If Books Could Kill

From Wikipedia:

If Books Could Kill is a podcast hosted by Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri about popular nonfiction books about ideas in American culture and politics. It is based around criticising bestselling nonfiction books of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Books featured on the podcast include Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama.

. . . .

If Books Could Kill is hosted by Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri. Hobbes is a journalist known for hosting You’re Wrong About with Sarah Marshall (until 2021) and Maintenance Phase with Aubrey Gordon. Shamshiri was previously known for his hosting the podcast 5-4, along with Rhiannon Hamam and Michael Liroff.

The show targets “airport books”, popular nonfiction books often marketed as pop science or smart thinking that might be found in airport bookshops, which Hobbes describes as “the superspreader events of American stupidity”. Each episode is dedicated to the discussion of a single book, along with the book’s wider cultural influence. The hosts focus on flawed arguments, poor uses of data, factual errors, and the drawing of unsound conclusions or overgeneralizations. They often take a comic tone and will poke fun at the books and their authors.

. . . .


No.Book featuredBook authorRelease date
1FreakonomicsSteven D. Levitt and Stephen J. DubnerNovember 2, 2022
2OutliersMalcolm GladwellNovember 10, 2022
3Bobos in ParadiseDavid BrooksNovember 17, 2022
4The GameNeil StraussDecember 1, 2022
5The Population BombPaul R. Ehrlich and Anne Howland EhrlichDecember 15, 2022
6The SecretRhonda ByrneJanuary 12, 2023
7Men Are From Mars, Women Are From VenusJohn GrayJanuary 26, 2023
8The End of History and the Last ManFrancis FukuyamaFebruary 9, 2023
9The Clash of CivilizationsSamuel P. HuntingtonFebruary 28, 2023
10The Coddling of the American MindGreg Lukianoff and Jonathan HaidtMarch 9, 2023
11Hillbilly ElegyJ. D. VanceMarch 23, 2023
12Rich Dad Poor DadRobert KiyosakiApril 6, 2023
13The 5 Love LanguagesGary ChapmanApril 20, 2023
14NudgeRichard H. Thaler and Cass R. SunsteinMay 4, 2023
15May 19, 2023
16The World Is FlatThomas FriedmanJune 1, 2023
17Atomic HabitsJames ClearJune 15, 2023
18The RulesEllen Fein and Sherrie SchneiderJune 29, 2023
19Liberal FascismJonah GoldbergJuly 27, 2023
20God and Man at YaleWilliam F. BuckleySeptember 7, 2023
21The 4-Hour WorkweekTim FerrissSeptember 21, 2023
22San FransickoMichael ShellenbergerOctober 19, 2023
23The 48 Laws of PowerRobert GreeneNovember 2, 2023

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

Readings for Writers: How to Avoid Grifters; Or, Why the Humanities Matter

From Writer Unboxed:

“Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law.” The line, written in 1764, belongs to Oliver Goldsmith, an English poet and novelist barely anyone reads anymore. His words could have served as an epigraph to Nathan Heller’s essay, “The End of the English Major,” which appeared in The New Yorker in February of this year. But these days, who lingers over an epigraph? And who would dare make the counter-intuitive argument that “underserved” students of every race and ethnicity should pursue a degree in the Humanities?

I would.

About a million years ago, I was an English major. On breaks, I worked at the up-town dress boutique where my mother, the seamstress who spoke broken English, knelt before wealthy women, pinning up hemlines. Their husbands, often retired leaders of industry, sat in plush chairs waiting for their spendthrift wives, killing time asking me whether I could sew and why I had no accent. When I told them I was an English major at a private university, they snorted and hiccupped, amused that a working-class Cuban immigrant would take such a ludicrous, impractical path.

I had no conscious understanding then about my drive to conquer the language that had conquered my parents, separating us from family and culture. All I had was a heart ignited against tyranny and the will to intervene between my parents and those members of the English-speaking world who mocked them.

“I can’t understand you,” the woman on the other side of the notions counter sneered at my mother.

“I think you can,” I countered.

Embarrassed, the woman counted out the zippers and buttons, the packets of sew-on snaps and spools of hem tape my mother had requested. She had never expected anyone like me, like my mother, to challenge her assumptions about the humanity of others.

In a recent Substack post, the self-styled Democratic populist, Jim Hightower, calls out right-wing politicians in North Carolina, Alaska, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, and Mississippi for doing their best to eliminate the Humanities from university curricula:

“The right-wing’s shriveled view,” Hightower writes, “is not about expanding one’s horizon and enriching America’s democratic society—but solely about training students to fit into a corporate workforce, sacrificing the possibility of a fuller life for the possibility of a fatter paycheck.” (11/14/2023)

Hightower is correct, though the shift from teaching students to think, as opposed to teaching them how to make a widget, is at least three decades old now. I have witnessed that shift from the podium at the front of a college classroom.

The decline in the Humanities began the day a rapacious politician, masquerading as an intellectual (“thought leader”), defined higher education as an “economic engine.” Suddenly the process of education became a cumbersome means to a lucrative end, the fastest possible monetization of a young student. The question of how we develop a thoughtful, well-rounded, contributing member of society was dispatched, usurped by a different question. How will the graduate, degree in hand, serve the interests of specific business sectors?

With far too few exceptions, exceptions that break along economic class, we are no longer teaching students to think or asking them about the distance between how the world is and how it could be. We are training students to serve as cogs in a great economic engine. The difficult and slow process of helping them understand their humanity, their position in relation to the past and the future, has been shunted aside. Only students who will never have to worry about money, about steady work, can afford to study literature and philosophy, music and art history, modern languages and the performing arts, to name only a few disciplines within the arc of the Humanities.

I hold to the now quaint idea that education is a means to emancipation. Emancipation is more than physical freedom. Southern slave owners knew that. That’s why slaves caught learning to read and write were beaten to within an inch of their lives, their fingers often amputated. That’s why Frederick Douglass, after risking his life to escape physical shackles, set his sights on the dangerous venture of clear thinking and clear expression. In divisive times, moral persuasion requires full and eloquent sentences; it requires minds broad enough to consider facts and to recognize the corrosive sentimentality and fear that drives so much disinformation.

It has always been difficult to make the grubby, materialistic world care about beautifully balanced periodic sentences or the droll brevity of heroic couplets. No news there, especially not for contemporary writers who, try as they might, cannot make a living writing full time. But a materialistic world without the counterweight of the Humanities is a world with fewer readers interested in complexity, interested in more challenging, less formulaic literary forms. So if anyone should be advocating for the Humanities, it is writers in search of an audience, and isn’t that most of us so much of the time?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG generally agrees with the OP, but he’ll add that the huge increase in the cost of higher education means that a great many students end up owing a zillion dollars in student loans these days. Paying off such loans while living in an expensive city absent family wealth can be a steep hill to climb.

It’s not irrational for a student to regard college as an overpriced luxury absent college delivering a meaningful contribution toward gaining more remunerative employment.

There are a variety of ways of “learning to think” that don’t involve paying tens of thousands of dollars to a college or university.

The Stories of William Faulkner: Mississippi’s Talebearer

From The Wall Street Journal:

William Faulkner told all sorts of tall tales about his life and work. During World War I he enlisted in the Royal Air Force in Toronto (having given his birthplace as Middlesex, England). He returned home to Mississippi sporting RAF wings to which he was not entitled, his experience having amounted to six months of ground training. The notion that becoming a novelist was some kind of literary consolation prize is another fabrication. Faulkner said that he began his literary career writing poetry. “I’m a failed poet,” he told the Paris Review in 1956. He then turned to the short story, “the most demanding form after poetry,” and only after failing at that, too, he said, did he resign himself to the novel.

The Faulkner oeuvre is vast, and not all of it bears revisiting, but between 1929 and 1936, he produced a body of work unmatched in American literature for inventiveness in form and content. His fourth published novel, “The Sound and the Fury” (1929), introduced this catalog, followed by “As I Lay Dying” (1930), then “Sanctuary” (1931), “Light in August” (1932), and “Absalom, Absalom!” (1936), one of the most astonishing novels in the English language.

The high period was also filled to the brim with short stories: 16 in 1931 alone, published in journals such as the Saturday Evening Post, the American Mercury and Harper’s. The year before, the Post paid $750 apiece for two stories, “a better price than he had received for any novel,” according to the substantial chronology in “Stories,” the sixth and final volume in the Library of America’s splendid Faulkner edition. Edited by Theresa M. Towner, it largely follows Faulkner’s own arrangements, using his “Collected Stories” of 1950 as a backbone. The six stories of “Knight’s Gambit,” focused on the lawyer Gavin Stevens, are also included, as well as miscellaneous works.

