods of social isolation imposed on groups like school children or the elderly by efforts to minimize the risk of catching Covid. But, he didn’t think to worry about what would happen to the public interactions between people once the danger was past or mostly past.

Perhaps a genre of books involving Covid horror stories will spring into being and become its own permanent category on Amazon.

Tradition

To put it mildly, those who occupy the towering heights of American culture don’t look kindly on traditional religion … Why choose traditional religion in today’s culture?

You can get rid of tradition; you can scrap all the traditions you want. But traditions are the answers we have forgotten. Traditions are the answers to questions we have forgotten we even had to ask.

Rabbi Dr. Ari Lamm and Nellie Bowles, Choosing My Religion, Good Faith Effort Podcast

Should Authors Review Books?

From Writer Unboxed:

As I was preparing to write this month’s post, I took a quick spin through the posts on the site that talk about reviews. No surprise, most of them focus on what you as an author should do about reviews of your book. (Consensus: ignore them, mostly, and go about your business.) But I thought it might be interesting to look at things from a different angle.

Should you, as an author, review other authors’ books?

After all, major publications do it – many of the reviews in the New York Times are one author’s opinion on another author’s work. At its best, this yields insightful analysis from someone who knows a lot about how hard it is to succeed at the thing the author is trying to do; at its worst, when the author doesn’t know much about the genre or has a particular axe to grind, the results can be insulting, biased, or otherwise off-base. And of course if the review is negative, feelings can be hurt, though I would urge all authors to process those hurt feelings more professionally and appropriately than Richard Ford famously did.

But for most of us, the NYT isn’t knocking on our door or dropping into our inbox asking our opinion of the books we read. It’s far more likely that we need to think about whether to review other authors’ work publicly on review sites like Goodreads, BookBub or Amazon. And no one can make up your mind for you—different authors have different philosophies about whether to use these sites and in what way. 

So here are three things to think about as you’re making that decision for yourself.

Think about your goals. Of course you have a right to write reviews—we’re all readers! Readers get to have opinions!—but you should give some thought to what you want those reviews to accomplish. Do you want to boost other authors and recommend the books you loved? You can do that by writing positive reviews of the books you loved and just not writing about books that don’t fit into that category. If, on the other hand, you want the internet to reflect the complete record of everything you read and what you thought about it—positive or negative—go for it. But remember that some authors can’t help reading their reviews, and your name is going to be associated with that negative review. Which leads me to…

The internet is forever. Maybe you’re a reader today, but you have plans to publish at some point in the future, and if the name you publish under is the name you review under, those things are forever connected. And though I’d love to say that all authors understand that criticism is part of being published and that you’re fully entitled to write whatever you want about someone else’s book, I can’t promise that every author is going to take that criticism in stride. I know people who complain (in private, at least) about reviews on Goodreads from fellow authors who wrote positive things about the book but rated it four instead of five stars. (“If you liked it so much, why are you bringing down my average??”) You can’t control other people’s reactions. You can only control what you’re giving them to react to. And so, if you choose to review… 

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

For authors, PG’s general suggestion is that it may be the best business decision not to speak ill of other authors online.

The internet is a wonderful place for extended feuds and nasty disputes and PG doubts that being known as the author who got into an epic online battle with another author about one of that author’s books, particularly when such a dispute attracted additional participants and exploded into a huge brawl.

As argument for not fighting online, PG would ask,

  • “Is it your job to make sure that everything on the internet is true?”
  • “Does your muse ever become distracted when you’re in a nasty fight?”
  • “Has anyone contacted you and begged you to share your completely candid view about this book/author online?”

Reading Jane Eyre as a Sacred Text

From The Paris Review:

The summer that I did my chaplaincy internship was a wildly full twelve weeks. I was thirty-two years old and living in the haze of the end of an engagement as I walked the hospital corridors carrying around my Bible and visiting patients. “Hi, I’m Vanessa. I’m from the spiritual care department. How are you today?”

It was a surreal summer full of new experiences hitting like a tsunami: you saw them coming but that didn’t mean you could outrun them. But the thing that never felt weird was that the Bible I carried around with me as I went to visit patient after patient, that I turned to in the guest room at David and Suzanne’s or on my parents’ couch to sustain me, was a nineteenth-century gothic Romance novel. The Bible I carried around that busy summer was Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

I love the idea of sacredness. I want to be called to bigger things, outside of myself. I don’t want my life to be a matter of distractions from death and then death. I want to surprise myself and to honor the ways in which the world surprises me. I want to connect deeply to others, to the earth, and to myself. I want to help heal that which is broken in us. Which is why I went to divinity school at thirty years old.

But God, God-language, the Bible, the church—none of it is for me. And halfway through divinity school, I realized that my resistance to traditional religion was never going to change. I wanted to learn how to pray, how to reflect and be vulnerable. And I didn’t think that the fact that I didn’t believe in God or the Bible should hold me back.

I, like many of us, have such complicated feelings about the Bible that it’s distracting to even try to pray with it. Too many caveats feel necessary to even begin to try. So I asked my favorite professor, Stephanie Paulsell, if she would spend a semester teaching me how to pray with Jane Eyre. Throughout the semester, we homed in on what I was searching for, a way to treat things as sacred, things that were not usually considered to be divinely inspired. The plan was that each week I would pull out passages from the novel and reflect on them as prayers, preparing papers that explored the prayers in depth. Then, together, we would pray using the passages.

This proved more challenging than I’d expected. I so resisted praying. In Judaism, prayers are prewritten and always in Hebrew. It felt like too much of a betrayal to my Judaism and to my family to pray in English. I just couldn’t do it. Stephanie would invite me, gently, to pray every once in a while. But I always resisted, so instead she would hand me books. She gave me Guigo II, a Carthusian monk who developed a four-step reading practice to bring his fellow monks closer to God. She gave me James Wood, a fellow atheist who wrote How Fiction Works. She gave me Simone Weil, a Jewish woman who escaped to America from Vichy, France, only to go back to Europe and die of starvation because she would not eat more than the prisoners of Auschwitz ate, unable to handle her privilege of escaping.

Eventually, we decided that sacredness is an act, not a thing. If I can decide that Jane Eyre is sacred, that means it is the actions I take that will make it so. The decision to treat Jane as sacred is an important first step, surely, but that is all the decision was—one step. The ritual, the engagement with the thing, is what makes the thing sacred. Objects are sacred only because they are loved. The text did not determine the sacredness; the actions and actors did, the questions you asked of the text and the way you returned to it.

This premise is obviously quite different from traditional ideas of engaging with sacred texts. What makes the Bible sacred is a complex ecosystem of church legitimacy, power, canonization, time, ritual, and other contributing factors. When the sacredness of the Bible or the Koran is questioned, great bodies of people and institutions will rush to defend them. Regardless of how these sacred texts are treated by an individual, they are widely considered to be sacred texts. In how I was treating Jane Eyre, I was saying the opposite: if one treats Jane Eyre as a doorstop, it is a doorstop. If one treats it as sacred, then it can be sacred.

Over the months we worked together, Stephanie and I discerned that you need three things to treat a text as sacred: faith, rigor, and community.

Faith is what Simone Weil called “the indispensable condition.” And what I came to mean by faith was that you had to believe that the more time you spent with the text, the more gifts it would give you. Even on days when it felt as if you were taking huge steps backward with the text, because you realized it was racist and patriarchal in ways you hadn’t noticed when you were fifteen or twenty or twenty-five, you were still spending sacred time with the book. I solemnly promised that when I did not know what a passage was doing, or what Brontë was doing with her word choice, rather than write it off as antiquated, anachronistic, or imperfect, I would have faith that the fault was in my reading, not in the text. In Friday night services, rabbis do not talk about what year the book of Genesis was most likely written and how the version we have today was canonized. A good rabbi instead considers the metaphor of God separating light from dark instead. That was how I set about considering Jane Eyre.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG had never thought of identifying a candidate for the silliest post he had ever put up on TPV until he read the OP.

Per the author’s bio at the end of the OP, she has degrees from Washington University, The University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Divinity School. For those outside of the United States, that’s one highly-regarded liberal arts undergraduate university and two Ivy League institutions

During his years in the higher education system, PG met more than a few well-educated dumpkopfs, but he honestly struggles to recall a lighter-than-air mind to compare with the one revealed by the author’s article in TPR.

All of PG’s offspring are finished with their formal education, but he still remembers thinking about the cost/benefit ratio of some of the “parents’ share” of the financial aid statements and tuition bills from various universities. (To be fair, PG’s offspring were extremely hard-working students and also hard-working employees while they were in college and PG seldom had to pay anything close to the full amount of the “parents’ share” for the education of any of them.)

PG has no doubt what his thoughts would be had he contributed to a three-degree education at expensive educational institutions and saw the tangible evidence of a child’s learning included anything like the OP.

That said, PG realizes that he is being judgmental in the extreme, has never met the author of the OP and expects she has more than one redeeming characteristic. Besides, anybody can forget to take their meds.

If anyone feels PG has misjudged the OP and/or its author, feel free to set him straight in the comments.

PG doesn’t recall cutting any of his pills in half today, but, absent close medical supervision, one never knows for certain.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy is inheriting a behemoth that is under siege

From Yahoo Finance:

Jeff Bezos is out of a job. The former head of Amazon Web Services, Andy Jassy, has taken Bezos’ place as Amazon CEO, leaving the world’s richest human to his rocket company Blue Origin, the Bezos Earth Fund and, of course, his role as chairman of Amazon’s board.

Jassy, meanwhile, takes over at a time when Amazon faces its biggest existential challenges yet. There are ongoing antitrust investigations; battles with labor advocates; and increased competition in the lucrative cloud space from the likes of Microsoft and Google.

“Amazon has been under siege from different quarters,” Ari Ginsberg, professor of at the NYU Stern School of Business, told Yahoo Finance.

But Jassy, who’s worked for Amazon since 1997 and ran its most profitable business, may be the perfect person to guide Amazon through its most tumultuous era yet.

“You want somebody who has the confidence of the chairman and the board,” said Harvard Business School professor of business administration Rosabeth Moss Kanter. “You want somebody who understands the strategy, and was part of it, and knows where the bodies are buried, and the mistakes that have been made and how to move forward.”

Still, the road ahead for Jassy will be tough.

The antitrust suits are coming

While Amazon started out as an online bookseller, it’s now a gargantuan business with its tendrils in everything from cloud computing to groceries, entertainment, pharmaceuticals, and even physical stores. It now has a market capitalization of nearly $2 trillion.

And now the regulators are circling.

“Probably, the most important at this point is the antitrust regulation issue, because that threatens the continued stability and growth of Amazon as this huge corporation,” Ginsberg explained.

Amazon has already been sued by Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who accused Amazon of violating the District of Columbia Antitrust Act by forbidding third-party sellers from offering cheaper rates for their products on competing websites.

Federal regulators may be coming soon, too. It doesn’t help Amazon that the FTC’s newly appointed chair, Lina Khan, is a fierce critic of the e-commerce giant who made a name for herself by publishing an article for the Yale Law Journal titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” calling for changes in the current antitrust regulatory framework.

Then there are the six antitrust bills targeting Big Tech working their way through the House.

“The intensity of the spotlight on Amazon from an antitrust perspective is only going to increase,” said Christopher Krohn, adjunct associate professor of marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “So that’s an area for Andy as a CEO that he’s going to face, much more so than Bezos ever did in the past.”

Amazon’s labor relations problem

Amazon is one of the largest employers in the U.S., and after years of complaints from warehouse workers, labor unions are beginning to take action.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters recently announced it will begin working to organize Amazon workers, an effort that could succeed where an earlier campaign to unionize a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, failed.

“They’re going to have tons of political pressure, pressure from their customers, pressure from their employees, and I would not be surprised at all to see a continued drive toward unionization,” Krohn said.

Amazon has responded to criticism of its workplace practices by pointing out that it offers warehouse workers starting pay of $15 per hour plus benefits. But the pandemic saw increased calls for Amazon to treat its workers better, especially as they helped keep Americans’ cupboards full when the aisles of traditional brick and mortar stores were running bare.

. . . .

“[Jassy] needs to deal with this perception…that has been reported in the media that Amazon kind of dehumanizes or mistreats its workers in the warehouses,” Ginsberg said.

To cut off that criticism, Amazon recently made an addition to its famous Leadership Principles that guide the company, which calls on the e-commerce giant to “Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer.”

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance

PG points out that Amazon has been depicted as on the brink of destruction by various journalists over a period of many years.

Perhaps PG is wrong, but he doesn’t think the latest rounds of criticism are going to knock the Zon off its position.