Faulkner’s poetry has scarcely made it out of the bottom drawer, but short stories are integral to his achievement. As with the novels, the majority are set in Yoknapatawpha County, his fictionalized corner of Mississippi, with the town of Jefferson standing for Oxford. One of the pleasures of reading this book is seeing how certain stories shimmer as invisible chapters from familiar novels. “That Evening Sun,” published in 1931, links “The Sound and the Fury” to a later one, “Requiem for a Nun” (1951), yet the events it describes feature in neither. In the story, the black servant Nancy passes an anxious evening in her cabin at the Compson place, anticipating the return of a violent man. The three children with her, Caddie, Jason and Quentin, understand little of the situation and concentrate on making popcorn. In “Requiem for a Nun,” Nancy is on trial for the murder of the infant child of Temple Drake and Gowan Stevens, whose appearance whisks the reader back 20 years to “Sanctuary.”

 Another much-anthologized story, “Barn Burning” (1939), provided the seed for “The Hamlet” (1940), the first volume of Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy. In the novel, Ab Snopes’s arson habit is merely suggested, while in the story, written earlier, it is, so to speak, fully lit.

The Compsons and the Stevenses are among Yoknapatawpha’s prominent families, a grouping that also includes the Sutpens, the McCaslins and the clan of Ikkemotubbe, chief of the Chickasaw tribe that occupied the territory when the first white settlers arrived. “A dispossessed American king,” Faulkner called him. Among several good stories involving Indians are “Red Leaves” and “Mountain Victory.” There are no prominent “Negro” families, to use Faulkner’s preferred word, unless we count the indomitable figure of the sharecropper Lucas Beauchamp and his brood—Lucas features in the interconnected stories of “Go Down, Moses” (1942), included in an earlier Library of America volume—or the Compsons’ servant and moral compass, Dilsey Gibson.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

PG remembers one of his college professors mentioning”Yoknapatawpha, ” but can’t recall what the word sounded like. However, that didn’t prevent PG from being a big fan of Faulkner’s work in high school and college. As I Lay Dying was PG’s favorite.

What are the best ways for an author to use AI to write a book?

From ChatGPT:

Prompt: What are the best ways for an author to use AI to write a book?

ChatGPT Response:

Incorporating AI into the book writing process can be a great asset for an author. Here are some of the best ways to use AI in this creative endeavor:

  1. Idea and Concept Generation: AI can help brainstorm ideas for your book, including themes, plot elements, character concepts, and settings. Feeding the AI specific genres or themes can yield creative and unexpected suggestions, which can inspire or enhance your own ideas.
  2. Outline and Structure Development: AI can assist in structuring your book. By providing a basic plot or concept, AI can suggest a detailed outline, helping to organize the narrative flow and ensuring a cohesive structure for your story.
  3. Character Development and Dialogue: AI can generate character profiles, including backstories, traits, and motivations, based on initial inputs. It can also suggest dialogue, offering different styles and tones to match the characters and situations.
  4. Writing and Editing Assistance: AI can be used for drafting certain sections or chapters. You can provide a brief and let the AI generate a draft, which you can then refine. AI tools are also helpful for grammar checking, style improvement, and suggesting alternative phrasings.
  5. Research Support: For books requiring extensive research, AI can quickly sift through large volumes of data to find relevant information, saving time and ensuring accuracy.
  6. Genre-Specific Assistance: Depending on the genre of your book, AI can provide genre-specific assistance. For instance, in science fiction, it can generate futuristic technology or alien species; for historical fiction, it can provide historical details and context.
  7. Feedback and Revision: Some AI tools can analyze your writing and provide feedback on aspects like pacing, tension, and character development. This can be particularly useful during revisions.
  8. Interactive Elements: For more experimental authors, AI can help create interactive or branching narratives, particularly for digital formats where readers choose different paths through the story.
  9. Title and Blurb Creation: Coming up with a compelling title and blurb can be challenging; AI can generate multiple options based on your book’s content and themes.
  10. Market Research and Publishing Strategy: AI can analyze market trends and reader preferences, helping you position your book effectively in the market.

While AI can greatly assist in the book writing process, it’s important to remember that it serves as a tool to augment the author’s creativity and vision, not replace it. The unique voice, perspective, and imagination of the author remain irreplaceable in crafting a compelling and meaningful story.

AI Prompt/Response of the Day


In a time when information is instantly available and content creation is a few clicks away, academic integrity can easily become a gray area for students. Explicitly teaching skills and concepts associated with academic integrity and providing feedback throughout the research and writing process can build a culture of academic honesty in classrooms.

ChatGPT Response:

You’re absolutely right. In the digital age, where information is abundant and easily accessible, maintaining academic integrity has become both more challenging and crucial. Here are some strategies educators can employ to foster a culture of academic honesty:

  1. Educate About Academic Integrity: Clearly define what constitutes plagiarism, cheating, and other forms of academic dishonesty. Ensure students understand the importance of citing sources and the proper ways to do so.
  2. Use Technology Wisely: Employ plagiarism detection software to check student work. This not only helps in identifying potential issues but also acts as a deterrent against dishonest practices.
  3. Encourage Original Thought: Design assignments and assessments in a way that encourages students to think independently and apply their understanding, rather than just repeating information found online.
  4. Provide Resources for Research and Citation: Offer students access to resources on how to conduct research ethically and cite sources correctly. This could be through workshops, guides, or online tools.
  5. Model Academic Integrity: Teachers and faculty should lead by example, demonstrating integrity in their own work and interactions.
  6. Create a Supportive Environment: Build a classroom culture where students feel comfortable asking for help and understand that making mistakes is part of the learning process. This can reduce the pressure to achieve perfection through dishonest means.
  7. Personalize Learning: Tailor assignments to individual student interests where possible. Personal connection to a topic can motivate students to engage deeply and honestly with the material.
  8. Frequent Feedback and Drafts: Incorporate multiple stages of feedback and revision in assignments. This process helps students improve their work and understand the value of iterative learning, reducing the temptation to submit dishonest work.
  9. Discuss the Consequences: Make students aware of the academic and professional consequences of academic dishonesty. Understanding the long-term impact can discourage them from taking such risks.
  10. Collaborative Learning: Encourage group work and peer reviews. Collaboration can build a community of learning and integrity among students.

By integrating these strategies, educators can help create an academic environment where integrity is understood, valued, and practiced.

How AI could change computing, culture and the course of history

From The Economist:

Among the more sombre gifts brought by the Enlightenment was the realisation that humans might one day become extinct. The astronomical revolution of the 17th century had shown that the solar system both operated according to the highest principles of reason and contained comets which might conceivably hit the Earth. The geological record, as interpreted by the Comte de Buffon, showed massive extinctions in which species vanished for ever. That set the scene for Charles Darwin to recognise such extinctions as the motor of evolution, and thus as both the force which had fashioned humans and, by implication, their possible destiny. The nascent science of thermodynamics added a cosmic dimension to the certainty of an ending; Sun, Earth and the whole shebang would eventually run down into a lifeless “heat death”.

The 20th century added the idea that extinction might not come about naturally, but through artifice. The spur for this was the discovery, and later exploitation, of the power locked up in atomic nuclei. Celebrated by some of its discoverers as a way of indefinitely deferring heat death, nuclear energy was soon developed into a far more proximate danger. And the tangible threat of imminent catastrophe which it posed rubbed off on other technologies.

None was more tainted than the computer. It may have been guilt by association: the computer played a vital role in the development of the nuclear arsenal. It may have been foreordained. The Enlightenment belief in rationality as humankind’s highest achievement and Darwin’s theory of evolution made the promise of superhuman rationality the possibility of evolutionary progress at humankind’s expense.

Artificial intelligence has come to loom large in the thought of the small but fascinating, and much written about, coterie of academics which has devoted itself to the consideration of existential risk over the past couple of decades. Indeed, it often appeared to be at the core of their concerns. A world which contained entities which think better and act quicker than humans and their institutions, and which had interests that were not aligned with those of humankind, would be a dangerous place.

It became common for people within and around the field to say that there was a “non-zero” chance of the development of superhuman ais leading to human extinction. The remarkable boom in the capabilities of large language models (llms), “foundational” models and related forms of “generative” ai has propelled these discussions of existential risk into the public imagination and the inboxes of ministers.

. . . .

But the lack of any “Minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic [drawing] their plans against us”, to quote H.G. Wells, does not mean that the scale of the changes that ai may bring with it can be ignored or should be minimised. There is much more to life than the avoidance of extinction. A technology need not be world-ending to be world-changing.

The transition into a world filled with computer programs capable of human levels of conversation and language comprehension and superhuman powers of data assimilation and pattern recognition has just begun. The coming of ubiquitous pseudocognition along these lines could be a turning point in history even if the current pace of ai progress slackens (which it might) or fundamental developments have been tapped out (which feels unlikely). It can be expected to have implications not just for how people earn their livings and organise their lives, but also for how they think about their humanity.

For a sense of what may be on the way, consider three possible analogues, or precursors: the browser, the printing press and practice of psychoanalysis. One changed computers and the economy, one changed how people gained access and related to knowledge, and one changed how people understood themselves.

The humble web browser, introduced in the early 1990s as a way to share files across networks, changed the ways in which computers are used, the way in which the computer industry works and the way information is organised. Combined with the ability to link computers into networks, the browser became a window through which first files and then applications could be accessed wherever they might be located. The interface through which a user interacted with an application was separated from the application itself.

The power of the browser was immediately obvious. Fights over how hard users could be pushed towards a particular browser became a matter of high commercial drama. Almost any business with a web address could get funding, no matter what absurdity it promised. When boom turned to bust at the turn of the century there was a predictable backlash. But the fundamental separation of interface and application continued. Amazon, Meta (née Facebook) and Alphabet (née Google) rose to giddy heights by making the browser a conduit for goods, information and human connections. Who made the browsers became incidental; their role as a platform became fundamental.

The months since the release of Openai’s Chatgpt, a conversational interface now powered by gpt-4, have seen an entrepreneurial explosion that makes the dotcom boom look sedate. For users, apps based on llms and similar software can be ludicrously easy to use; type a prompt and see a result. For developers it is not that much harder. “You can just open your laptop and write a few lines of code that interact with the model,” explains Ben Tossell, a British entrepreneur who publishes a newsletter about ai services.

And the llms are increasingly capable of helping with that coding, too. Having been “trained” not just on reams of text, but lots of code, they contain the building blocks of many possible programs; that lets them act as “co-pilots” for coders. Programmers on GitHub, an open-source coding site, are now using a gpt-4-based co-pilot to produce nearly half their code.

There is no reason why this ability should not eventually allow llms to put code together on the fly, explains Kevin Scott, Microsoft’s chief technology officer. The capacity to translate from one language to another includes, in principle and increasingly in practice, the ability to translate from language to code. A prompt written in English can in principle spur the production of a program that fulfils its requirements. Where browsers detached the user interface from the software application, llms are likely to dissolve both categories. This could mark a fundamental shift in both the way people use computers and the business models within which they do so.

Every day I write the book

Code-as-a-service sounds like a game-changing plus. A similarly creative approach to accounts of the world is a minus. While browsers mainly provided a window on content and code produced by humans, llms generate their content themselves. When doing so they “hallucinate” (or as some prefer “confabulate”) in various ways. Some hallucinations are simply nonsense. Some, such as the incorporation of fictitious misdeeds to biographical sketches of living people, are both plausible and harmful. The hallucinations can be generated by contradictions in training sets and by llms being designed to produce coherence rather than truth. They create things which look like things in their training sets; they have no sense of a world beyond the texts and images on which they are trained.

In many applications a tendency to spout plausible lies is a bug. For some it may prove a feature. Deep fakes and fabricated videos which traduce politicians are only the beginning. Expect the models to be used to set up malicious influence networks on demand, complete with fake websites, Twitter bots, Facebook pages, TikTok feeds and much more. The supply of disinformation, Renée DiResta of the Stanford Internet Observatory has warned, “will soon be infinite”.

Link to the rest at The Economist


PG watched a Grammarly for Business Webinar earlier today and was very impressed by what the company showed with respect to AI writing.

Per the demos, Grammarly has taken AI to a higher plane than PG has seen before. Features that impressed him were:

  • Analysis of the user’s writing voice to help Grammarly be more helpful in shaping future creations for a variety of purposes.
  • The ability to have Grammarly go through a document you or someone else has written, summarize it, and use it as a sort of electronic style guide in the future
  • The ability to assist in quick creation of documents for a wide variety of purposes, blog posts, text messages, emails, etc. In at least some uses, Grammarly will create the appropriate format for the written message, for example by creating and inserting bullet points from a longer text.

For the moment, it looks like the super AI will be limited to Grammarly for Business, which is an enterprise-scale program.

PG looked for an online link to a recorded version of the webinar but was unable to find it. If visitors to The Passive Voice can locate one, feel free to include a link in the comments to this post.

The dawn of the omnistar

From The Economist:

Computers have spent decades disrupting humdrum jobs. Now artificial intelligence (ai) is coming for the most glamorous ones. Hollywood has been at a standstill for half the year, until studios agreed on November 8th to offer striking stars protection from robotic rivals. Living artists were nudged down this week’s music charts by a dead Beatle, resurrected by ai. Actors like Scarlett Johansson and authors like John Grisham are suing tech firms over the unauthorised use of their image and words.

Stars may worry that ai is stealing their work and giving less talented performers the skills to snatch their audience. In fact, the famous folk complaining the loudest about the new technology are the ones who stand to benefit the most. Far from diluting star power, ai will make the biggest celebrities bigger than ever, by allowing them to be in all markets, in all formats, at all times. Put your hands together—or insert your earplugs if you prefer—for the rise of the omnistar.

. . . .

This is not the first time that technology has changed the rules of the fame game. People began to talk of stars in the 18th century, after the spread of reading made it possible to be truly famous within your lifetime. Film and radio initially seemed like a threat to stars, who worried that their live performances would be devalued. In fact, those technologies ushered in the era of the superstar, a term that caught on in the 1920s. A similar panic greeted the invention of television (and led to the last big Hollywood strike, in 1960). But again, the new tech made the famous even more so, bringing them into every living room. By the 1960s people were talking of megastars.

As ai-generated content floods into the entertainment business, the hardworking folk of Malibu are worrying once more that their fame will be diluted—and again, the outcome is likely to be the opposite. One of the paradoxes of the internet age is that, even as uploads to YouTube, TikTok and the like have created a vast “long tail” of user-made content, the biggest hits by the biggest artists have become even bigger. The number of musicians earning over $1,000 a year in royalties on Spotify has more than doubled in the past six years, but the number earning over $10m a year has quintupled. Even as niche content thrives—sea shanties, whistling and all kinds of eccentricities—Taylor Swift is marching through the most lucrative concert tour in history. It is the mid-ranking artists who have suffered.

Similar patterns hold across entertainment. The number of feature films released each year has doubled in the past two decades, but the biggest blockbusters have simultaneously doubled their share of the total box office. A tide of self-published books has not eroded the sales of star writers. In a sea of choice audiences rely more on recommendations, both algorithmic and human, which funnel them towards the most popular content. ai promises even more choice, and thus even higher search costs for audiences, who will continue to gravitate to the handful of stars at the top.

ai will give these megastars the ability to be truly omnipresent for their fans. ai-powered dubbing is already allowing actors and podcasters to speak to foreign audiences instantly and in their own voice. It will soon be standard for video to be edited so that their lips match the new language, too. In-demand actors may get more work because ai removes the perennial Hollywood problem of crowded schedules, allowing stars to perform alongside each other while not being together at all. Digital Botox will increase actors’ shelf-life and even enable them to perform posthumously. Disney has acquired the rights to the voice of James Earl Jones, 92, so that Darth Vader can scare children for generations to come.

Everything, everywhere, all at once

Stars will also be able to perform for fans in formats that are only beginning to emerge. The abba avatars that sell out a London arena seven times a week, and the celebrity-voiced chatbots recently launched by Meta, are just a taste of the ways in which the biggest stars will be able to satisfy—and monetise—their fans.

These opportunities come with strings attached. Artists are right to worry about copyright, which must be protected if ai is not to become a legalised form of piracy. Past technologies were no different: the printing press led to the first copyright laws in the 18th century; royalty payments were rejigged in the 1960s to compensate big-screen actors whose work was shown on tv; the musical free-for-all unleashed by companies like Napster at the turn of the century eventually gave way to deals between streamers and record companies. Content creators have legitimate questions about permission and payment (we declare an interest here). Until those are answered, ai will be a legal Wild West.