He will mention a few items:

  1. The horrors of Amazon’s warehouses have been publicized for a long time. There is little doubt that the Teamsters Union and other unions that wish to unionize Amazon employees have been the source of a large number of these horror stories. In long-past lives, PG worked in more than one place doing heavy manual labor for low wages and a lot of people continue to do the same type of labor. Had he been able to grab a job as an Amazon warehouse worker during that time, he would have instantly accepted it. Unions dramatize working conditions that shock subscribers to The New York Times. The people who actually do this type of manual labor aren’t dumb and they can easily distinguish the difference between working under typical manual labor conditions and working in an Amazon warehouse.
  2. Speaking generally, labor unions have been on a long downhill slide for many years. The simple fact is that, other than employers that were unionized decades ago, unions have not had any big successes in expanding their membership into major new employers in a very long time. PG points out the long and unsuccessful effort to unionize Walmart employees which has gone effectively nowhere. Additionally, a great many Amazon warehouses are located in states which have very few unionized employers. Nothing prevents Amazon from closing down warehouses in places that are hostile to its anti-union stance.
  3. Antitrust cases take years and years and years to work their way through the US court system, including trials and appeals. If the Justice Department filed an antitrust case against Amazon tomorrow, Amazon would almost certainly be rolling along in about the same way it does today in 2031. Additionally, there is a lot more turnover among low-paid Justice Department attorneys and the premier law firms Amazon would likely hire to defend itself. For a great many low-level Justice Department litigators, experience at Justice often leads to transition into private practice.
  4. Significant changes in antitrust laws have been very rare and taken a great deal of time to work themselves through Congress. If, as many political observers are speculating, there is a good chance that control of the US Senate will revert to the Republicans in the 2022 election cycle, such a change is likely to kill antitrust legislation in its tracks. The idea that any sort of antitrust legislation which targets Amazon, Google and Facebook would not generate a lot of opposition from companies other than those three is fantasy. A great many different businesses, including competitors to those three companies, would worry about the potential impact of such legislation on them. Once they make their way through the legislative meatgrinder, major new antitrust laws are like unguided missiles which can go off in all sorts of directions and impact companies no one in Congress thought about during the process of drafting, revising and amending that any major legislation goes through before it becomes law.

PG isn’t saying that Amazon should take these threats lightly and PG doubts anyone at the company is doing so. PG does say that the author of OP seems to be pretty naïve about the realities of big-time antitrust litigation and way too accepting of labor union talking points and manufactured quotes.

The publishing industry experiences good news

From Nathan Bransford:

First up, there’s…. good news? In the publishing industry? What is this? Book sales are up a whopping 21.4% YOY, fueled by adult fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books. The rest of the year looks promising as well, though pandemic-related high costs and service disruption plague the print supply chain.

What was the year of the pandemic like for people within the publishing industry? Literary agent Jennifer Laughran has a great timeline of dealing with the adjustments, delays, and backlogs forced by the pandemic, on top of all of the stress everyone was separately experiencing. Worth a read to get a sense for why response times might be slower than normal in an already-slow industry.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

The Missing Men

Not necessarily connected with the book business, but potentially impacting the economy and the book-buying public. Plus, educational levels and a lack of discretionary income will certainly impact the purchase of books and a great many other optional spending decisions.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

George Wilson knew remote learning was not for him. So when his classes went online because of the coronavirus pandemic, Wilson, a then-45-year-old furnace operator in Ohio, did what thousands of men nationwide did last year — he stopped out.

On campus, “I’m a machine,” said Wilson, who is pursuing an associate degree at Lakeland Community College, in Kirtland, Ohio. “I don’t have that same drive at home.”

Wilson is part of an exodus of men away from college that has been taking place for decades, but that accelerated during the pandemic. And it has enormous implications, for colleges and for society at large.

Last fall, male undergraduate enrollment fell by nearly 7 percent, nearly three times as much as female enrollment, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. The decline was the steepest — and the gender gap the largest — among students of color attending community colleges. Black and Hispanic male enrollment at public two-year colleges plummeted by 19.2 and 16.6 percent, respectively, about 10 percentage points more than the drops in Black and Hispanic female enrollment. Drops in enrollment of Asian men were smaller, but still about eight times as great as declines in Asian women.

. . . .

. . . .

In the late 1970s, men and women attended college in almost equal numbers. Today, women account for 57 percent of enrollment and an even greater share of degrees, especially at the level of master’s and above. The explanations for this growing gender imbalance vary from the academic to the social to the economic. Girls, on average, do better in primary and secondary school. Boys are less likely to seek help when they struggle. And they face more pressure to join the work force.

. . . .

In an effort to turn things around, colleges are adding sports teams and majors in fields that tend to attract more men than women, such as criminal justice and information science. They are creating mentoring and advising programs for men, particularly those who are Black and Hispanic. And at least one is hiring a director of Black and males of color‘s success.

But programs and positions catering to men remain relatively rare, said Adrian H. Huerta, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California who studies programs for men of color. Those that do exist tend to be untested and underfunded — “a person who is dedicating 25 percent of their time and asked to produce miracles with no money,” he said.

James Shelley, who founded one of the nation’s first men’s resource centers at Lakeland Community College, in 1996 — “the prehistoric period,” he calls it — said many college leaders still view men as a privileged class.

“One thing I often hear is that men still have most of the power, they still make more on the dollar than women, so why create a special program for them?” he said. “It’s not an easy sell.”

. . . .

In 2018, the female-male gap in enrollment among 18- to 24-year-olds stood at eight percentage points for Black and Hispanic students, and six percentage points for white students. Over all, nearly three million fewer men than women enrolled in college that year.

Some of this difference may be due to the belief among some young men that college “isn’t worth it” — that they’re better off going into the work force and avoiding the debt.

“In a lot of communities of color, there’s this mind-set that the man should work, the man should provide,” said Michael Rodriguez, director of the Men’s Resource Center at Kingsborough Community College, in Brooklyn, which is part of the City University of New York. “They think, ‘if I sit around and go to school, I may not be looked at as a functioning provider in my home.’”

. . . .

Though the decision to work after high school may make short-term economic sense, it deprives these men of thousands in lifetime earnings, and deprives colleges of the perspectives they would bring to the classroom — both as students and as future professors, Rodriguez said. “For colleges to really thrive, all voices need to be heard,” he said. “A gender gap creates unhealthy institutions.”

. . . .

But labor-market factors alone can’t fully explain the growing gulf in college completion between men and women. Academic preparation and gender norms play a role, too.

The differences between boys and girls emerge as early as elementary school, where boys lag in literacy skills and are overrepresented in special education. Boys are also more likely than girls to be punished for misbehaving — an experience that can sour them on school.

The disparities in discipline are the most pronounced among Black boys, who made up 15 percent of public-school students in the 2015-16 school year, but accounted for 31 percent of law-enforcement referrals and arrests.

Boys are also less likely than girls to seek or accept help for their academic and emotional struggles, having been socialized to be self-reliant. By the time they’re in middle school, some boys have disengaged from school entirely. Even if they manage to graduate from high school, these boys lack the skill — or the will — to succeed in college.

. . . .

At Lakeland, the decision to create a stand-alone center for men back in the mid-90s stemmed from the success of the college’s women’s resource center, Shelley recalled.

“It was thought that if we have a program that’s such a benefit to women, wouldn’t it make sense to have a similar program for men” who had fallen behind their female peers, he said. The premise was that “men have problems, too.”

But when Shelley began calling around to see what other colleges were doing to support men, he came away empty-handed. “Most of the people I talked to expressed the sentiment that men are the problem,” he said.

Twenty-five years later, Shelley sees this structural “anti-maleness” embedded in school-discipline policies that disproportionately net boys, and in sexual-assault prevention programs that sometimes treat incoming students as threats. “I had one young man tell me ‘I was welcomed to college by being told that I’m a potential rapist,” he said.

. . . .

Shelley, of Lakeland Community College’s resource center, is generally skeptical of efforts to “reprogram” males, believing it better to “channel” their deeply ingrained identities then to attempt to change them. Asking students to share their deepest feelings might work in a women’s group, “but if I ask men that, no will say anything.”

“But if I ask ‘what are your challenges? What do you need to surmount to become successful?’ then it becomes more about problem-solving,” and less about problem-confessing, he said.

. . . .

[H]ands-on fields favored by men were harder to transition to an online environment, said Douglas Shapiro, vice president for research and executive director of the Clearinghouse research center. During the pandemic, enrollment in male-dominated programs like construction, precision production, and firefighting declined two to three times as much as enrollment in nursing and education — fields dominated by women.

“We are losing a generation of men to Covid,” said Huerta. “We need to be really creative about how we get them back in the pipeline.”

That starts with convincing men that college is, indeed, “worth it,” said Rodriguez, particularly when the payoff isn’t immediately obvious.

“When you break down what they want, they really want a job,” he said. “Colleges have to tell a better story of what you can do with an English degree.”

Shelley would like to see colleges create more short-term programs, too, to get men into the work force more quickly. He said that when he tells prospective students a program will take two years, plus prerequisites, they often tell him “forget it.”

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Share of adults who have read a book in any format in the last 12 months in the United States in 2018 and 2019, by education level

Link to the rest at Statista

Back in the Saddle

PG and Mrs. PG took a short trip to visit family and are back again in one piece.

PG may have to spend some time reclaiming his mind after too much time in airports and on airplanes, but he expects the scattered bits and pieces will soon catch up with him.

How Twitter can ruin a life

From Vox:

“In a war zone, it is not safe to be unknown. Unknown travelers are shot on sight,” says Isabel Fall. “The fact that Isabel Fall was an unknown led to her death.”

Isabel Fall isn’t dead. There is a person who wrote under that name alive on the planet right now, someone who published a critically acclaimed, award-nominated short story. If she wanted to publish again, she surely could.

Isabel Fall is a ghost nonetheless.

In January 2020, not long after her short story “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” was published in the online science fiction magazine Clarkesworld, Fall asked her editor to take the story down, and then checked into a psychiatric ward for thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

The story — and especially its title, which co-opts a transphobic meme — had provoked days of contentious debate online within the science fiction community, the trans community, and the community of people who worry that cancel culture has run amok. Because there was little biographical information available about its author, the debate hinged on one question: Who was Isabel Fall? And that question ate her alive. When she emerged from the hospital a few weeks later, the world had moved on, but she was still scarred by what had happened. She decided on something drastic: She would no longer be Isabel Fall.

As a trans woman early in transition, Fall had the option of retreating to the relative safety of her legal, masculine identity. That’s what she did, staying out of the limelight and growing ever more frustrated by what had happened to her. She bristles when I ask her in an email if she’s stopped transitioning, but it’s the only phrase I can think of to describe how the situation appears.

Isabel Fall was on a path to becoming herself, and then she wasn’t — and all because she published a short story. And then her life fell apart.

In the 18 months since, what happened to her has become a case study for various people who want to talk about the Way We Live Today. It has been held up as an example of progressives eating their own, of the dangers of online anonymity, of the need for sensitivity readers or content warnings. But what this story really symbolizes is the fact that as we’ve grown more adept at using the internet, we’ve also grown more adept at destroying people’s lives, but from a distance, in an abstracted way.

Sometimes, the path to your personal hell is paved with other people’s best intentions.

Like most internet outrage cycles, the fracas over “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” was enormous news within the bubble of people who cared about it and made barely a blip outside of that bubble. The full tale is amorphous and weird, and recounting its ins and outs is nearly impossible to do here. Just trying to explain the motivations of all involved is a task in and of itself, and at any rate, that story has been told many times, quoting others extensively. Fall has never spoken publicly about the situation until now.

Link to the rest at Vox

PG wonders why outrage cycles exist and why, with so many intelligent people worried about the damage they cause and the mindless hate they include, we have not discovered a way of short-circuiting them and blunting their impact.

PG wonders why there isn’t an ad hoc anti-outrage group that can leap into action as soon as the beginning of an outrage cycle is detected.

PG doesn’t condone or encourage online bullying, but he can imagine a relatively simple computer script that could fill an outrage bully’s online accounts with so many objections to the wrongful outrage posts/messages that the bully would have more than a little difficulty digging through the incoming objections. Certainly, such action would seem to catch the notice of Twitter, Facebook, etc., etc., that something strange was happening.

An online bully storm seems to be ready to break towards all sorts of different political targets that a reverse anti-bully storm would seem to be equally easy to organize.

Again, PG doesn’t condone group attacks on anyone, but does think that an offender who receives internet-based blow-back for improper attacks on others might be somewhat deterred from conducting further vicious attacks on others.

But PG is a naif about much of this.

In and Out

PG has a time-consuming task to pursue, so he’s likely to be posting at odd hours during the next couple of days.

Nothing terrible has or is likely to happen, but, since PG has not been reliably posting on the hour every hour ever, some may not notice anything at all.

Science journal editor says he quit over China boycott article

From The Guardian:

The editor of a long-established academic journal has said he resigned after his publisher vetoed a call to boycott Chinese science in protest at Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

Prof David Curtis, from University College London’s Genetics Institute, says his resignation as editor-in-chief of the Annals of Human Genetics is an issue of freedom of speech in the face of the science community’s increasing dependence on China.

The Annals was one of five prestigious academic journals, including the Lancet, the BMJ and the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama), that refused to publish an article suggesting that academic journals should take a stance against China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang.

The journals involved have defended rejecting the piece and claimed that a boycott against China would be unfair and counterproductive. They have also denied being unduly deferential to China. But both the Annals publisher, Wiley, and the Lancet did suggest that publication of the letter could pose difficulties for their respective offices in China, the authors claim.

. . . .

Curtis co-authored the article but said he was prevented from publishing it in his own magazine. He handed in his notice last September in protest and then stood down with immediate effect after rejecting submissions from Chinese academics. Only now has he revealed his reasons for quitting.

. . . .

Curtis said: “I resigned because publication of the article was blocked by senior managers at Wiley who should have no say in the content of a scientific journal. I was told that Wiley has got an office in Beijing, the implication being that publication would make it difficult.”

He added: “The publisher has no business telling the editor what they can and can’t publish because of strong interests in China.”

Curtis said the alleged abuses against Uyghur families, including the mass collections of DNA samples without consent, was especially troubling in the field of genetics and for a magazine that was founded in 1925 as the Annals of Eugenics.

He accepted that his position became untenable when he began rejecting submissions from Chinese authors. He told them: “In view of the complicity of the Chinese medical and scientific establishment in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs I am not considering any submissions from China.”

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

PG notes that, in traditional publishing of nearly any type, you’re independent until you’re not.