The bigger question is how the age of the omnistar will suit audiences. The risk is boredom. ai is brilliant at remixing and regurgitating old material, but less good at generating the pulse-racing, spine-tingling stuff that is, for now, a human speciality. ai output may nonetheless appeal to film studios, record labels and other creative middlemen, who prefer to minimise risk by sticking to tried-and-tested ideas. Hollywood already favours franchises over new work: witness the rash of sequels and reboots at the box office. ai will let studios apply the same principle to actors. A de-aged Luke Skywalker stars in Disney’s latest “Star Wars” spin-off. At present, audiences are wowed by such trickery. They may grow tired of it long before “Fast and Furious 94”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

You can now own a perfect replica of ‘Shakespeare’s First Folio’

From Fast Company:

Today, William Shakespeare is high culture—but back in the Bard’s day, his work was either pop fiction or history in a hurry; disposable entertainment for the groundling masses. Certainly not the sort of thing you’d find in the hallowed “folio” book format of the era that was home to critical history tomes and other titles of literary merit. 

So, it likely came as a surprise to the literary elite that seven years after Shakespeare’s death, his friends cobbled together the 900-plus-page “Shakespeare’s First Folio,” aka Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, Published According to the Original Copies”—a mountain of plays in an 8.5-by-13-inch format, replete with ornamented drop caps and decorative headers. In doing so, they saved such works as Julius Caesar, Macbeth and The Tempest from being lost to time—and played a critical role in elevating Shakespeare and his entire craft in the process.

Now, 400 years later, said friends would likely be bowled over by the fact that the British Library and Rizzoli have published a faithful facsimile edition of their ramshackle First Folio, which celebrates its four-century birthday in November. For the big anniversary, the British Library also went big; publisher John Lee says the project is larger in scope than anything the library has ever produced in-house.

About a year ago, he stumbled upon the fact that the anniversary was incoming, so he went to inspect a copy of the First Folio and came up with a plan for a lavish full-size reproduction, which he eventually laid out to his publishing partners at Rizzoli. 

“And then quite terrifyingly, they said, ‘Yeah, that’s okay, let’s run with that.’”

Of the original 750 copies that were produced of the First Folio, only around 235 are still known to exist. The British Library has five. Yet Lee says there was a clear candidate for the facsimile: the “Phelps-Clifford” folio, a rare, complete early edition—a first First Folio, if you will—distinguished by its somewhat unrefined and underwhelming author illustration of Shakespeare, which the artist improved in subsequent printings. (The book itself was proofread as it was printed, and thus the earlier copies contain the most interesting and unique quirks.)

The good news for Lee’s team: The complete folio had already been fully digitized in an earlier initiative for screen use, and they were obviously freed from having to do any text editing on it . . . or setting 900-plus pages in metal type, as the original artisans did over the course of one year. 

The bad: The folio had been digitized for screen use, not print. So in lieu of having original photography done specifically for the project, the production team worked to refine the earlier images, and addressed the myriad challenges from the book therein: varying ink density; gutters that were visible by virtue of the book not laying totally flat; different hues of paper, a result possibly as much due to the passing of centuries as the lighting not being consistent when the book was shot. 

The British Library’s main goal was to give readers the experience of combing through this specific volume today. So when perusing the tome—all nine pounds of it—you can see where text bleeds through opposing pages, owing to the original’s thin paper and 400 years of time passing. There are scratches, stains, and ample imperfections—and that carries over to the content of the manuscript itself, which contains errors, such as the names of actors accidentally subbed in for Shakespeare’s characters, and so on. The printed page numbers are also at times incorrect, which, in addition to making Lee’s “head spin,” created file-naming convention challenges galore. 

. . . .

So far, the project has proven to be a success, with a second run in the works before the first was even released. But the ultimate feather in Lee’s cap might just be this: At the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, a bookseller told him that someone came into their shop and asked if the edition on display in the window was in fact a real First Folio.

Still, why put all the effort into a facsimile when you could just publish a handsome collection of the plays for the anniversary and call it a day?

. . . .

Ultimately, for Bard loyalists, this facsimile is worth its weight in gold—or at least the $135 it costs to be able to crack open those storied covers yourself.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

You can buy Shakespeare’s First Folio on Amazon.

London: Top Publishing Organizations on AI Protection

From Publishing Perspectives:

A key development in world publishing’s response to artificial intelligence technologies, today (October 31), four of the United Kingdom’s most prominent publishing-industry organizations have issued an adamant message to the government led by the prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

The Publishers Association; the Society of Authors, a trade union; Association of Authors’ Agents, and the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (referred to by its initialization, ALCS) are making an appeal that points to the importance of this week’s AI Safety Summit led by Sunak’s offices—and outlines the critical nature of its mission.

In these four leading entities’ statement you can hear the sort of “tale of two technologies” debate that much of world publishing has had with itself over AI, the point being—as discussed onstage by Núria Cabutí, the CEO of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, here at the ongoing Sharjah Publishers Conference—that while much may be supported and accompanied by AI in the “back end” setting of publishing’s data and management positions, the creative input must be held strictly as a force and field of human creativity only, protected from incursions by the operations of AI programs.

Here is the complete text of the statement communicated today to No. 10 Downing Street by these four British associations:

As a society, we should support human authorship unequivocally. It is of the utmost importance that the government puts into place tangible solutions as soon as possible to protect the human creativity and knowledge that underpins safe and reliable AI. Human creativity is the bedrock of the publishing and wider creative industries. That creativity will be worth around £116 billion [US$140.8 billion] this year in the UK alone.

“We applaud the prime minister for convening the first ever AI Safety Summit this week and for positioning the UK as a facilitator for strong global action on artificial intelligence and it is right for the UK to seek to be a leading light in development of AI, embracing the many benefits it can bring when used responsibly and ethically as a tool. The publishing industry was an early adopter of AI and we fully recognize the potential benefits and opportunities it can bring to our industry with AI tools that help us enhance human creativity and academic endeavor by reaching our audiences, marketing our books and journals more effectively, and improving processes and systems. However, it must be used ethically and legally, and its use must be regulated.

“We need urgent confirmation from government to ensure that AI systems cannot continue to use copyright-protected works with impunity. Creative work—and industries like publishing that are built on it—can only thrive under the right conditions: a strong copyright regime, compensation, credit for authors and other creators, and rightsholders’ control. But those conditions are being undermined—and creative works devalued—by today’s unfettered, opaque development of AI systems, which have been designed using copyright-protected works used without permission or payment.

“We need acknowledgement of and recompense for the copyright infringement that has already happened—including the pirated Books3 database used to develop many high profile systems—and assurances that those practices will end. We need practices based on consent and fair payment to ensure that authors and rights holders are asked for permission and rewarded for the use of their works. We need to ensure that creators are credited when their works are used to generate derivative outputs.

“And we need transparency and attribution. An end to the opaque development of AI is long overdue. We can only ensure that with strong government support.

“This is an issue on which the entire publishing industry is united. It is vital that authors and rightsholders are protected by government as AI continues to be developed. We urge the prime minister to make a statement of commitment to protecting the value of human creativity, intellectual property, and publishing and the creative industries, while these new technologies evolve.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG remembers that when spell-checking was added to computer word-processing programs, some decried this technology as a dangerous substitution for memorizing how words are spelled (“If the letter C you spy, place the E before the I.”).

PG doesn’t remember the specific predicted consequences, but they were something like the brains of the younger generation would be turned to mush.

Of course, just like all preceding generations, some of the brains were turned to mush, but others were stimulated by the ability to write much more clearly and quickly than was possible for them BC – Before Computers and BS – Before Spellcheckers.

Not long ago, grammar checkers started showing up in all kinds of new environments. PG doesn’t remember the same hue and cry as he recalls about spellcheckers, but perhaps he was running around with the wrong crowd.

AI tools will be the next assistive technology that allows humans to leverage their intelligence to communicate more clearly, accurately, effectively, and quickly.

Roving Ramblers Make the Best Protagonists

From The Millions:

I often talk with other writers about the engines of stories: features of character, plot or even object that allow the narrative happenings to unfold. Sometimes this engine can be literal, as in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” O’Connor’s classic tale features a family on a road trip: An actual vehicle moves the plot along from moment to eventual tragic moment. In other iconic works, the engine is more difficult to pinpoint. By whatever strange magic Haruki Murakami’s Kafka On The Shore guides us through its pages, it is not so simple as the causal churning of gears endemic to most plots. More the hidden engine of dreams, which we are better able to intuit than we can explain.

Of all such engines, the “roving rambler” archetype has fascinated me most over the years: fast-talking, ever-moving characters of modern literature liable to take us on strange, unpredictable rides by way of their fidgety feet and hyperactive minds. Restless and unrestrained, they get themselves into trouble and have to work their way out of it. They are the consummate raconteurs; their stories are powered as much by their madcap interactions as by their introspective asides. There tends to be something bothering them, but they don’t want to disclose their distress, or will do so only discursively. Most often they’re found in cities, where the urban landscape’s constant onslaught of sites, sounds, and strangers naturally lends itself to rambling.  In fact, to allow the protagonist of my own novel, Pay As You Go, as much space to ramble as he would like, I went about making up a city from scratch, then populating it with as many interlocutors as would fit its tangled grid. His name is Slide, and the city’s name Polis.