Here’s a copy of the article that triggered Wiley.

UPDATE: If you don’t see the article embedded below, click here to go to the original.

the-article-academic-journals-refused-to-print-china-is-it-time-to-consider-a-boycott-1

Not Dead Yet

PG had an unexpectedly busy weekend and apologizes for the lack of postings.

He’s back now and ready to rock.

Full Spectrum

From The Wall Street Journal:

Color is to the eye what birdsong is to the ear: a primal communion between ourselves and nature. The elemental power of color radiates from van Gogh’s shimmering wheat fields; in celestial photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope; and in the Technicolor fantasyscape that bursts onto the screen in “The Wizard of Oz.” Color memories linger in my brain: the ruddy orange of a lunar eclipse; the electric pink of cotton candy; the sky blue of Venus Paradise pencil #27. As I write, a window prism casts a cheery rainbow-stripe that drifts with the hours across my ceiling.

Color perception, and our enjoyment of it, is part of our evolutionary legacy. The human retina is sensitive to wavelengths of light from about 400 to 700 nanometers. (A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.) That spectrum on my ceiling is sunlight deconstructed, with violet at the short-wavelength end, red at the long-wavelength end and other visual colors positioned in between.

The retina not only fixes the bounds of the eye’s sensitivity, it enables us to distinguish one wavelength of light from another. Lining the retina are pigment-containing cells—“cones”—which are stimulated by light of either short wavelength (blue), medium wavelength (green) or long wavelength (red). The relative intensities of light shining upon this trio of receptors trigger electrical impulses within the nervous system that the brain amalgamates into a particular color. This remarkable sight apparatus has figured into the rise of our species from the outset, making color and its perception fertile ground for examination. (Trichromacy is absent in people with red-green color blindness, who are born with two functional color receptors instead of three.)

Adam Rogers has spent several years interrogating the manifold aspects of color and its consequential relationship to human affairs. His book, “Full Spectrum: How the Science of Color Made us Modern,” is an informative and entertaining account of his findings. A deputy editor at Wired and author of “Proof: The Science of Booze,” Mr. Rogers is a seasoned raconteur, unreeling an eons-spanning tale with skill, mixing in didactic material, interviews with experts and whimsy. His admittedly idiosyncratic take on the topic of color ranges widely over art history, geochemistry, physics, neuroscience and global commerce.

. . . .

Until recent decades, there were too few natural or synthetic pigments to accurately and durably render what we see with our own eyes. For example, certain shades of blue and red are difficult to make; the newest blue was developed in 2009, two centuries after the previous blue-pigment discovery. This aesthetic imperative, Mr. Rogers asserts, was a major catalyst for centuries of technological innovation, manufacturing and trade.

The book opens with a chapter on earth tones—reds, yellows, oranges and browns—that, along with white from chalk or calcium carbonate and black from charcoal or manganese dioxide, formed the muted color palette of prehistory. We venture into Blombos Cave, along South Africa’s coast, which was first occupied at least 100,000 years ago and, according to Mr. Rogers, is “the oldest paint-making workshop ever found.” Here and at other Stone Age sites, our forebears converted at-hand natural materials into pigments for body ornamentation and cave art. No chemists these prehistoric artisans, they nonetheless utilized available resources with considerable skill; indeed, Mr. Rogers suggests, they might have supplemented earth tones with “delicate blues made from flower petals, greens from mushed-up grasses, river-mud grays”—all since effaced by time.

Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century, describes “florid” pigments, such as vermilion, Armenian blue, dragon’s blood red and Tyrian purple derived from sea snails. The sublime frescoes of Pompeii, although faded with age, testify to the role of color as a visual emblem of wealth and status in the ancient Roman world. Sourcing raw materials for the decorative arts became a significant driver of both international trade and imperial conquest: Rome established far-flung mining operations to satisfy its demand for pigments.

. . . .

The Middle Ages saw further expansion of available colors for artistic and decorative works. A handbook from the 1390s contained recipes for five different pigments of red, six of yellow, seven of green and a variety of blacks and whites. Another medieval writer described pigments with which to dye horses to increase their value. During the 15th century, painters began blending pigments with linseed or other oils, yielding glossier, more multitextured surfaces than their predecessors’ egg-tempera works.

Scientific research into the nature of light and color during this period, most famously by Isaac Newton in the 1660s and Thomas Young in the early 1800s, paralleled an increase in the use of color in the arts, textiles and cosmetics. Through chemistry and random, if purposeful, admixing, the 1800s proved to be a banner century for the development of new pigments, such as cadmium yellow, arsenic green and the first synthetic organic dye, mauve.

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

fresco recently unearthed in Pompeii
The goddess Victory from the Murecine complex, via Wikimedia

TPV Email Problem on Macs

PG just received the following email from a long-time TPV participant:

For some months now, I’ve had a weird problem with my Passive Voice subscription. Most (not quite all) of the emails are truncated in Apple Mail, a fraction of the way down the email. Fairly obvious when I see six item headings but only the first one or two corresponding posts. Truncation often seems to happen after (if not precisely at) a link, or before an illustration. Usually within a post, not between them.

Of course I can look at the website and see the complete set of posts. What’s really odd, though, if I either “Forward” or “Select All & Copy” the contents of the email, I get the entire thing, the whole set of posts including the otherwise invisible portion.

I don’t know if this is general among Macintosh users, but I’d be curious to know; and if it is specific to my current software versions.

MacOS 10.15.7
Apple Mail 13.4

PG is not a Mac guy, but would very much appreciate knowing if anybody else is having problems with the TPV emails that go out each day with the day’s posts included.

Feel free to reply with issues/solutions in the comments.

Introverted Authors in Public: 4 Tips For Overcoming Your Fear of Being Seen

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

With COVID-19 slowly becoming less of a pandemic, it looks like it might be safe to start gathering again in large groups. This means that it is time for introverted authors to start brushing off their people skills and get ready to meet readers at book fairs and public events.

After 18 months of mostly meeting people through a screen, putting yourself out there is going to be more stressful than ever. But at the same time, it is also crucially important. You need to step out of your comfort zone and go meet people where they are.

Because waiting for them to come to you will stifle your career.

Can Introverted Authors Have Successful Careers Staying Home?

My greatest mistake as a blogger was that I gave in to my fear of meeting people. I should have been actively pursuing every opportunity for publicity, but instead, I let my self-doubt stop me from getting on conference panels, I quietly ducked interviews, and I even let my dislike of noise keep me going to parties during conferences.

I did have a successful career as a blogger, but I also know I would have been bigger and much better well-known if I had overcome my fears (actually, gut-wrenching panic would be a more accurate description).

On the other hand, I have to admit that one of my best years as a web designer was during the lockdown, when I never met people in person and I didn’t even do that many webinars.

While it is possible to have a successful career while staying home, the truth is we need to go where our customers are. I for one plan to take advantage of every chance I have to meet new people and win them over., and authors should do the same.

Yes, you can have a career even though you are avoiding public events, but it would be a shame to pass up opportunities.

How Introverted Authors Can Overcome Their Fears

You will need to overcome your fears, and here are a few ways you can do that.

  1. Toastmasters

One of the easier ways to talk yourself out of promoting yourself in public is to focus on the fact you don’t know what to say or how to introduce yourself. Toastmasters will get you across that hurdle.

This is an organization dedicated to helping its members learn to become public speakers, and not only will they help you learn the basics, they will also help you overcome stage fright and teach you how to cope with unexpected situations.

There are Toastmaster chapters all over the world, including in your neck of the woods. Visit your local chapter, and see if it is right for you.

  1. Writing Clubs

Your local writing club presents an excellent opportunity for you to get used to meeting strangers and talking about your work. Join a club and commit to attending every meeting, and if you get a chance, stand up and talk about yourself.

The clubs I belong to still meet virtually, but they do give every attendee a chance to introduce themselves and talk briefly about what they are writing. This is your chance to practice what you will need to say when you go out in public again.

And once you are comfortable talking to members of the group, you can take things to the next level by either suggesting new activities or programs for the club or even by running for office.

For example, back in December 2020 I was elected president of the Riverside Writers Club in Fredericksburg. We’re still meeting virtually, but even so holding office has forced me to get used to being the center of attention. I run meetings, interface with other officers and the public, and generally have to talk to a lot more people than I was comfortable with.

If your writing club is like mine then it will always be in need of volunteers to help run things; based on my experiences, the clubs never fill all of the officer positions. Volunteer as a candidate, and you will be voted in easily (actually, I was drafted).

  1. Networking Groups

Another great opportunity for you to get used to meeting strangers would be a local networking group. (Some are meeting in person again, yes.)

Whether it’s Meetup or One Million Cups, these groups exist so business people can make new contacts with other business people, and while authors don’t quite fit the mold of the typical group member, a networking group can still be a great resource for authors.

Regularly attending a group’s meetings will get you comfortable talking to strangers, and it will also give you leads on local service providers including graphic designers, printers, computer techs, swag suppliers, and accountants.

If you want additional motivation, try this: These groups can also be a great place to conduct background research for your next book. For example, talking to local lawyers will help you work out the details of a courtroom drama, and there are a hundred other professions that you might want to use in your next book.

A local networking group will count as its members dozens of experts in diverse fields, and all you have to do is have the guts to introduce yourself and ask them questions.

You can find business networking groups through Meetup, Facebook, your local Chamber of Commerce, or through BNI (a networking group franchise organization).

. . . .

Good News and Bad News for Introverted Authors

I have good news and bad news for you about venturing out into public. The bad news is that you can’t stop promoting yourself because the growth of your career will start to slow down or even stall because you are no longer recruiting a new audience.

On the other hand, the good news is that this isn’t something you have to get right the first time around. Fumbling your intro at one meeting is not the end of the world because there is always another event where you can meet new people.

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

PG had no idea that Toastmasters was still in existence, but Nate has always been a reliable guy so PG expects it must be.

PG has never had a problem with public speaking. Some might think that’s because he’s an attorney, but nothing about the standard law school curriculum in most places does much to teach students how to speak in public. And more than a handful of lawyers don’t do it at all in the course of their practices.

(For lawyers who are reading this, PG hasn’t forgotten moot court, but is not aware that participation is required in most (or any) law schools or that more than a small percentage of law students participate.)

PG will note that a lawyer friend of his once remarked that he could go into any first-grade class in the United States and pick out the kids who would grow up to become lawyers. They were the ones who were talking all the time and would never be quiet. (PG realizes he has shared this story more than once on TPV, but he has also shared it more than once in other venues, most often while speaking to groups of lawyers. It always gets a laugh with lawyers.)

PG does have a suggestion that Nate didn’t mention to overcome your fear of public speaking – Take a class on public speaking.

The first place you might check for a class is with a local community college.

PG did a quick search and found an online course in public speaking here

If PG didn’t know anything about public speaking and was nervous about doing so, he would probably try to get an in-person class where the audience for his speeches would typically be his fellow students.

He’s not sure if an online course would be quite the same without live people sitting and watching/listening to someone speak. Speculating, he wonders if the additional emotional and physical distance involved in making an online speech or presentation online would be as effective at overcoming insecurity as in-person speaking. But he’s happy to be persuaded otherwise.

For PG, who has appeared on local television a handful of times, the experience of appearing/speaking/performing in a TV studio is much different than facing a few faces or a lot of faces.

Videoconferences are not exactly the same as sitting in a TV studio, but there is still the lack of ability to really read faces in the audience and connect in (for PG) a more direct way.

(A very long time ago, Marshall McLuhan wrote, “The medium is the message.” The medium of speaking to a group of people in person is a different medium than speaking to a group of people via video.)

One of the advantages PG sees in taking a course in public speaking vs. trying to get speaking gigs at author’s conferences is that there is a teacher involved who can provide tips and suggestions for improving.

Also, in a classroom, students are seeing other students give speeches and, presumably, hearing the teacher give critiques and suggestions, which also contributes to learning by the audience.

An Imaginary (but not unlikely) Fathers’ Day Conversation with my Daughter

From J.P. Kenna:

SHE: Happy Fathers’ Day! And I see your new book is on a free promotion–for five days. On Kindle.

ME: A chance to save $2.99. People should be beating down Amazon’s door! Here I am, hoping people take the bait, read it, then give it a good review. But, myself, I wouldn’t buy it!

SHE: What do you mean? I liked it! And it got two First in Category awards from Chanticleer Reviews. And a 5-star review from Readers’ Favorite. You know what, Dad? You suck at self-promotion!

ME: Guilty as charged! But…I wouldn’t buy it in Kindle form, because I don’t read e-books. Now if people want to spend $14.99 for the “real book” version, something you can curl up with by a fire on a rainy evening, flip the pages, insert a bookmark…

SHE: I know you don’t read e-books. And you’re a Luddite at heart. You hate Social Media. And smart phones. You refuse to text. Not only that, but…

ME: I know what’s coming. That I don’t even like talking on a regular telephone–an 1870’s invention, at that! But I’m not completely hopeless. I have a flip-phone. And I write on a laptop. Oh, and I use email.

SHE: Dad, e-mail is old hat! But I look forward to yours. They’re more like letters than what people send today.

ME: And that explains why you’re one of the select group of people who actually responds to them. E-mail started out as a good thing. Then came so-called smart phones and free texting. Texting is the ruination of written language! The proliferation of I-phones have destroyed the beauty and benefits of solitude! Shoot, now I’m off on a rant. I know you’ve heard all this before.

SHE: And I’ll hear it again–and more! That smart phones have altered the brains of us Gen Y’s and Millennials. Just as TV did for yours. You told me that!