In honor of the literary wanderers that precede Slide, I’ve composed a small collection of novels, novellas, and a short story that feature roving ramblers of various stripes. Some are chattier than others, but they all boast that penchant for discursive aside and spontaneous interaction characteristic of the archetype—and perhaps the only appropriate response to modern life’s mania.

Luster by Raven Leilani

Edie moves through New York with both the thrust of desire and the comfort in squalor mainly found in twentysomething city dwellers. Her apartment is a mess, the coworkers she’s slept with have taken to avoiding her, she’s jaded about the performative hypocrisy of her employer, a publishing house, and wary of the more pleasant-seeming Black woman they recently hired, as if to replace her. (Which they do.) She’s also sleeping with a married man. It’s an explosive cocktail, lit on fire by Leilani’s sharp wit and kinetic pace as we move from city to suburbs and back again. Edie misses nothing: She divulges about marital relations, erotic pleasure, absurdities of race, painting, and family ruptures, whether others or her own. As for what’s bothering her? It’s a little bit of everything.

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Álvaro Mutis

A contemporary of García Márquez and a poet for most of his literary life, Mutis began writing this series of novellas in his sixties—almost as a surprise to himself—after a recurring character from his poems began to speak to him in more fully formed prose. Maqroll the Gaviero, or Watcher, is a standout in modern literature, a world-weary wanderer more at home in the worn tomes always on his person than in the brash, semi-legal farces in which he finds himself. We follow him up the length of a jungle-piercing river in search of dubious riches and to the heat-drenched bustle of a teeming port city, rubbing shoulders with various criminals, accomplices, lovers, and friends along the way. Farcical, baroque, and always in search of meaning, these stories operate in the highest echelon of linguistic artistry.

Link to the rest at The Millions


From Wikipedia:

An eggcorn is the alteration of a phrase through the mishearing or reinterpretation of one or more of its elements, creating a new phrase having a different meaning from the original but which still makes sense and is plausible when used in the same context. The word “eggcorn” is itself an eggcorn, derived from acorn. Eggcorns often arise as people attempt to make sense of a stock phrase that uses a term unfamiliar to them, as for example replacing “Alzheimer’s disease” with “old-timers’ disease”, or Shakespeare’s “to the manner born” with “to the manor born”.

Eggcorns arise when people attempt to use analogy and logic to make sense of an expression – often a stock one – that includes a term which is not meaningful to them. For example, the stock expression “in one fell swoop” might be replaced by “in one foul swoop”, the infrequently-used adjective “fell” (for “fierce”, “cruel”, or “terrible” being replaced with the more common word “foul” in order to convey the cruel/underhand meaning of the phrase as the speaker understands it.

Eggcorns are of interest to linguists as they not only show language changing in real time, but can also shed light on how and why the change occurs.

. . . .


  • “baited breath” for “bated breath”
  • “beckon call” for “beck and call”
  • “damp squid” for “damp squib”
  • “ex-patriot” for “expatriate”
  • “the feeble position” for “the fetal position”
  • “for all intensive purposes” for “for all intents and purposes”
  • “free reign” for “free rein”

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

‘Look, Muffy, a Book for Us.’ The 1980s Preppy Handbook Is Again a Must-Read.

From The Wall Street Journal:

G. Daniel Brown, a retired teacher in Saginaw, Mich., paid about $100 for a paperback not long ago. That is jaw-dropping considering that the volume, “The Official Preppy Handbook,” was published in 1980, retailed for $3.95 and is now out of print.

“It is worth every cent to have this little gem in my library,” says Brown, who describes his sartorial leanings as classic prep—heavy on Brooks Brothers Oxford shirts and suits.

Preppy style and the “old money aesthetic” have popped up again, like collars on polo shirts, and people are feeling inspired to revisit cable-knits, pearls and tennis-core fashion, even by those who never step on the court. In its 2023 fashion forecast, retail-styling company Stitch Fix heralded this year’s rise of “prep school fashion.”

That means new attention for “The Official Preppy Handbook,” which has a front-cover tagline saying, “Look, Muffy, a book for us.” The New York Times bestseller is a deadpan guide to preppies in their natural settings, including boarding schools, Ivy League quads and vacation colonies where summer is a verb.

Though intended as irreverent satire, “people used the book as a literal guidebook,” says Preppy Handbook author Lisa Birnbach.

Chloe Miner, a flight-school intern who lives in Jackson, Mich., is in her 20s and wasn’t around when the Preppy Handbook came out, but is fascinated with the lifestyle. She bought a copy on 

Facebook Marketplace for about $100, and knows people who have paid more than $500. “That was the most I’ve ever paid for a book, but it’s a classic,” says Miner. “It’s a preppy must-have.”

She has been inspired to invest in Sperry Top-Siders and Ralph Lauren blazers. She imagines herself one day joining a country club and living on a lake—two Handbook-approved pursuits. “I’m in college and broke,” Miner says. “I can’t live that lifestyle at the moment. But someday.”

Birnbach pulled the book together in 12 weeks with a $7,500 advance and sold 2.3 million copies over 38 printings, the last one in 1986. She says there have been discussions of a reprint over the years, and it’s also been optioned for features and Broadway.

From 2000 to 2019, an average of 300 copies sold every year on eBay. Starting in 2019, that number jumped, with an average of 600 a year selling each year over the past four years, according to eBay spokeswoman Samantha Zola. Asking prices on eBay and elsewhere range from $80 for a used paperback to a $1,600 hardcover.

“We’re talking about a book that was published 43 years ago,” Birnbach says, “It’s a little nutty, right?”

Birnbach says she has noticed that when life seems particularly unstable, the Preppy Handbook is a comfort item, “as much as macaroni and cheese and chicken pot pie.”

Psychologist Clay Routledge says the book’s popularity fits perfectly with the science of nostalgia he has studied for two decades. In a recent survey he conducted about online culture, the majority of respondents wanted to go back to a time when everyone wasn’t so plugged in—“a time when Americans got along better.”

Matthew Longcore, who grew up in the preppy environs of Westport, Conn., runs the Preppy Handbook Fan Club, which includes more than 30,000 members across its social media groups. Longcore, who works at Yale University, says the surge in interest began during the pandemic.

“People just wanted something bright and cheery and colorful…that describes what a lot of prep culture is,” he says. “There is something sort of escapist and an element of idealism in it.” Today’s preppiness transcends its “old-money Waspy” reputation, he says, and “anyone can be preppy.” 

The Preppy Handbook Fan Club delves into obvious terrains such as décor, vacations, and clothes, such as socks or no socks with the boat shoes? (The Preppy Handbook addressed ‘The Sock Controversy’ on page 138.) 

Chad Briesacher, a general manager at a radio station in St. Charles, Mo., picked up a copy of the Preppy Handbook for about $40 and says the book’s emphasis on decorum appeals to him. “American society has lost all sense of occasion,” he says.

Briesacher encourages college kids he works with to present themselves better, rather than “wear hoodies year-round,” he says. He wears a tie and jacket to work, tweed in the winter and linen in the summer. The tie is always Brooks Brothers and he rotates through repp, regimental, dotted, and paisley. Since we’re in the warm months, he’s embracing pinks and greens. “A tennis or madras shirt with shorts and Top-Siders makes for good summer weekend wear,” he says.

On another Facebook group called “Preppy Life: ‘Look, Muffy, A Group for Us,’” fans post pictures of themselves sporting Lilly Pulitzer, sweaters from Trimingham’s of Bermuda, signet pinky rings, and debate the merits of tartans—Black Watch or Stewart: Discuss.

. . . .

One member, Jeff Hawley, chimed in about the Handbook: “I will admit I bought one on Amazon for $70 fairly recently.” 

Hawley, of Hilton Head, S.C., works at a retirement community and says the book brings him back to his college days. His favorite part is the essay on transforming one’s dorm room with a “sextant used by Daddy in the ’53 Bermuda Race,” a map of Nantucket, and a clamshell ashtray from home (“Mummy won’t miss it.”). 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall) Here’s a link to Amazon’s Preppy listings.

Shakespeare’s Political Theater

From The Wall Street Journal:

Most of us dislike performative politics, and for good reason. Congressmen and Senators take votes that they know will prove meaningless to the outcome of legislation, give fiery speeches to empty chambers, and rant at befuddled witnesses who have no opportunity to answer their questions because none are really posed. It is theater, in a thoroughly negative sense of the term.