ME: And I stand by it. Digitalization is sending the written word down the tube, just as TV has ruined spoken conversation–and human interaction in general! That’s why we raised you and your sister without television. And always had lots of books around.

SHE: And raised us on a small farm. And we always had plenty of healthy food. And you had a working team of horses. You once told me that Mom was being Adele Davis and you were aping Wendell Berry.

Link to the rest at J.P. Kenna

‘It has saved countless lives’: readers’ picks of the best books this century

From The Guardian:

After we published our list of the greatest books since 2000, you sent in your own suggestions – from Chinese sci-fi to a history of music.

. . . .

London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd (2000) made me fall in love with London all over again. The blood of the city’s history soaked into the clay. Quiet hidden corners, conspiratorial whispers in coffee houses, the dirty Thames and the Great Stink. Invasions, bridges, fires and fog. It’s a very human tale told with the verve of a novelist, the detail of a diarist and the grace of a poet.” – dylan37

“The one novel I’ve read from the century to date that I am sure will stay with me for the rest of my life, for personal as well as for general reasons, is The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller (translated by Philip Boehm in 2012). It was published in German as Atemschaukel in 2009, just before she (deservedly) won the Nobel prize for literature. It’s an extraordinarily dense and poetic work and one that seems to transcend language – so perfectly written that text and idea are fused, yet still overflowing with humanity.” – nilpferd

. . . .

“Very surprised not to see any of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy (2008-2015). Historical writing very much for our time, set in the 1830s when drugs, capital, indentured labour and languages themselves were moving across the seas between Britain, India and China. Ghosh juggles the fates of multiple and memorable British, Indian and Chinese characters with some glorious writing, especially about ships and the sea.” – bertilek

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003) is one of the most disturbing, unstoppable and unforgettable books I’ve ever read. Incredibly well written and a sucker punch twist at the end.” – MajorJackCelliers

. . . .

“Was waiting and waiting for Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (2015) to appear. Very intelligently written, beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming and SO important – it has saved countless lives. Can’t imagine a more important book.” – gadget

Link to the rest at The Guardian

How Stories Change When They Move From Page to Voice

From LitHub:

To all intents and purposes, a psychoanalyst’s couch is in fact a bed—after all, it lacks a back and armrests. And yet, this item of furniture must be called a couch. Nobody would offload their traumas on a psychoanalyst’s bed unless, that is, they were in a relationship with said psychoanalyst.

In October 2019, I found myself sitting in the Silencio recording studios, headphones over my ears, reading aloud my novel My Friend Natalia, which had been published in Finland six months earlier.

“‘Natalia’ was one of my first clients to lie on her back without prompting,” I read and continued: “When I showed her round my office, which I had rented in an apartment next to my house, I told her about the couch.”

These two consecutive sentences are from the opening chapter of the novel. Reading these sentences aloud irrevocably sprained something in my brain.

When one reads a book aloud as an audiobook, the visual aspects of the text all disappear. Of course, one could read the word couch, which appears in italics, in a slightly different way, perhaps by holding a short, artistic pause before the word. But this is not the same thing. Italics are not the same as a short pause.

The therapist, the book’s narrator, gives the patient the code-name “Natalia.” Under the cover of this anonymity, the therapist then proceeds to divulge intimate details of Natalia’s life to the reader, then at one point removes the inverted commas from Natalia’s name “as I might remove the safety catch from a gun”. When read aloud, this sentence is absurd: the listener cannot hear the inverted commas around Natalia’s name.

*

Let’s be clear: I am very skeptical about the practice of turning works of literature into audio recordings.

If audiobooks become the primary way in which we interact with books, it would be strange if at some point this did not have a direct impact on how people write literary works.

Will writers—either consciously or subconsciously—start writing books so that they sound good when read aloud? The succinct speech between Me (the writer) and You (the reader) works well when spoken aloud, so the current appetite for autofiction is unlikely to dwindle any time soon. A linear narrative, in which we already know (or think we know) something about the end point, is also easy to listen to. For this reason, celebrity autobiographies and so-called true stories make for successful audiobooks.

However, complex narrative structures, shifting perspectives, narrative polyphony, long, meandering sentences and the visual aspects of a text find themselves increasingly under threat from a medium that relies solely on hearing. If linear narrative becomes the only acceptable form of complex literary expression, our thoughts will be the poorer for it. Imaginary worlds and possibilities will shrink because such worlds and possibilities are not “content” that can be detached from “form,” they are not statements, suggestions or questions isolated from their rhetorical devices.

*

That being said, I’m not a militant opponent of audiobooks. To my mind, it is simply important to recognize that there is a significant difference between the printed book and the audiobook. Written material turns into vibration, letters become sound waves. They always come from a concrete source that guides our interpretation, a source that is completely different from the reading process heard through our “inner voice.”

A new element appears between the book and its recipient: a voice that shapes how we receive the text. It is a sound born of a human body in a unique way and that is (generally) readily identifiable as the voice of a man or a woman.

In the audiobook of My Friend Natalia, this unavoidable fact becomes a poetic problem in its own right. Throughout the text, I have scattered conflicting clues as to the sex of the therapist, the novel’s first-person narrator, but I was careful never to define the therapist as either a man or a woman. With certain exceptions, in many languages a writer and a translator can easily disguise or at least avoid the matter of the narrator’s sex. A writer can also play with this ambiguity, as is the case in my novel My Friend Natalia.

. . . .

Some readers have been convinced that the narrator is a man, others have considered the therapist a woman. Several readers have told me that their perception of the matter changed as they were reading. Readers always read a text through the prism of their own experiences, preconceptions and cultural stereotypes.

For this reason, I wanted to read the Finnish audiobook of My Friend Natalia myself. I am a woman, but because I am the book’s author my voice is above all an authorial voice, and in this way I feel I managed to resolve the dilemma described above.

Link to the rest at LitHub

Perhaps PG is a bit cranky today, but this all sounds like mountain/molehill anguish to him.

In the first place, women have done a perfectly good job of performing men in audiobooks (and on stage) for a good long time. Ditto for men performing women.

Strictly speaking, when a person reads a book, the story takes place in the reader’s head regardless of what the author intended while he/she was creating it.

Finally, the word is not the thing. The author uses words to describe things, people, exterior and interior behavior, etc., etc. If the author does a good job, readers will enjoy reading the author’s words and the images, thoughts and emotions that the process of reading those words causes to come into a reader’s mind.

One reason that love in its various manifestations is so popular in stories people write is that a great many readers enjoy the experience and emotions that are engendered by such stories when they are well-written.

That said, the words on the page (or screen) are just words on the page.

An author can have complete control over the words on the page so long as she/he keeps those words for him/herself.

Once the author turns those words loose on the world, it’s foolish and egotistical for the author to feel she can control how others understand her words, how they feel about them and what experiences they have with those words and conclusions they draw concerning the imaginary people who are depicted in the words of the story.

As for PG (and he suspects for other readers as well) unless clear from the words, he doesn’t care whether the characters in the story are one gender or another. In most cases not explicitly involving men and women in the story, he doesn’t think in terms of gender. This is especially the case with a narrator.

With respect to audiobooks, PG finds the idea that a woman cannot effectively perform male figures as well as female figures to be ludicrous. Ditto for men performing female characters.

People have been effectively performing the roles of another gender for centuries. Boys or small men almost always performed the women’s parts in the performance of Shakespeare’s plays while he was alive. In ancient Greek theater, the actors had masks that allowed one actor to effectively play the roles of several characters.

The word “theater” comes from the Greek word theatron, which means “seeing place.” The theater is a place where we see what the actors and author of the script want us to see.

The entire assumption behind plays and movies is that the viewer/reader will willingly suspends disbelief to become involved in the story.

In that respect a theatrical performance is no different than reading a book. We lapse into suspended disbelief the moment we read, “It was a dark and stormy night” on a sunny afternoon.

PG has concluded that he is, in fact, a bit cranky. MS Word has been behaving badly on a client project and that has put PG off his usual jolly stride.

See, there PG goes again, personifying a computer program that has no concept of behaving well or poorly. He hasn’t decide if MS Word is male/female/trans, etc., etc., etc.

What We Can—and Can’t—Learn About Louisa May Alcott from Her Teenage Fiction

From The Literary Hub:

Last summer, an unfinished and previously unknown work by American writer Louisa May Alcott was published in The Strand Magazine, a small literary quarterly based in Birmingham, Michigan. 

“Aunt Nellie’s Diary” is not a lost tale about the March sisters, Alcott’s best-known creations. In fact, the unfinished story published in The Strand dates from the very beginning of Alcott’s career, before Little Women or any of its sequels. Discovered in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” was handwritten by Alcott in an 1848 journal, when she was just 17 years old. The story comes in at 9400 words, which is quite long compared to the stories published in the magazines Alcott admired like Godey’s Lady’s Book. (Among the poetry, gossip, advice columns, and essays on fashion, one issue I examined contained several short stories, all well under 7000 words). 

But “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” is still an incomplete fragment, not because the ending was lost or damaged, but because Alcott never finished it. She just stopped writing partway through a sentence: “I begged and prayed she would…” 

Did she get stuck? Bored? Distracted? We have no way to know.

What we do know is that at 17, Alcott was already an ambitious writer. According to biographer Katharine Anthony, at this point Louisa “could write melodramatic fiction with extreme fluency and prolificness.” She’d grown up writing plays with her siblings, which were often performed at family events. By the end of the following year, she’d finish her first novel, The Inheritance—though her first publication, in 1852 would come with a poem called “Sunlight” (under pseudonym “Flora Fairfield”) in Peterson’s Magazine, for which Alcott was paid $5. 

Scholars would class “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” as a piece of “juvenilia,” meaning that it comes from a writer’s youthful period, before finding publication or achieving wider recognition. Arguably, these early pieces can shine a light on crucial moments in a writer’s development, showing their interest in certain themes and highlighting supposed talents as well as deficits not yet overcome.

In The Strand’s introduction to the story, Dr. Daniel Shealy, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, claims that “Aunt Nellie’s Diary” has this kind of appeal, showing readers “an emerging talent on the cusp of a promising career.” 

Alcott’s diaries show that she modeled her early work on the stories that dominated popular magazines at the time. She hoped that commercial success would allow her to make an independent living as a writer. So she closely studied the wildly beloved Sketches of Everyday Life written by Fredrika Bremer. Bremer published stories of independent women travelling through Europe and the Americas, and describing the tangled marriage plots of others. Though called “sketches,” these were not insubstantial works at all—Bremer, sometimes called the “Swedish Jane Austen,” is regarded as an early activist for gender equality and radical for her view that fiction should center less on male characters. Alcott thought her stories were important, and in a memorable scene in Little Women, Alcott depicts Mrs. March reading Bremer’s book to her four daughters. 

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG found a book by the “Swedish Jane Austen” on Amazon.

Be warned, however that it’s one of those scanned-to-kindle out-of-copyright books that, in PG’s limited experience, are terrible reading experiences on a tablet or Kindle device.

When You’re Always Going to Be the Second-Most Famous Writer in Your Marriage

From LitHub:

My wife and I are duking it out for places eight to fifteen within Amazon’s “Spiritual Self Help” category. First she’s number twelve, then nine, while I fall from eight to fifteen, and then we reverse again as the list updates once an hour. You need to sell about fifteen books a day on Amazon to make it onto the Spiritual Self Help list, though neither of us is comfortable with that label. We’re old enough to remember Norman Vincent Peale. But who cares? We’re both Top 10, sort of, in something.

Of course, my wife’s book came out twelve weeks before mine, in early March, and spent its first six weeks on the best seller list—not in Spiritual Self Help, but the somewhat broader category of Hardback Non-Fiction. And not as measured by Amazon, but by the LA Times and the Washington Post. (The New York Times annoyingly shoved her onto their separate Advice, Health, and Self Help list—you can’t be on that and General Non-Fiction—but Annie’s beautiful book on revival and courage, Dusk Night Dawn, entered at number four.) Those lists also happen to include sales in the brick-and-mortar bookstores that her adoring fans prefer.

As an unknown about to self-publish my first book, I’m at quite a disadvantage. She’s Anne Lamott! Legions of fans love her work. Selfies in the airports. M&Ms in the green rooms like a rock star. I’m an ordinary guy no one’s heard of (except as Mr. Anne Lamott) hanging along for the ride, and getting my life stuff done in my own shambly way—her term for me, which I learned on reading her latest book. As an ordinary guy I spend my days on Zoom with clients interested in taming their inner critic, and I garden, take walks, and write a little. That’s about it.

People most often focus on the problem of envy in writing couples, but to a know-it-all (another of Annie’s terms of endearment for me), pity is equally destructive. Especially when I’m the target for pity’s arrow. “Oh, [poor thing] you’re self-publishing? My uncle’s best friend [blowhard] self-published a wonderful [unreadable] book about his life in retail [bo-ring]. We had a little party [his family and mine] to celebrate. Will you have a little party?” What they mean is, “I’m so sorry it’s not good enough for a real publisher.” They are always so sweet and affirming, and I want to hurt them. At times like these I have come to admire my oldest who, when she was two, on greeting her brand-new-from-the-hospital sibling, said innocently, “Mommy, I won’t poke his eyes out.”

. . . .