But, as Shakespeare teaches us, theater suffuses all of politics, for better and worse. It is one of the reasons why Lincoln and Churchill adored him and memorized large swatches of his plays’ famous speeches. It is one of many reasons why reading him continues to be an education in politics, including our own.

If one wants to learn, for example, how politicians who are intelligent and upright but dull and theatrically clueless can get beaten by a talented demagogue, study the famous scene in “Julius Caesar” that takes place by the slain dictator’s corpse and before a large, unruly crowd. Brutus, the reluctant leader of the conspiracy to kill Caesar and thus to prevent him from crushing Roman freedom, insists on some terrible theatrical choices. He marches out his fellow conspirators, their arms bathed in blood, when he actually wants to show that they are not butchers. He gives a speech in dull prose rather than stirring poetry, and the word he uses most is “I.” He then leaves the stage to Mark Antony, Caesar’s grieving, cunning and vindictive friend.

Antony, by contrast, not only gives a powerful speech in iambic pentameter, he also uses the body as a prop, gathering the mob around him, saying that he will “Show you sweet Caesar’s wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,/And bid them speak for me.” In an artful speech, artfully delivered, he turns the people to his cause. Consummate actor that he is, in a cynical aside after they go off to burn, murder and riot, he says to the audience, “Mischief, thou art afoot: Take thou what course thou wilt.”

For Shakespeare, politics is theater, and that’s no less true of modern politics. There is costuming: Think of John F. Kennedy going hatless to his inauguration, thereby drawing a contrast between his youth and vigor and that of his much older and more conventional predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower. There is the stage, whether a monumental square or a more intimate fireside. There are the directors—the political bosses and manipulators behind the scenes—and the actors. There’s an audience or, as in Shakespeare’s time, multiple audiences, from the groundlings standing near the stage, delighted by the fight scenes and dirty jokes, to the seated sophisticates reveling in the clever wording. And there are critics, whose equivalents today are journalists and pundits.

Shakespeare’s most brilliant political creation is probably Henry V, the boy king who charms us all even though he launches an unjust war, shuns his dying mentor Falstaff and thereby breaks his heart, and orders the execution of an old friend. Henry threatens civilians with appalling prospects of rape and murder and casually orders the massacre of prisoners. In the biggest hoodwinking of all, he tells his soldiers that they and their noble superiors will be a “band of brothers” after the battle of Agincourt. But he quietly confides to the audience that they are fools, slaves and peasants who do not understand how he maintains the peace, while he fights an unnecessary war for his own glory. It’s all one astounding act, and even though we know the truth, we go along with it.

It is easy to miss this and much more—Henry’s seductions, lies and self-pity—because he is so good at theater. When, for example, before going off to war he has to quash a conspiracy of three nobles, he does so with a mastery of the stagecraft of show trials that would have made Stalin proud. In a public meeting with the unsuspecting nobles, he makes a pretense of showing clemency to a man who had publicly denounced him. They urge severity instead, and then he springs the trap, condemning them to death: “The mercy that was quick in us but late/By your own counsel is suppressed and killed.”

It’s a neat play, staged for the benefit of other nobles, and it makes Henry look good—inclined to clemency if this were merely a personal offense, but obliged by patriotic duty and the heinous behavior of the three conspirators to cut off their heads. As is usually the case, he passes off responsibility to others: They confess and cannot argue for clemency.

Political theater is powerful, as Henry shows, because we as the audience can know all the facts, and yet still feel in our bones that if he showed up tomorrow we would gladly follow him.

But political theater can also do enormous good. When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the acting talents of President Volodomyr Zelensky enabled him to rally not only his people but the entire liberal-democratic world to his side. A prominent Shakespeare director once told me that the first and most consequential choices he made had to do with costuming and stage set. Zelensky seems to understand this. He appeared on that night, as he has thereafter, in olive drab garments that are not precisely a uniform but are clearly the garb of, as Shakespeare’s Henry calls himself, a “warrior for the working day.” He dresses like a civilian commander-in-chief, not pretending to be a generalissimo but obviously focused on his role as a wartime leader.

Zelensky’s stage set that first night of the war was a city street in a Kyiv under attack, with his immediate advisers and subordinates clustered by him. “We are all here,” he said. “Our soldiers are here. The citizens are here, and we are all here. We will defend our independence. That’s how it will go.”

It was brilliantly done. Theater requires contrasts. Here, the street scene and the positioning of Zelensky’s team were in vivid contrast—intended, one suspects—with the absurd television pictures of Vladimir Putin glowering, from 30 or 40 feet away, at his cowed underlings in a vast, gilded meeting room. Zelensky’s speech used all the tricks of anaphora, or repetition, that Shakespeare deploys to masterly effect (“We few, we happy few”). Churchill used this simplicity and directness to similar effect in the dark June of 1940, when he said that Britain would fight, “if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government—every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

A Change of Pace

If you have concluded the PG has lost his mind, you would probably be correct to some extent.

That said, PG decided a change of pace for TPV was due.

So, today, you will see a series of posts containing the first paragraph or first few lines of a book of at least some renown.

A great many experts (self-acclaimed and otherwise) believe that the first page of a book has a greater importance than the rest of the pages in a book.

If someone is in a physical bookstore, browsing, she/he/they will typically examine the cover of a book, then open it to the first page. If the first page is a dud, the chances the browser will not purchase the book.

The digital analog to such behavior is that a person looking for a book will be bouncing around Amazon (or, less likely somewhere else online), glance at the cover, check out the description of the book, then pull up a sample. Lo and behold, the sample begins with the first paragraph of the book.

PG is more confident that his description of a typical browser in a bookstore is accurate than his description of a browser on Amazon because he believes he has never watched someone other than himself digitally browse around Amazon looking for a book.

He suspects only Amazon knows whether PG is right or wrong about online browsing behavior, but he will stand by his premise that the first paragraph is important everywhere and under all circumstances.

March 2024 is publication date for Márquez’s ‘lost’ novel, Until August

From The Bookseller:

Viking will publish Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez’s ’lost’ novel, Until August, on 12th March 2024. It will be translated by Anne McLean.

The finalised book title, cover design, cover copy and English language publication date were revealed for the first time at the Frankfurt Book Fair on Wednesday 18th October. Viking announced in May it had acquired the unpublished novel, En Agosto Nos Vemos, loosely translated at the time as We’ll See Each Other Again in August. Isabel Wall, editorial director, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights in an exclusive submission from the Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells in Barcelona.

The publication, 10 years after Márquez’s death, is being billed as a “landmark literary event” and a global collaboration between publishers, including Knopf, an imprint of Penguin Random House US and Random House in Spain.

Penguin Random House UK will re-issue 16 titles from Márquez’s backlist over the course of 2024, beginning with six titles on 1st February: One Hundred Years of SolitudeLove in the Time of CholeraNo One Writes to the ColonelChronicle of a Death ForetoldOf Love and Other Demons; and Collected Stories.

Viking said of the unpublished work: “Towards the end of his life, [Márquez] was adding the finishing touches to a new novel – while simultaneously battling dementia. As his final days approached, and with his memory tragically failing, he decided that this new work, despite receiving his final sign off, should not be published after his death.”

After his death in April 2014, Márquez’s sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo García Barcha, respected their father’s wishes, and the finished manuscript was locked away with his other papers in an archive at the University of Texas. However the family later “reconsidered the book’s exceptional qualities, and how much of their father’s genius and colour and love lived within its words”, Viking said. “After long deliberation they made the decision the novel should finally be shared with his millions of devoted readers around the world.”

Rodrigo and Gonzalo García Barcha said: “Until August was the result of our father’s last effort to continue creating against all odds. Reading it once again almost 10 years after his death, we discovered that the text had many highly enjoyable merits and nothing that prevents us from delighting in the most outstanding aspects of Gabo’s work: his capacity for invention, his poetic language, his captivating storytelling, his understanding of humankind and his affection for our experiences and misadventures, especially in love, possibly the main theme of all his work.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG would be interested in responses about the decision of Márquez’s two sons not to honor their father’s wishes to not publish his last manuscript.

PG notes that Knopf, the publisher the sons selected, already has a listing for the book on Amazon.

Banned Book Buses Roll Out for October

From Publishers Weekly:

Three book buses are on the move this October, spreading awareness about the freedom to read and giving away copies of frequently challenged books.

The progressive action group MoveOn.org’s Banned Bookmobile is on the road again, after an inaugural multi-stop tour of the Midwest and South in July. Penguin Random House’s Banned Wagon, a project of PRH’s Intellectual Freedom Taskforce and its consumer marketing team, is doing a weeklong tour of the South with stops in Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans, and Houston. And the New Republic, in partnership with the nonprofit House of SpeakEasy, is crisscrossing the country with its bookmobile on a monthlong journey “aimed at championing the First Amendment and combating censorship,” according to a press announcement.

All three tours made their first stops on October 1. Both the Banned Bookmobile and the PRH Banned Wagon visited separate bookstores in Decatur, Ga., with MoveOn at Little Shop of Stories and PRH at Charis Books & More. TNR’s initial stop on a 13–city tour was at the Brooklyn Book Festival, where the media organization collected book and financial donations at the SpeakEasy Bookmobile.

Mana Kharrazi, MoveOn.org’s rapid response campaign director, developed the Banned Bookmobile’s tours. “My work has become focused on combating extremism,” Kharrazi said, “and this year I’ve been looking at book bans. Our freedom to learn and freedom to read have become such a target of attack.”

Burnout can undermine activism, yet the Banned Bookmobile idea captured MoveOn staffers’ imaginations. “Our campaign director [David Sievers], who focuses on authoritarianism and MAGA extremism, was trying to think of a way to engage folks and connect with folks on this,” Kharrazi said. “There’s definitely fatigue. He came up with the idea of the Banned Bookmobile. We tested it with our members and got an incredible response. Our members were very quick to donate, support it, and ask us to bring it to their communities. Within a matter of weeks, we organized it,” including chartering a bus (with air conditioning) that could carry the inventory and be wrapped in their design.

Kharrazi sees the bookmobile as “a celebratory way of owning our power and showing that we are the majority, and the minority are book banners.”

. . . .

At the Banned Bookmobile’s first destination, Little Shop of Stories, Georgia–based YA author Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) brought three student activists from the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition. Another guest, educator Katie Rinderle, urged listeners to support the freedom to read. In September, the Cobb County (Ga.) school board fired Rinderle, who had come under criticism after reading Scott Stuart’s gender inclusive picture book My Shadow Is Purple to her fifth grade class.

Hannah Hyde, event planner at Little Shop of Stories, was excited to welcome the Banned Bookmobile, Albertalli, and Rinderle. “We’re very fortunate that we live in a pretty progressive town, and we wanted to make a bigger splash” during Banned Books Week, Hyde said. “We’re primarily a children’s bookstore, and we love that we can host our local authors who might be facing challenges. Bookstores can still be safe spaces” for the freedom to read.

. . . .

PRH partnered with the Freedom to Read Foundation, PEN America, and Little Free Library, and connected with bookstores and other community partners, to organize a Banned Wagon Tour of the South. In an email to PW, PRH director of brand marketing Carly Gorga explained that the tour rapidly took shape over the summer: “We felt it was critical to engage with readers on the ground, providing them with the tools and resources they need to fight book bans in their communities (and handing out some free banned books!).”

Tours require lots of resources and logistical planning, from marketing to staffing to fuel to book giveaways. “We are lucky to have fantastic agency partners for this project: Momentum Worldwide for experiential support and Sprouthouse Agency for local PR and community outreach,” Gorga said.

“The true heroes of this undertaking have been our bookstore partners—Charis Books & More in Decatur, The Bookshop in Nashville, Baldwin & Co. in New Orleans, and Kindred Stories in Houston—who have rallied behind the Banned Wagon and made the events their own by adding local flair,” Gorga said. PRH estimates that 400 attendees came to the Georgia event and 300 to the Tennessee stop. On October 5 in New Orleans, Baldwin & Co. plans an (Un)Banned Book Festival with music, food, and a panel discussion with authors including Ani DiFranco, Jumata Emill, and Maurice Carlos Ruffin.

At all four stops, PRH is sharing resources from the Freedom to Read Foundation on contacting school boards and elected officials, regionally specific information on book bans from PEN America, and giveaways including bookmarks, totes, and copies of a dozen titles including Jazz Jennings’s picture book I Am Jazz, Trung Le Nguyen’s graphic narrative The Magic Fish, Kyle Lukoff’s Too Bright to See, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, among others. “It was important to us to highlight titles across a number of different categories to represent the breadth of this issue,” Gorga wrote, “and this list only scratches the surface, with 3,362 instances of book bans during the 2022–23 school year alone, according to PEN America’s latest report.”

. . . .

The New Republic bookmobile is the brainchild of CEO Michael Caruso, said marketing director Kym Blanchard. “We started planning for it in June and as we brought on partners, especially the American Federation of Teachers and American Library Association, the plan has blossomed,” she said. In August, TNR hired Inspira Marketing to handle tour logistics and creative elements. Author Nora Roberts contributed funding, and the initiative is also supported by the African American Policy Forum, Banned Books Week, Bookshop.org, and the Urban Libraries Council.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

What if Hollywood blockbusters were remade as workplace dramas?

From The Economist:

The office is not the most promising setting for films. Desk warriors can occasionally be caught up in dramatic stories, whether journalists (“Spotlight”), lawyers (“Dark Waters”) or whistleblowers (“The Informant”). The greed and fear of high finance (“Dumb Money”) have an enduring appeal. But office-based blockbusters are still pretty thin on the ground: typing, malfunctioning toilets and meetings are just not that exciting.

There is a simple fix. Take film titles that have already done well with cinema-goers and tweak their plots for the white-collar workplace. Here are pitches for a few such remakes:

“A Quiet Place”. A newly refitted office contains several small rooms that are expressly designed for focused work. But it rapidly becomes clear that demand for these rooms exceeds supply. In the rush among employees to book them or grab them when they become free, things turn very nasty indeed. Genre: horror/office administration.

“The Terminal”. An office worker logs into the Bloomberg terminal for the first time in the hope of quickly finding some information. She finds that it does not respond to normal commands. Several years later, she has neither been able to locate any data nor managed to log off.

TED”. John is a 40-year-old man who once gave a talk at a ted event. He seems unable to move on from this career highlight, even though the rest of the world has. He talks only in 18-minute monologues that always start with a personal anecdote. When he speaks, he invariably stands up, paces from side to side and ends each sentence staring purposefully into the middle distance. His family and friends find him completely insufferable and all desert him.

“Avatar”. A group of early adopters are given digital alter egos as they prepare to visit another world. They are promised all manner of wonderful experiences in this realm, but feel only disappointment when they find that they have no legs and the one person there is Mark Zuckerberg.

“14 Peaks”. They said it couldn’t be done. But one man believes that it is possible to go to Davos 14 times in a row without completely losing his sanity. Can he survive repeated exposure to Will.i.am, Klaus Schwab and John Kerry? Viewer discretion advised: features distressing scenes of breakfast panels about ai.

“Goodwill Hunting”. A cleaner at the offices of a hedge fund has a preternatural talent for accounting. One evening he comes across the accounts of a target company and sees immediately that it has overvalued the intangible assets on its balance-sheet. Finance-based suspense from the same team that brought you “Negative Jaws” and “Tombstone”.

IT”. The screen goes blank just as a board meeting is about to begin. The directors panic and press various buttons but all they manage to do is turn off the lights. Only one department can help sort out the chaos. Likely to be the longest-running film franchise in history.

“The Matrix”. On the surface it looks like a normal company. But a change to reporting lines causes utter confusion. Nobody knows what is happening; several people lose their grip on reality. Not science fiction.

“World War Z”. A new generation of workers is entering the office. They spend most of their time staring at their phones and laughing to themselves, but occasionally whip themselves into a state of outrage about something or other. Older workers panic about the impact these creatures will have on the company until they realise they were not that different when they were young.

“Taken”. Of all the hot desks in the office one is especially sought after. It offers privacy, splendid views of the city and good air-conditioning. Nancy, a mild-mannered customer-service agent, is incensed by the tactics her colleagues use to take the desk. Things again turn very nasty. From the same team that brought you “A Quiet Place”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

AI Analysis of Novels Written by Four Authors

If you read TPV in the way many do – from the most recent to the less recent posts, what follows for you is the results of ChatGPT (3.5) analyses of novels written by several different novelists that are known by many.

PG hasn’t read anything Danielle Steel has written, but has read most or all of the novels of Tolstoy, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, in most cases, several decades in the past (although he has been thinking of rereading all three of these authors together with several more that PG regards as notable masters/mistresses of their art and craft).

Feel free to praise/criticize, agree/disagree with any of the AI analyses.

PG isn’t certain exactly what materials ChatGPT has swallowed that are relevant to his queries, but for most subjects, they are voluminous, enough raw material that no human or groups of humans (short of the populations of large nation-states – maybe) would be capable of reading it all.

That said, there is no rule governing huge computer systems that guarantees they will not make huge mistakes.