So if those are our two likely pitfalls, envy and pity, how do Annie and I contain them in our free-flowing dance as Covid newlyweds? Are we Astaire and Rogers, sweeping aside the pains of comparative mind with flow and grace? Not exactly. As it happens, envy and pity just don’t show up so much. Annie mostly denies the existence of her fame, and she’s right. It isn’t around us most of the time, especially when we’re clunkily nested in our sofa watching Swedish noirs. And it isn’t lurking, either. When the Annie I know and love is squinting, reaching around and patting cushions trying to find her glasses again she’s not famous in any way. And why would she pity someone like me who pops up in that annoying way all the time, interrupting her to get her to retweet my last bon mot or join me on a walk during her regularly scheduled daily nap time?

. . . .

It’s not that we’re actually good at avoiding this sort of emotional stuff. It still comes our way regularly, like the moles in my garden. We’re just too old to attend to it; we lack the energy it takes to keep after envy and pity. Getting rid of moles demands a lot of discipline and persistence, and we’ve gotten lazy with age. Let the damn things destroy a little grass again. So if you thought this was going to be about how we handle each other’s place in the book-selling pecking order, as if we were tender and caring about hurt feelings, well, sorry to disappoint you. I know suffering is more fun to read about than couples gloating about how well their marriage works. (Annie asked me to add to that last sentence: “except when one of us is a know-it-all.”) As writers, the deprivation of material in our marriage is our cross to bear. But just to show I can dwell with the best in the land of suffering, let me deliver you a sample. Fortunately for me, it’s my wife’s pain, not my own.

Annie describes it as sheet metal competitiveness. She would welcome obscurity—no more selfies in the lobby of the movie theater, please—just about every single week, with one exception. A new book of hers hitting the market. When launch date arrives, it isn’t just her book that’s released, but also her inner Kardashian. For two months or more, she tracks its progress on the New York Times list and others with the determination of a grim FBI agent on the heels of a serial killer. From her fragmented comments muttered into the air I can piece together complete thoughts: “Entered at No. 3, but second week drifted down to No. 8. OK, but four new entries showed up, of which two won’t have staying power. Maybe there’s hope. Where am I on the LA Times list?”

Link to the rest at LitHub

PG will put Annie’s husband’s book on top and Annie’s latest book on the bottom because Solidarity or something.

It’s All in the Angles

From The Nation:

Nancy Reagan once claimed that she couldn’t get fair press coverage from the women sent to write about her. Perhaps, she speculated, these journalists were jealous of her, “a woman who wears size four” and who has “no trouble staying slim.” Her theory was put to the test when The Saturday Evening Post sent Joan Didion to profile her in 1968, the year that Ronald Reagan, then the governor of California, would lose the Republican presidential primary to Richard Nixon. If not a competition of looks or a comparison of waistbands, then what could have accounted for the resulting article? “Pretty Nancy” followed the style that was then becoming distinctive of Didion’s journalistic prose: a blunt, self-assured series of descriptions and observations that lead the reader to believe she was just writing down what she saw. Here is Nancy pretending to pluck a rhododendron blossom. Here is Nancy finding her light. Here is Nancy wearing “the smile of a woman who seems to be playing out some middle-class American woman’s daydream, circa 1948.”

Nancy, of course, did not like Didion’s profile. She found it sardonic and judgmental and accused Didion of having written the piece before they even met. She couldn’t understand it, she said later. She thought they were having a nice time.

What is it about Joan Didion that seduces and then betrays? In her writing she promises little, and in her public life she offers even less. The title of Didion’s new essay collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, almost seems like the kind of cruel joke one might find in one of her pieces. Has a writer ever been less likely to say just what she means? Across the 12 works included—which span Didion’s entire career from her column in The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1960s and ’70s to one-off essays and reports for The New Yorker to speeches given at her alma mater, as well as introductions to other people’s books—the impression one gets is that of reading a magazine made up of all ledes and kickers. This is the case with “Pretty Nancy,” too. It contains many of Didion’s trademarks. Her sentences often exist as aphorisms, all the more brutal for being brief; her choice of weapon tends to be the direct quote. These tendencies capture something true about her writing in general: Her essays show a writer who attempts a close reading of the powerful people and strange circumstances she encounters but then, when understanding proves difficult, draws back to look at them from a great, flat distance.

. . . .

In Blue Nights, her 2011 memoir about grief, family, and work, Didion said that when she and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, worked on dialogue for their screenplays, they would mark the time a character spent speaking before coming up with the words themselves: What was said was not as important as the rhythm and length of the speech. Her essays also have this novelistic approach. As Hilton Als notes in his foreword to Let Me Tell You What I Mean, “a peculiar aspect of Joan Didion’s nonfiction is that a significant portion of it reads like fiction.” This appears to be the case, however, not because Didion is too imaginative in her journalistic renderings but rather because of her sense of control over the material and her certainty of its meaning, as though nothing happens without her permission.

One finds echoes of this approach in the way Didion circles around the California governor’s wife, the tension hovering in the sharp point she holds back from making. There are inferences into what kind of person Nancy is, what kind of mother her teenage son might see her as, what kind of sycophantic circle a political family might live within. In many ways, Didion casts Nancy in a film of her own making. The writing could serve as cues for a character in a screenplay rather than as descriptions of a real-life woman in a magazine profile.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean includes a kind of corollary to “Pretty Nancy,” Didion’s 2000 profile of Martha Stewart (or, more to the point, of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia LLC), another story of a woman in the business of promising domestic harmony. “This is getting out of the house with a vengeance, and on your own terms,” Didion writes, “the secret dream of any woman who has ever made a success of a PTA cake sale.” Didion’s sentences have a way of taking a person at face value and seeing the way subtle truths lie under glossy surfaces.

Link to the rest at The Nation

Top 10 novels told in a single day

From The Guardian:

Recently I had the good fortune to publish a novel based, in part, on the years I spent working as a plumber. After reading it, some of my new literary friends commented, “Ah, so you’re writing in the circadian tradition, then?” I nodded my head – and dived for a dictionary to discover the meaning of “circadian”. It turns out the word describes the process of going around, of returning. Books set within the confines of 24 hours. A day in the life.

I can’t claim that writing such a work had been my intention. In seeking to bring to life the world of manual labour – a world not over-represented in modern fiction – I’d found it necessary to focus on the minute and the granular. If we can have police procedurals, why can’t we also have plumbing procedurals? And quite quickly this technique of the tight focus, the super closeup, found itself being played out within the characters themselves, and their stories. There’s a freedom, after all, to working within limits, and perhaps the most important limit is time itself. New possibilities for compression open up; opportunities for strange amplifications. Lo and behold, and without quite realising it, I’d created a work of circadian fiction.

Why don’t more writers do it? It sounds common but, in fact, it isn’t. Here I’ve gathered together 10 examples deserving of measurement against the finest atomic clock.

1. Ulysses by James Joyce
You can play Cluedo with Ulysses. If it’s 11am we must be on the strand with Stephen Dedalus, the colour is green and the technique is monologue. If it’s 10pm, we must be in the hospital with Leopold Bloom, the colour is white, and the technique “embryonic development”. And so on. Joyce himself said, “I may have oversystematised Ulysses”. But it’s worth remembering that this book, the numero uno of circadian novels, possibly of all novels, happens also to contain some of the most beautiful descriptive passages written in the English language.

2. The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
Tightening the circadian focus even further, this story is packed, crammed, shoehorned within a single lunch break. Here the ingenious device of the extended footnote animates the internal life of young office worker Howie. Between bouts of “escalatorial happiness” ascending to his workplace, he ruminates on fraying shoelaces, the wonders of perforated paper, ice cubes, Marcus Aurelius and many other micro-matters. A treasure chest of the quotidian.

3. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
Tommy Wilhelm, failed actor with a wife and children to support, has decided to invest his last $700 in lard. His commodities broker is a shady psychiatrist-cum-speculator, Dr Tamkin, who wastes no time in undermining Tommy with his own brand of wild psychoanalytical theory. It’s one more mistake in a long line for Tommy, but like Sisyphus he’s cursed to repeat his errors over and over again.

4. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Mrs Dalloway is throwing a party; it’s over and done during a day and a night in June. There’s an effortless flux between past, present and future here, a sharp clarity, even the occasional moment of playfulness, which is rare in Woolf’s work. Bird’s-eye perspectives of London become intimate views. Eavesdropping abounds – not such a rarity. Mrs Dalloway is the creation of a prose master in top gear; it’s a privilege to be caught in her slipstream.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Apologies for Scanty Posting

PG apologizes for not getting many posts up, but was occupied on some other pressing matters for much of the day and into the evening.

He’ll do better on Thursday.

Can Writers Still Be Readers?

From Writer Unboxed:

All writers begin as readers, right? We fell in love with other people’s stories—where they could take us, what they could do—and then, one day, decided to make a story ourselves. The love of words begins young in some of us, takes longer for others, but has stayed lifelong for nearly every writer I know.

Yet becoming a writer changes our relationship with reading. In my case, since I’m a novelist, it has changed my relationship with novels. I read as much as I ever did, plus some more—reading upcoming novels for potential blurbs, reading other work in my genre, reading my friends’ books, reading for research, reading books to review, and of course, when there’s time, reading for pure pleasure.

But unfortunately, as its position at the end of that list shows, reading for pleasure sometimes has to wait until the other reading is done. The thing we do just for fun becomes something else entirely. That’s one reason I asked the question in the headline—can writers still be readers? Can we still fling ourselves into books, get swept away by them? Can we still disappear entirely into a story someone else has created?

In my case, I find it a challenge. Especially if a book is very successful, I keep slipping out of the story to analyze it from the outside. For example, I read Gone Girl about a year after it came out, and I couldn’t experience the characters as people at all. I wasn’t thinking about why Amy did or said something, but why Gillian Flynn chose to have Amy do or say that thing, which is a very different angle and therefore a very different reading experience. My writer brain was there the entire time, like a lens imposed between me and the writing that I couldn’t set aside.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Readers Angered over Anne Frank Reference in New Hilderbrand Novel

From Publishers Weekly:

Author Elin Hilderbrand has come under fire for a passage in her new book that some readers on social media are calling anti-Semitic. The bestselling writer’s new book Golden Girls was published by Little, Brown on June 1. In it, character Vivian “Vivi” Howe plans to stay in the attic of her friend Savannah’s parents’ home on Nantucket.

As they debate whether or not to ask the parents for approval, Vivi makes reference to Holocaust victim Anne Frank, after which both characters laugh off the comment.

The passage reads: “’You’re suggesting I hide here all summer?” Vivi asks. “Like…like Anne Frank?

The narrator continues, “This makes them both laugh—but is it really funny, and is Vivi so far off base?”

On Instagram, readers criticized Hilderbrand and Little, Brown, calling the scene an example of “casual antisemitism” and demanding action from the publisher. “As a Jewish woman, one who lost 18 members of her family in the holocaust I’m disgusted in you as a publisher that you allowed that line to be published. It’s inexcusable,” Instagram user Cecile Leana wrote.

Hilderbrand responded to numerous complaints by telling readers she had sent them private messages, but also responded openly to at least one reader. “If you read my novel SUMMER OF ’69, you know that I absolutely REVERE the story of Anne Frank,” Hilderbrand wrote. “The line was not a throwaway quip. It was an expression of angst from someone who felt marginalized socioeconomically. But nonetheless if I offended you and/or anyone else, I owe you a huge apology.”

The author wrote that she had a sensitivity reader for the book who had not called attention to the passage. She added that she planned to ask her publisher to excise the passage from the e-book and future print editions.

After initial publication of this article, Hilderbrand posted a formal apology on Instagram. “I want to wholeheartedly apologize for this,” she wrote. “It was meant as hyperbole but was a poor choice, that was offensive and tasteless. I have asked my publisher to remove the passage from digital versions of the book immediately and from all future printings.” Hilderbrand added that she wrote the book for her children. “I want them to be proud of every word,” she wrote.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to W. for the tip.

Sheesh!

Participants honored Britain’s long and loud tradition without a single shout

From Atlas Obscura:

“IT’S AN EXTREME SPORT,” SAYS Alistair Chisholm. “The secret is to read the weather forecast, and to wait for that moment when the wind is behind you and your lungs are filled with air, and then off you go!”

The extreme sport is competitive town crying, and Chisholm knows a thing or two about winning: A town crier for a quarter-century in Dorchester, in the southern English county of Dorset, he’s shouted his way to victory at national championships on 10 occasions. But this year, things are very different.

. . . .

“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” The ancient call to attention that starts every cry—derived from the Norman-French word ‘to listen’—was imported during Norman rule, beginning in the 11th century, though town crying likely has much older roots. But the competitive side of the tradition fell silent in 2020. For the first time since the Loyal Company of Town Criers began holding competitions in 1995, all contests were cancelled thanks to the pandemic. This May, the members of the group—one of the largest and most prestigious crier organizations—decided to shout the only way they could: in silence.

Putting pen to paper at the world’s first-ever silent town crier competition, Britain’s loudest citizens would be judged not on the volume and clarity of their shouted cries, but on the content of their written words. And it was anyone’s game to win.

. . . .

Town crying is obviously no longer the most efficient way for authorities to broadcast news to the masses. The historic tradition has evolved into marching at the head of parades and greeting guests at civic functions, dressed in regalia evocative of times past. But as “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” continued to be heard in town squares across the country, criers became curiously competitive. What Chisholm calls an “extreme sport” now sees international events taking place as far afield as Belgium and Bermuda.

Carole Williams, who since 1996 has been town crier for Bishop’s Stortford, a historic market town northeast of London, says that, ordinarily, participants in the competitions are scored on “sustained volume and clarity, and diction and inflection.” Entrants write a cry on a theme that’s provided in advance, then perform it in front of a large crowd (usually made up of other competitors and bemused locals). The cries are generally limited to a count of 140 words, which must include three “Oyez!” at the beginning and “God Save the Queen!” at the end. Some competitions might award marks for accuracy—does the spoken cry match the written submission or has the crier gone freestyle?—and there’s always a prize for best-dressed town crier up for grabs.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

How to troll book people and other gullible romantics

From BookForum:

IN FEBRUARY OF THIS YEAR, the Twitter user @LouiseGluckPoet announced some sad news. “A great loss. Thomas Pynchon dies. He was one of my favorite authors. I have now received the news from my publisher. They want the news to remain secret for a few hours, I don’t know why. However Pynchon has left us and the mystery is useless. Bye my dearest!” The syntax was strange, and the purported impropriety even more so, but nevertheless the author’s bio was definitive: “Poet. Official account.” Her profile said she had joined in November 2020, shortly after Louise Glück had won the Nobel Prize. Perhaps as good a time as any to finally kick back and see what’s up on the World Wide Web. Besides, members of older generations are known for being a little weird online, as anyone who saw the August 2020 photo of Joyce Carol Oates’s blistered, purple foot can attest.

@LouiseGluckPoet’s tweet circulated immediately among the insular communities of people who would care about such a thing, many of whom were so eager to offer their 280-character musings on Pynchon’s top 280 characters that they didn’t seem to notice the announcement was obviously fake. Soon enough @LouiseGluckPoet was chastened by the minor calamity she had caused and followed up with, “Someone deceived me. Thomas Pynchon is alive and well. I apologize.” Many of the premature eulogizers deleted their tweets and quietly moved on. But the credulity of writers online has been measured many times before, most frequently by the Italian journalist Tommaso Debenedetti, who first came to the attention of Americans around 2010, when it became apparent that he’d fabricated interviews with luminaries—among them Philip Roth and John Grisham—in which they seem to criticize Barack Obama. (The interviews were published in Italian in conservative newspapers, so it’s conceivable that the injured parties might never have noticed.) For the past decade, he’s taken to making fake Twitter accounts, often in the names of writers and politicians as well as of entities that might have access to early information about such persons’ deaths; his projects are usually characterized by a “Welcome to my account! Twitter is good!” sort of thing followed by some big-deal breaking news, and the lies are eventually appended with an explanation I imagine spoken in a measured, slightly somber tone: “This account is hoax created by Italian journalist Tommaso Debenedetti.” (The absence of this disclaimer, both self-aggrandizing and somehow fair-minded, is the reason we don’t know whether @LouiseGluckPoet belongs to him, but it probably does.) During the pandemic, he aggravated German speakers with his announcement of the death of Hans Magnus Enzensberger, which was picked up by a Swiss newspaper that sent out a push notification to its followers.

What’s important to note about these hoaxes is that they are absolutely terrible—totally artless, not believable at all, only really a “fool me once” situation if you were born or signed up for a Twitter account yesterday. Their relative success is even more embarrassing when you consider that the targets are supposed to be readers, people who approach language actively, if not critically. We live in a world in which people are constantly lying and cheating for no reward beyond fleeting attention, and in which Louise Glück does not write in ESL. You know this, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The literary world—full of gullible romantics, blinkered narcissists, and people who understand their preferences as inseparable from their souls and therefore never to be insulted—is easy to troll.

UNLIKE INTERNET TERMS that function as metaphors for the physical realm—“link,” “post”—“trolling” defines something that had previously not really had a name but has long been a feature of culture. (“Subtweet,” which refers to the passive-aggressive disparagement of someone without using their name, might also make a useful transition to broader application, so that in two hundred years someone can look up from their phone and say, “Did you know the word ‘subtweet’ originally came from a website? Yeah, it was called ‘Twitter’ . . . ”) A troll is not quite a schemer, or a scammer, or a prankster, or a performance artist; he is a creator of chaos and dissension. If we ignore the trolls who just scream at private citizens for tenuous reasons—and we should just ignore them, because the others are actually interesting—we can say a good troll often performs a critique; his work can be a satire, or merely an “intervention.” The closest preexisting term we had might be “provocateur”—what you become when you age out of “enfant terrible”—but that doesn’t necessarily convey the mischievousness of a troll; provocation is too distant and pretentious for what the troll is after, and indeed the troll seeks to collapse distance and puncture pretentiousness in particular. You might be wondering, “Collapse distance? But trolls are ironic, and irony is distancing. . . . That’s why it’s a scourge in our culture!” This is totally wrong, but I don’t have the space to explain why.

For a troll to work, a portion of the audience must not be in on the joke; trolling is almost always a form of mockery. This can happen directly—most commonly, an anonymous person says you suck in some creative way—or indirectly, by encouraging the trolled to engage in stupid behavior. Stupid behavior may take the form of public outrage or any strong feeling, eventually followed by private embarrassment masked by sputtering justifications. (Death is serious, and shouldn’t be faked!) The cycle repeats. A troll deplores nitpickers, point-missers, hand-raisers, pearl-clutchers, hypocrites, and denialists. He’s also completely willing to engage recklessly in precisely those tactics to get across his message: people are stupid, and they deserve to be mocked. A gross generalization, possibly even despicable—but there is some truth in it. If you don’t agree, you haven’t gotten out enough, and that deserves to be mocked, too.

Link to the rest at BookForum

An Incomplete Survey of Fictional Knitters

From Believer Magazine:

The craft of knitting is such a prominent literary act that a subgenre of literature—called “knit-lit”—has formed. Within this subgenre, there are several motifs, including what is colloquially referred to as “the sweater curse”: the idea that when someone knits a garment for their love interest, the act will seal the demise of their relationship. Knitting a garment by hand is a deeply intimate act, which perhaps explains why authors are attracted to its symbolic potential. Knitting also has an unassuming quality. The act evokes peace and domestic tranquility, and it is often employed to convey these sentiments. A knitter can become a vehicle for change, too, propelling a story forward through their handicraft. A character may weave intricate narrative webs, sometimes suggesting warmth or safety, and other times disguising the places where heartbreak, deceit, and evil may lie. If you look for them, you’ll find them—somebody in the corner, knitting a hat or a scarf, quite possibly something containing the depths of their affections or, just as probable, the names of the people they wish dead.

. . . .

Dr. Seuss, The Lorax:

The Once-ler goes against the Lorax’s wishes and deliberately cuts down every last Truffula tree, decimating the environment in the process, in order to knit and sell Thneeds, in-demand and versatile garments.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield:

Affectionately referred to simply as “Peggotty” (which is another word for a knitting loom, or a “knitting Nancy”), Clara is the warm and caring housekeeper frequently found knitting in her idle time.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women:

The March sisters knit as part of their household duties, which is a point of contention for Jo March: “I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy… and I can only stay at home and knit, like a poky old woman!”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities:

Madame Defarge knits her revenge by encoding in her creations the names of those she wishes to die by guillotine. She is reminiscent of the Greek Fates, who measured man’s lifespan by a length of yarn, the cutting of which symbolized death.

. . . .

Jane Austen, Persuasion:

Mrs. Smith is taught to knit by her nurse, and it becomes a source of joy for the unlucky woman: “As soon as I could use my hands, she taught me to knit, which has been a great amusement; and she put me in the way of making these little thread-cases, pin-cushions, and card-racks…”

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter:

Molly, mother to all, knits Weasley sweaters as annual gifts for friends and family—usually with their initials knit onto the front.

Link to the rest at Believers Magazine

Tennis Is the Opposite of Death: A Proof

From The Paris Review:

Tennis is not the only sport with skew angles. Pool has skew angles and spin and backspin. But pool is murk, pool is cramped in the dark. Soccer has geom­etry and passing shots, but teams, not individual players like tennis. Soccer has sun, like tennis, but also many violences. Football has an ugly sound on TV in the afternoon in a care home. Football is crippling and chunky, as is rugby. Basketball has leaps, suavity, fingertips on pebbled rubber and rubber through a net. But mainly interiors again, mainly night. Cricket has too many points and a bat like a headstone. Baseball has a prospect: all that land. And baseball has apartness, like tennis, but long periods of time where nothing happens, and also that situation of so many players and the sitting and the spitting. Tennis has brutal match lengths and returns and apartness and ongoingness and sunshine. It has one player as an intelligence moving around in space. It has elegance and wreckage and bad manners.

When you were grocery shopping on any Tuesday last winter, the tennis tour was going on. When you were throwing jacks as a child. Years before your player—the player you follow—was born, the tour was going on. The tour was on while you were getting married, dissecting a pig, learning to drive. While you were losing your virginity, the tour was going on, well lit, with player check-ins, catering, ticketing. Workers were misting the clay on the clay courts. Grass courts were seeded, grew, withered, grew again, were watered, were clipped. Stadiums razed, built anew. Roofs that close over stadiums, allowing play to continue if it rains, engineered and installed. The tour was never not going on. Even as you stood in the office supply choosing a lamp bright enough for your father to read his newspaper in the care home.

The served ball comes at your player with rageful intent: its m.p.h. could burn a hole in a racket head. And your player steps up and takes all the rate off it. Your player is your player because no other player reshapes force in quite this way, linking racket tilt and footwork, calibrating wrist swivel by intuitive degree, coordinating approach and angle. It is as if with bare hands your player has stopped a meteor, changing certain destruction into: Here we are sailing on a summer afternoon.

Suddenly you are in an alternate present. The ball is tracing a graceful arc back over the net. It is a kind of communication, your player’s return: a flirting. I’ve ignored that you tried to kill me, says your player’s impossibly gentle slice, and I like you. Tennis is not only sport but spell. By changing force, your player reshapes time.

. . . .

The expressionless ball kid runs expressionlessly crosscourt between points, retrieving balls then kneeling, still. So still as to never have drawn breath: an ancient icon, a carving. Neither lighting up at nor regarding with enmity or appreciation or excitement or admiration or intimidatedness, or any other lifelike aspect, your player.

When ball kids move, they move obviously, to prove, in peripheral vision, that they are not birds or food wrappers or a hat in wind. They toss balls without opinion. They ask their single question with the position of their arms, straight out, semaphores.

Ball kids exist not only to supply your player with balls but also to shade (with umbrella) and guard (insofar as a child can guard) your player, who may ask for another water and another, more bananas, more ice. The inscrutable ball kids can deliver, should you wish, and your player does sometimes, an espresso on court. It will be hot.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

This isn’t the most interesting post PG has made on TPV, but this is the day after a long holiday weekend, the first one during which much of the United States looks almost completely normal after what feels like centuries in Covid-World being ruled by the decrees of Covid Experts, so there’s not a lot going on in the book biz.

Why We Remember Memorial Day

For visitors from outside the United States, the US celebrates today as Memorial Day.

The following is a re-post of 2017 post of the same title.

From historian Victor Davis Hanson via The Wall Street Journal:

A few years ago I was honored to serve briefly on the American Battle Monuments Commission, whose chief duty is the custodianship of American military cemeteries abroad. Over 125,000 American dead now rest in these serene parks, some 26 in 16 countries. Another 94,000 of the missing are commemorated by name only. The graves (mostly fatalities of World Wars I and II) are as perfectly maintained all over the world, from Tunisia to the Philippines, as those of the war dead who rest in the well-manicured acres of the U.S. military cemetery in Arlington, Va.

A world away from the white marble statuary, crosses, Stars of David, noble inscriptions and manicured greenery of these cemeteries is the stark 246-foot wall of polished igneous rock of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the mall in Washington. On its black surfaces are etched 58,307 names of American dead in Vietnam. They are listed in the chronological order of their deaths. The melancholy wall, birthed in bitter controversy at its inception in 1982, emphasizes tragedy more than American confidence in its transcendent values—as if to warn the nation that the agenda of Vietnam was not quite that of 1917 and 1941.

The Vietnam War may have reopened with special starkness the question of how to honor our fallen dead, but it is hardly a new problem in our history. As today’s disputes over the legacy of the Civil War and the Confederacy suggest, it has never been enough just to lament the sacrifice and carnage of our wars, whether successful or failed. We feel the need to honor the war dead but also to make distinctions among them, elevating those who served noble causes while passing judgment on their foes. This is not an exclusively American impulse. It has deep roots in the larger Western tradition of commemoration, and no era—certainly not our own—has managed to escape its complexities and paradoxes.

Our own idea of Memorial Day originated as “Decoration Day,” the post-Civil War tradition, in both the North and the South, of decorating the graves of the war dead. That rite grew out of the shock and trauma of the Civil War. In the conflict’s first major battle at Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) there were likely more American casualties (about 24,000 dead, wounded and missing on both sides) than in all the nation’s prior wars combined since its founding.

The shared ordeal of the Civil War, with some 650,000 fatalities, would eventually demand a unified national day of remembrance. Memorial Day began as an effort to square the circle in honoring America’s dead—without privileging the victors or their cause. The approach of the summer holidays seemed the most appropriate moment to heal our civic wounds. The timing suggested renewal and continuity, whereas an autumn or winter date might add unduly to the grim lamentation of the day.

. . . .

The Western tradition of commemoration also includes a unique idea of individual moral exemption. As first articulated by Pericles, we overlook any defects of character of the war dead, attributing to one brief moment of ultimate sacrifice the power to wash away all prior moral faults.

A noble death serves, in the words of Pericles, as “a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; since the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual.” The great playwright Aeschylus wanted his epitaph to read only that he was a veteran of the Athenian victory at Marathon—a battle where his brother fell.

These themes still resonate in our own habits and rites. This Memorial Day the flags on graves in American cemeteries set the dead apart, in a special moral category that discourages any discussion of the bothersome details of their short lives.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Skip the business books this summer, says leadership expert: These 7 works of fiction will offer fresh perspectives

From CNBC:

Business books may be able to explain why it’s important to leverage diverse perspectives, but they tend to be too model-driven to adequately reflect the complexities of the real world. For those insights, especially if you’re in a management position, reach for works of fiction.

I read and recommend fiction when challenging issues arise. Great fiction challenges me with its multifaceted characters in the context of different cultures, identities, conflicts and time periods; this complexity is what many leaders need most to alter their point of view in positive ways.

As a professor of leadership, here are seven literary gems from a diverse set of authors that I’ve read and enjoyed. They make for compelling summer reading and offer some surprising leadership lessons:

1. ‘The Moor’s Account

By Laila Lalami

This historical novel recounts the experiences of the first Black explorer of America, a Moroccan slave renamed Estebanico.

The imagined memoir presents European imperialism from the viewpoint of an unlikely narrator, and reminds me of a critical lesson: All leaders must seek a broad array of perspectives, especially those which society traditionally has devalued, to achieve a more complete picture of reality for their decision-making.

2. ‘To Live

By Yu Hua and Michael Berry

Originally banned in China but later named one of that nation’s most influential books, “To Live” tells the life journey of Fugui, who squanders his fortune and becomes a humble peasant farmer, while being swept up into the arc of China’s history — from civil war to the Cultural Revolution.

The power of this story stopped me in my tracks, and I immediately suggested it to friends and family. It offers a universal lesson that wealth and status can be easily lost.

It’s also a reminder to always consider what others, including colleagues, may have gone (or are going) through — and how it’s probably more than they let on.

3. ‘Moth Smoke

By Mohsin Hamid

This is the debut novel from Mohsin Hamid of Pakistan, who went on to write the internationally acclaimed bestsellers “Exit West” and “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” The action-packed talefollows the misfortunes of Daru, whose life plummets after he’s fired from his banking job.

I make a habit of reading novels that offer an intimate sense of place. I savored how this one delivered a glimpse of modern-day Pakistan through a sharp, at times witty, cautionary tale with a protagonist who specialized in poor decisions and rationalizations.

Link to the rest at CNBC

What the pandemic has done to the arts

From Harper’s:

It doesn’t take a Leonardo-level intellect to figure out that the pandemic has been devastating for the arts economy. Live events were the first things to stop, and they will be the last to return. That means musicians, actors, and dancers, plus all the people who enable them to take the stage—playwrights and choreographers, directors and conductors, lighting designers and makeup artists, roadies, ushers, ticket takers, theater managers—have no way to make a living from their work, and haven’t for more than a year.

Still, I don’t think most of us appreciate just how bad things are. The crisis goes well beyond the performing arts. Surveys published last summer found that 90 percent of independent music venues were in danger of closing for good, but so were a third of museums. In a survey by the Music Workers Alliance, 71 percent of musicians and DJs reported a loss of income of at least 75 percent, and in another, by the Authors Guild, 60 percent of respondents reported losing income, with an average drop of 43 percent. During the third quarter of 2020, unemployment averaged 27 percent among musicians, 52 percent among actors, and 55 percent among dancers. In the first two months of the pandemic, unemployment in the film and sound-recording industries reached 31 percent. Meanwhile, as of September, gallery sales of modern and contemporary art were down by 36 percent. What has been happening across the arts is not a recession. It is not even a depression. It is a catastrophe.

There is another thing the rest of us, the audience, do not fully appreciate: the crisis is rooted in the destruction that was visited upon the arts even before the pandemic—that is, in the scandal of free content, which has been going on for more than twenty years and which implicates us all. The trouble began in 1999 when Napster came along, creating not only the possibility that music could be free, but the belief that it should be. First the price of music was driven to zero or near zero, then so was the price of work in nearly every other medium: text, images, video. Revenues plummeted across the arts. By 2010, sales of recorded music were down by 69 percent.

Artists adapted, because we left them no choice. They learned to make their money from things that can’t be digitized. That meant physical objects and events—especially events. Musicians tour until they drop; two hundred dates a year is typical for an emerging band. With book advances pulverized by Amazon and freelance rates decimated by Google and Facebook (not to mention non-subscribing web readers), authors hit the lecture circuit. Like a lot of visual artists, many writers also teach classes, give workshops, and do residencies. Musicians and comics play cruises and corporate gigs. In an age when everything is mediated, audiences crave events, too. Festivals have multiplied, and so have fan conventions.

As for physical objects, they are often not distinct from events as a revenue stream so much as ancillary to them. Merchandise—posters, T-shirts, stickers, CDs—is a high-margin category for musicians and other performers, but most of it is sold at shows. For authors, talks and workshops juice the sales of books; for visual artists, appearances boost sales of calendars, cards, mugs, and anything else that’s big enough to put an image on. Events are also key to building a base of superfans, people who love your work enough to purchase anything you can sell them. Harness that audience through crowdfunding platforms or other means, and you can garner enough support to stay afloat.

Artists have adapted, yes—the way you adapt to losing a limb. The growth in ticket sales, for example, is still billions of dollars less than the decline in sales of recorded music. There is also the blockbuster phenomenon to consider. Internet traffic is driven by network effects, which means, to put it simply, that the big get bigger and the small get smaller. In 1982, the top 1 percent of musicians earned 26 percent of concert revenue. By 2017, the top 1 percent earned 60 percent. And so it is across the arts: the bestseller lists are dominated by a shrinking number of authors and books; the box office, by an endless procession of big-budget, mega-grossing franchises. And in the visual-art world, as of 2018, just twenty individuals accounted for 64 percent of global sales by living artists. Aside from stars and superstars, nearly everyone is making do with less.

. . . .

There is a belief at large, spread by Silicon Valley and its useful idiots in the media, that there has in fact never been a better time to be an artist. Thanks to faster computers, better software, ubiquitous phones, and the internet itself, production and distribution—of your self-recorded album, self-published novel, independent movie, digital art—are now, respectively, cheap and free. But as any artist can tell you, the biggest expenses involved in making art are not production and distribution—they are staying alive while you do your work and becoming an artist in the first place. In other words, rent and tuition. And those costs, of course, have been soaring for years. Since 2000, median rent has gone up 62 percent in real dollars and student debt has roughly quintupled.

Not only do artists earn less and have to spend more than they did before the platforms came along, they work even harder. Because it’s not enough anymore just to make your art—already a difficult task if you’re going to do it well enough to have a career. The same forces that have bled the incomes of artists have also shrunk the profits of the companies—publishers, record labels, and so forth—through which they earn, or used to earn, their living. As the culture industry contracts, artists are left to replicate its functions on their own. Artists are now single-person small businesses, complete with marketing, accounting, and logistics departments. They not only create and perform, they produce, design, manage, distribute, and publicize incessantly. The idea persists that artists are lazy. In fact, the ones I’ve talked to work as hard as anyone I’ve ever met, often all day, every day, for years on end. Their life is a constant hustle and—thanks in great measure to Silicon Valley and to an audience accustomed to free art—often a constant struggle, too.

. . . .

You can’t just pick up your art career, eighteen months later, from the place you dropped it. There’s no job to go back to; the job is you. Momentum, once lost, must be laboriously regained. You’re the only one pulling the cart, and the cart starts rolling backward the instant you stop. After hustling nonstop for fifteen years, Maldonado was close to making it to Broadway, where the pay is many times better than what he had been earning. Turkuaz toured relentlessly when they were starting out, logging as many as 260 days a year on the road. They started getting real traction around 2015, selling out thousand-seat theaters and receiving prominent billing at festivals such as Red Rocks, near Denver, and Jazz Fest, in New Orleans. In 2019, Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads chose Turkuaz to collaborate on a fortieth-anniversary tour of Remain in Light, the band’s landmark 1980 album. Like scores of other dates the band had planned for 2020, that breakout opportunity, of course, was postponed.

Mamie Tinkler, a painter living in New York, grew up in Tennessee without a lot of money. She has always had a full-time job—in a gallery, as the coordinator of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, and now as the studio manager for the artist Matthew Barney—which means that she has never had as much time as wealthier peers to develop her work. At forty-two, Tinkler opened her first solo show in New York, a milestone in the career of any artist, on March 14, 2020. The next day, the gallery closed to the general public.

The paintings were “by far the best work I had ever made,” Tinkler said. Not that she had been hoping for miracles; she’d been around the art world long enough to temper her expectations about what the show would accomplish. There’s always a voice inside, she acknowledged, that says, “Oh my God, everybody’s going to finally realize what a great artist I am,” but realistically, “it’s more a feeling that you want the work to start working for you instead of you having to constantly be out in the world pushing your work forward.” It was “profoundly disappointing,” she said, to have the show “just disappear like that.”

Link to the rest at Harper’s

Should we censor art?

From Aeon:

In 1970, Allen Jones exhibited Hatstand, Table, and Chair: three sculptures of women wearing fetish clothing, posed as pieces of furniture. The sculptures were met with protests and stink-bomb attacks, particularly from feminists, who argued that the works objectified women. Despite the artist’s intentions for this piece – he has since identified as a feminist – the installation became part of an artistic narrative that has, historically, reduced women to passive objects in painting and sculpture.

In 2014, Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B (2012) was shut down at the Barbican in London after protests caused ‘security concerns’. The installation, based on 19th- and early 20th-century ‘human zoos’, showed Black people on display, chained and restrained. Even though the artist – a white South African man – intended the work to expose historic racist and imperialist violence, protesters implored the gallery to censor it: ‘Caged Black People Is Not Art’ read one banner.

And in 2019, an exhibition of Gauguin’s portraits opened at the National Gallery in London with a public debate to address ethical concerns about the artist and his work. Paul Gauguin was a sexual predator, and when in the South Pacific – where he created some of his best-known paintings – he used his colonial and patriarchal privilege to sexually abuse girls as young as 13, knowingly infecting them with syphilis. Indeed, many of us struggle to reconcile an artist’s appalling behaviour with their art: Pablo Picasso was, like Gaugin, a sexual predator, and a misogynist; Leni Riefenstahl was a Nazi and exploited Romani people in her filmmaking; and the sculptor Eric Gill was a paedophile. Often, we can sense the artist’s moral character in their works: Picasso’s views about women, for example, can be detected in many of his late portraits due to his manner of depiction.

These cases, among many more, show that, far from being innocuous objects hidden away in museums and white cubes, artworks are historically informed objects that do things and say things. Artworks are created by people in particular times, responding to specific events and ideals. In The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (1981), the philosopher Arthur Danto observed this with his thought experiment: a series of indiscernible red canvases could conceivably constitute completely different artworks, depending on their title, context of presentation, and so on. There is more to a painting or sculpture than its aesthetic forms of colour, line and shape. External properties, such as the artist’s identity and relevant events during the work’s creation, must be considered to fully understand the work. Just how much the artist’s intentions for their art determine that artwork’s meaning is a deep question – one that I can’t answer here. But, in general, most philosophers agree that an artwork can admit of many interpretations, and its meaning often diverges from what the artist intended. Crucially, artworks are communicative objects, the messages of which are partly determined by the surrounding context and are sometimes different to what the artist had in mind.

. . . .

In particular, artworks can express sentiments, including moral ones, through their contextual and visual handling of subject matter. Note how the composition of Titian’s Rape of Europa (1559-62) – painted in a time when sexual violence was often eroticised in art – blurs the lines between refusal and consent. The depicted abduction before the impending sex shows Europa in a precarious – non-consensual – posture. Her erogenous zones are foregrounded, and the event is surrounded with sensuous textures: soft flesh, wet clothing, frothing foam. As the philosopher A W Eaton argues, this painting eroticises the rape it depicts, glamorising an uneven power dynamic that peddles the myth that rape is erotically charged. Indeed, Titian intended his painting to be erotic, outlining in a letter his goal for it to have erotic appeal for the male viewer.

The Rape of Europa (c1559-62) by Titian. Courtesy the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Relatedly, it’s been argued that artworks – particularly pictorial ones – can be the equivalent of ‘speech acts’ – that is, they can be used to do things, such as protest or endorse something. Picasso’s Guernica (1937), which depicts the Luftwaffe air raid that destroyed the town in the Spanish Civil War, has been described as a desolate ‘protest-painting’ and a ‘powerful antiwar statement’. Such actions – protesting, stating – are things we normally do with words. When we speak, we don’t merely express meanings; our words also have what J L Austin in 1955 called ‘illocutionary force’. When an officer shouts to her troops: ‘Open fire!’, she’s ordering them to shoot. But for an utterance to have a particular force, it needs to satisfy certain conditions. To order her troops to fire, the officer must have authority, and she must use words her troops can understand.

While Austin was mainly concerned with linguistic speech acts, he noted how they can also be nonverbally performed: consider silent protests or greeting another person by smiling. Such gestures must still be understood and recognised – what Austin called ‘conventional’. There are conventional gestures within artmaking and curatorial display, too. Recognisable methods of depiction with particular use of perspective and light, visual metaphors, iconographic symbols and curatorial conventions governing display will facilitate a work’s performance of speech acts.

If artworks can be speech acts or, at least, can express meanings with certain forces such as assertion and protest (a claim that requires further defence than I can give here), then presumably they can be harmful acts too, such as in straightforward hate speech – in racist, misogynistic or homophobic language. Hate speech constitutes and sometimes incites violence towards its target group. The utterance of ‘Blacks are not permitted to vote’ by a legislator during apartheid subordinates Black people; it ranks them as inferior, legitimates discrimination, and deprives them of important powers.

In parallel to this are the statues of slave traders and white supremacists. These public memorials don’t just represent a particular person – they literally put them on a pedestal. Through various aesthetic conventions, statues commemorate and glamorise the person and their actions and, in doing this, they rank people of colour as inferior, legitimising racial hatred. As the mayor of London Sadiq Khan said after a monument to the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was torn down in Bristol in June 2020: ‘Imagine what it’s like as a Black person to walk past a statue of somebody who enslaved your ancestors. And we are commemorating them – celebrating them – as icons…’ And look again at Jones’s sculptures. The male artist depicted women as furniture within a society where women are still treated as secondary citizens. Regardless of the artist’s intentions, it’s thus plausible to interpret the work as amounting to a kind of sexist speech: it subordinates women by depicting us as household objects, ranking us as inferior and legitimising misogynistic attitudes.

Artworks speak, act and have concrete consequences for people’s lives. Recognising artistic speech or expression reveals a distinctive potential harm towards marginalised groups. So how should we manage it?

Link to the rest at Aeon

PG notes that nobody was raped to create Titian’s painting. Nobody was enslaved to create the statues of slave traders and white supremacists.

“Speech acts” are a contradiction in terms. Speech is speech and acts are acts. Anyone can speak without acting or act without speaking about it first.

Under English Common Law (and that Common Law as incorporated in the legal systems of many states in the US), very few types of speech are inherently punishable. One of the main exceptions is speech that incites, or is likely to lead to, violence or illegal actions. There has to be a close relationship between such speech and the harmful actions it incites.

In a hundred-year-old US Supreme Court case, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote: “The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” Holmes cited the example of a person who falsely shouts “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, causing a panic.

The fire-in-a-crowded-theater statement of Justice Holmes was not particularly on point for most types of disagreeable speech that some authorities attempted to ban. In Hess v. Indiana (1973), the Court provided a more useful test in holding that before an individual’s speech could fall under the unprotected category of incitement to imminent lawless action, the speech must lead to “imminent disorder.”

To be frank, PG must admit that (in his loudly humble opinion) the courts still have some work to do to perfect a clear standard between speech that a government entity can prohibit and speech which it cannot.

However, PG is quite comfortable that speech which does not have a clear causal connection to some sort of illegal action on the part of those to perceive the speech is not something that anyone should try to prevent on a general basis, with or without government assistance.

Bringing this back to Titian, PG is not aware of anyone who has seriously argued that his painting was ever an incitement to an actual sexual assault. He is also not aware of any serious argument that a statue of a slave trader ever caused someone to enslave someone else.

PG suggests that the argument that an artistic expression in whatever form should be officially suppressed because it might make someone feel bad is the slipperiest of slippery slopes.

In order to justify any sort of public action to remove the art object, the relevant government authorities have to assign a higher value to one person’s or one group’s reaction to the object than is assigned to the value of the responses of others who aren’t bothered by the object or simply ignore it because it’s unimportant to them.

PG is not necessarily opposed to a referendum in which the majority of the relevant residents of a community vote to remove a statue which is in general public view in the community and which is owned by the community.

He is concerned when a small group of people with sensibilities that are not shared by the larger mass of those who view an object create some artificial and abstract construct like a “speech act” as a basis for destroying or removing an object that is enjoyed or regarded as harmless by a much larger group of people. For him, there is always a whiff of dictatorship floating around the activities of such groups that is profoundly disturbing.

For authors, is to write about a slaver the equivalent of promoting slavery or to depict powerful sexual arousal on the part of a woman when she encounters a highly-attractive man (or woman) the equivalent of illegal or punishable actions on the part of the individual who writes such descriptions?

As usual, PG is happy to have any shortcomings in his blathering pointed out. He does hope that his blathering is not regarded as the equivalent of any sort of act on his part.

Recalling a Free Speech Landmark

From Publishers Weekly:

In May 1953, 25 publishers and librarians met at a country club in Westchester County, N.Y., to create the “Freedom to Read Statement.” The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its peak. Americans who were considered disloyal were being fired based on the books they read, the music they liked, and the art that hung on their walls. In Oklahoma, librarian Ruth Brown was dismissed for subscribing to the Nation, the New Republic, Soviet Russia Today, the Negro Digest, and Consumer Reports.

The authors of the “Freedom to Read Statement” explained that they were responding to the growing popular sentiment “that our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety and national security.” Librarians at the American Library Association convention in June adopted the statement overwhelmingly. The New York Times called it one of “America’s outstanding state papers” and joined the Washington Post in publishing the full text.

We are living through another age of deep ideological division. Many people sincerely believe that the best way to fight ideas they consider dangerous is to deny them an airing—or as we now say, “a platform.”

Book publishers are once again under intense pressure to engage in censorship. And I don’t use that word carelessly. Censorship involves more than the government suppression that is banned by the First Amendment. Private companies play a critical role in protecting free speech.

Many people in publishing are unhappy with their employers and rightly complain about the lack of diversity at all levels of the industry. They also strongly object to their companies publishing books that they believe are harmful, even dangerous. Amplified by vocal support on social media, these critics are having an impact. Contracts have been canceled. Books have been withdrawn from publication.

At a time when a new civil rights movement is demanding an end to centuries of injustice, it is easy to lose sight of the importance—and fragility—of the freedom to read. This freedom is actually a recent development in American history. The battle to read what we want began in the 1920s and won its major legal victories in the ’50s and ’60s.

If we are to preserve this crucial liberty, we must continue to defend the principles set forth in the “Freedom to Read Statement”:

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.”

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.”

3. “It is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to bar access to writings on the basis of personal history or political affiliations of the author.”

4. “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.”

5. “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 claim that the best answer to bad speech is more speech seems naive to many of us who have seen the power of social media to spread misinformation and outright lies. But the publishers and librarians who gathered in Westchester readily acknowledged the perils of free speech: “We do not state these propositions in the comfortable belief that what people read is unimportant,” they wrote. “We believe that what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society.”

As the statement concludes: “Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Something Is Wrong with the Way I Look

From The Offing:

I have always felt a certain affinity with Polyphemus, the cyclops that Odysseus meets on his journey home to Ithaca. This creature, this one-eyed shepherd, this son of Poseidon, is made to be a monster in Odysseus’ account of his travels. In The Odyssey, we hear the story of Polyphemus and his single eye only through Odysseus’ own words, as he recounts his journey to Alcinous. Odysseus tells us about this thing, who not only flouts social custom, but whose body, whose single eye, marks him as different, but whose body, whose single eye, marks him as different.

. . . .

A group of us gathered at the lake, the sun barely starting to dip down below the horizon. I showed up late; everyone else was already drunk. I had moved to this town, to this graduate writing program in the South, a handful of weeks earlier and still did not know how to speak in these groups. The town was so small, the program so small, that when one person said or did something, it got out, got to everyone.

One of the other people new to the town was sitting on a small wooden pier, their legs dangling in the water, facing the swimmers, their back to those of us still on land. “Ryan Gosling isn’t even that attractive,” they were saying. “Have you looked at his face? His eyes are crossed. It’s so ugly.” Someone laughed. I did not say anything, and no one else did either.

It’s easy sometimes, to forget. That my eyes have a name. That people might look at me and assume something. That people look at me and get uncomfortable, look away. Ugly, they might think to themselves, ugly.

The technical term for it is strabismus. What it is, really, is that my eyes are out of balance, out of sync. A message from my brain to the muscles around my eyeballs is disrupted, ill received. My eyes don’t work together. I can only look out of one eye at a time, and whichever eye I am not using can drift, can float, can point in another direction.

. . . .

When I was four or five years old, my mother dropped me off at a hair salon at the mall while she went to return something at another store. They cut and cut, while I sat and watched, too shy to say anything, trusting that these adults knew what they were doing. When my mother returned, my hair was sheared down to a soft, light fuzz.

“She looks like a cancer patient,” my father said when we got home. I did not know what that meant, but I knew it was bad.

At the open house the kindergarten hosted for children and families to explore the rooms and meet the staff, I wore my favorite hat, bright pink and covered in drawings of butterflies.

“Remember,” the teacher said, “no hats allowed in school.” I looked up at my mother, to ask confirmation. I did not want to be the girl who looked like a cancer patient, whose eyes made everyone uncomfortable. I did not want to be seen as abnormal. I wanted to blend in, to be unnoticed.

Most of the time, people don’t mention it unless I bring it up first. “Have you noticed my eyes?” I’ll ask, and it comes pouring out, what they thought it might have been, what they think about it. More than one partner has said it’s endearing, it’s cute. We are always in bed when it happens, and they tell me it was hard, at first, talking to me, knowing which eye to look in. I never know what to say to that.

“You know how, if you line up your finger with something, and close one eye, the perspective shifts?” I ask. I demonstrate, holding up a finger, lining it up with the edge of a window. “And depending on which eye you have open, it looks like your finger lines up to a different place? I can do that without closing my eyes.” They hold up a finger to try, and then turn to watch my eyes. I do it, to check, to make sure. I am so used to the way my eyes are, I start to doubt that how I see the world is really that different, that there is something strange in the way I look.

One summer in high school, I got a job at the only coffee shop in our small Iowa town. I was behind the counter when a child looked up at me and said, “Mom, what’s wrong with her face?” I blinked down at them and wanted to believe they were talking about my eyes.

In college, I was working the late shift at the bookstore-slash-late-night-snack-shop. A boy came in who I had met, once, years before. “Hey,” he said, paying for his snacks, “I can do that too.” His facial muscles strained, and his eyes pointed inwards towards each other.

“Oh,” I said. “Okay.” When he left, I was alone in the store. I put my head down on the counter. Was that how people saw me?

. . . .

Theocritus is called the father of pastoral poetry. Born sometime around 300 B.C., he wrote bucolic poems, tranquil verses set in the Greek countryside. One of these poems is from the perspective of Polyphemus, set before Odysseus lands on the cyclops’ island. Polyphemus serenades a water nymph with whom he has fallen in love, saying:

I know, my beautiful girl, why you run from me: / A shaggy brow spreads right across my face / From ear to ear in one unbroken line. Below is a / single eye, and above my lips is set a broad flat nose. / Such may be my looks, but I pasture a thousand beasts, / And I drink the best of the milk I get from them. / Cheese too I have in abundance, in summer and autumn / And even at winter’s end; my racks are always laden.…

Polyphemus knows he is ugly, that his single eye is his defining physical characteristic. But here, in Theocritus’ poem, he is a sweet, almost silly creature, telling his love that she could eat his very own homemade cheese in every season, if only she would come be with him.

Though Polyphemus acknowledges his physical difference, it is only when Odysseus arrives, when we hear the story through Odysseus’ perspective that we understand the cyclops to be a monster.

The things that make some people grimace, look away, and use words like “ugly,” like “monster,” are often things that are just different from a perceived norm. As Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock writes, “…monstrosity is a socially constructed category reflecting culturally specific anxieties and desires…” We name things monster, ugly, to let the world know that these things are not us.

It is only in Odysseus’ perception that Polyphemus is made monster. Shift the perspective, and he is just a creature with eyes that look different, a self-conscious shepherd, a besotted cheesemaker.

On my face, sometimes, it is small. A facial tick. It is there, needling. The question, the suspicion. Is that pity in a person’s eyes when they look at me? Do they wonder to themselves what is wrong with my face? Do they talk about it when I’m not in the room? Do they bite their tongues on the knowledge that I am ugly in a way that is permanent, unfixable?

Link to the rest at The Offing

Like Sands Through the Hourglass

From Public Books:

My nine-year-old, S, spends substantially more time online these days, because that is where he sees his friends, and he is at the age where play is his primary form of friendship. They are usually meeting up in Minecraft—the ubiquitous blocky building environment—running on a shared private server, which is to say that they play in the digital playground they have built for themselves. S moved with us to a new state and started at a new school during the pandemic, so he plays with a combination of kids from his old school and his new classmates, whom he’s never met in person. It works.

But lately I am noticing how much less they are building together. Now they mainly run. Run and run from mission to mission, making it up as they go along. It’s like the tag I remember from my own youth, last tastes of wild before the streetlights came on, just a reason to run and yell and leap toward even the smallest horizon.

This, I suppose, has been the grand transposition. For many of us, daily life is now even more heavily delivered through screens. The computer world is the place of the daily grind, and now we struggle to moderate and manage our time out in the flesh world. During their game time, the kids use videoconferencing like Zoom to talk and to sort of feel each other’s presence, but they seldom use their faces. When I peek in on my older child’s classes, I see rows of partly obscured teenage faces. My own child is mainly a forehead with a shock of fluff atop.

The kids are there. But they also seem to have entered a generational compact regarding what that presence should look like. They are trying to force Zoom life back into alignment with their other experiences of digital self-representation, with all the complexities of control, capture, and release pertaining. They have mastered the art of sending forth their appropriate representatives into Zoom space, and I admire them.

But they also suffer. What day is it? What time is it? We are a household of students and teachers, so of course we actually know; our schedules are as full as on any prepandemic day. But then why does it always feel like time has become unknowable? My guess is that if we were to experience time, we would also have to compute many other scales and quantities, and such a deepening of life’s map would be unbearable.

It’s like an amplified version of when you have a job that requires radically different hours from the people around you. The rhythms are all off, and it’s difficult to communicate the nature of the difference—the different nature, the nature you now inhabit—because even the patterns of your when and how and why are so much at a distance from everyone else. Sunrise becomes your bedtime, and you work hard never to think about what you are missing, because it is seldom that you get to be there when.

This is our place. This digitized where is who we are in this moment. I wonder what my children will remember, the deep sea of their experience spanned across the common space of their screens, spatially edged, temporally edgeless.

Link to the rest at Public Books