ChatGPT Analysis of the Typical Structure of a Danielle Steel Novel

Danielle Steel is a prolific author known for her romance novels and family dramas. While the specifics of her novels can vary, there is a typical structure and formula that she often follows to create her compelling stories. Here’s an analysis of the typical structure of a Danielle Steel novel:

  1. Introduction of Main Characters: A Danielle Steel novel typically begins by introducing the main characters, often with a focus on the female protagonist. These characters are usually well-developed with distinct personalities and backgrounds.
  2. Setting: The novels are often set in glamorous and affluent locations, such as New York City, Paris, or San Francisco. The setting is used to create a sense of luxury and escapism.
  3. Conflict and Challenges: Early in the story, a major conflict or challenge is introduced. This could be a personal tragedy, a romantic setback, or a family crisis. The conflict is what drives the plot and keeps the reader engaged.
  4. Romantic Elements: Romance is a central theme in Danielle Steel’s novels. The protagonist typically encounters a love interest or has a complicated romantic history. The development of romantic relationships and the obstacles they face are key components of the story.
  5. Family Dynamics: Family plays a significant role in Danielle Steel’s novels. The protagonist often has a complex family background, and family relationships and dynamics are explored throughout the story. Family secrets and conflicts are common plot points.
  6. Overcoming Adversity: As the story progresses, the characters face various challenges and adversities. These challenges could be personal, professional, or related to their relationships. The characters often demonstrate resilience and strength as they navigate these difficulties.
  7. Resolution and Happy Endings: Danielle Steel’s novels are known for their feel-good, optimistic endings. After overcoming the obstacles and challenges, the characters typically find happiness, whether in their personal lives, careers, or relationships. The novels often conclude with a sense of closure and hope.
  8. Themes of Love and Friendship: Themes of love, friendship, and the importance of human connections are prevalent in Danielle Steel’s novels. The characters often rely on the support of their friends and loved ones to overcome their challenges.
  9. Epilogue: Many of Danielle Steel’s novels include an epilogue that offers a glimpse into the characters’ lives after the main events of the story. This provides readers with a sense of closure and satisfaction.
  10. Prolific Output: Danielle Steel is known for her prolific writing, and she has a dedicated fan base. Her novels are typically not very long, making them easy to read, and she has released multiple novels each year throughout her career.

Overall, Danielle Steel’s novels follow a formulaic structure that combines elements of romance, family drama, and personal growth. While the specific details and characters may vary from book to book, her signature style and focus on themes of love and resilience remain constant, making her novels popular among readers seeking heartwarming stories with happy endings.

ChatGPT Analysis of the Typical Structure of Leo Tolstoy’s Novels

Leo Tolstoy, a renowned Russian novelist and philosopher, is known for his epic and sprawling novels that often delve deeply into the human condition and societal issues. While the exact structure of his novels can vary, there are some typical elements and characteristics that can be found in many of his works. One of the most famous examples of Tolstoy’s novel structure is found in his two major novels, “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” Here’s a description of the typical structure of his novels:

  1. Vast Character Ensembles: Tolstoy’s novels often feature a wide array of characters from different social classes and backgrounds. These characters have complex and multifaceted personalities, and Tolstoy delves deep into their inner thoughts and emotions. The ensemble of characters allows Tolstoy to explore various facets of Russian society and human nature.
  2. Societal and Philosophical Themes: Tolstoy’s novels are not just stories but also philosophical treatises on life, love, morality, and the human condition. Throughout his works, he explores profound themes and engages in philosophical discussions, often through the thoughts and dialogues of his characters.
  3. Historical Context: Many of Tolstoy’s novels are set against the backdrop of significant historical events in Russia. For example, “War and Peace” takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, and “Anna Karenina” is set in the 19th-century Russian aristocracy. Tolstoy’s meticulous research and attention to historical detail create a rich and immersive historical context for his narratives.
  4. Dual Plotlines: Tolstoy frequently employs dual plotlines or parallel narratives. In “War and Peace,” for instance, one plotline follows the lives of aristocrats and their societal interactions, while the other focuses on the experiences of soldiers during wartime. This dual narrative structure allows Tolstoy to examine the interplay between personal lives and historical events.
  5. Realistic Descriptions: Tolstoy is known for his vivid and detailed descriptions of characters, settings, and everyday life. His writing style brings the world he creates to life, immersing readers in the sights, sounds, and emotions of his characters.
  6. Moral and Ethical Dilemmas: Tolstoy’s characters often grapple with moral and ethical dilemmas, and their decisions have far-reaching consequences. These dilemmas serve as a central focus of the novels and contribute to their philosophical depth.
  7. Episodic Structure: Tolstoy’s novels often have an episodic structure with numerous subplots and interconnected stories. This structure allows him to explore different aspects of his characters’ lives and the broader societal landscape.
  8. Reflection and Self-Examination: Characters in Tolstoy’s novels frequently engage in introspection and self-examination. Their inner thoughts and conflicts are given significant attention, providing insight into their evolving personalities and values.
  9. Symbolism and Metaphor: Tolstoy employs symbolism and metaphor to convey deeper meanings and themes in his works. These literary devices add layers of interpretation to the narratives.

In summary, Tolstoy’s novels are characterized by their rich character ensembles, philosophical depth, historical context, and intricate narrative structures. His exploration of human nature, society, and morality makes his novels enduring classics that continue to be studied and admired for their complexity and insight.

ChatGPT Analysis of the Typical Structure of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Novels

F. Scott Fitzgerald, an American novelist and short story writer, is best known for his novels that capture the spirit of the Jazz Age in the early 20th century. His novels typically share certain structural elements and themes, although each work is unique in its own right. Here is a description of the general structure of Fitzgerald’s novels:

  1. First-Person Narration: Many of Fitzgerald’s novels are narrated in the first person by a character who is often an observer of the world around them. This narrative style allows readers to gain insights into the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings, and personal experiences.
  2. Social Commentary: Fitzgerald’s novels often serve as a commentary on the social and cultural norms of the time. He frequently explores themes such as wealth, class, privilege, and the pursuit of the American Dream. His characters are often caught up in the allure of materialism and the desire for social status.
  3. Love and Relationships: Romantic relationships play a central role in Fitzgerald’s novels. His characters often experience love, infatuation, and heartbreak, reflecting the complexities of human emotions. These relationships are often intertwined with the pursuit of success and happiness.
  4. Setting: Fitzgerald’s novels are usually set in the 1920s, a period of significant social change and cultural upheaval in the United States. The settings often include glamorous and decadent locations such as New York City, the French Riviera, or Long Island’s North Shore.
  5. Symbolism and Imagery: Fitzgerald is known for his use of symbolism and vivid imagery in his writing. Objects and settings often carry deeper symbolic meanings, and his prose is rich in metaphorical language.
  6. The American Dream: Many of Fitzgerald’s characters are driven by the American Dream—the belief that anyone can achieve success and prosperity through hard work and determination. However, Fitzgerald often portrays the disillusionment and moral decay that can accompany the relentless pursuit of wealth and status.
  7. Tragic Flaws: Fitzgerald’s protagonists often have tragic flaws that lead to their downfall. These flaws may include naivety, idealism, or an inability to confront the realities of their lives. Their flaws contribute to the tragic and sometimes ironic endings of his novels.
  8. Flashbacks and Nonlinear Narrative: Fitzgerald frequently employs flashbacks and non-linear narrative techniques to provide insight into his characters’ pasts and motivations. These techniques add depth to the storytelling and allow readers to piece together the characters’ histories.
  9. Exploration of Identity: Many of Fitzgerald’s characters grapple with questions of identity and self-discovery. They often struggle to define themselves in a rapidly changing world and may adopt personas or masks to fit in with their social circles.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, including “The Great Gatsby,” “Tender Is the Night,” and “This Side of Paradise,” are celebrated for their exploration of the human condition, their vivid portrayal of the Roaring Twenties, and their enduring themes of love, ambition, and the pursuit of happiness in a changing society. His storytelling style and thematic concerns continue to resonate with readers today.

ChatGPT Analysis of the Typical Structure of Ernest Hemingway’s Novels

Ernest Hemingway was known for his distinctive writing style and narrative structure. A typical Hemingway novel often follows a simple yet impactful structure characterized by the following elements:

  1. Concise Prose: Hemingway’s writing is known for its brevity and simplicity. He uses short sentences and precise language to convey a lot with few words, creating a straightforward and uncluttered style.
  2. Iceberg Theory: Hemingway employs the “Iceberg Theory,” where he provides only the tip of the iceberg, leaving readers to infer deeper meaning and emotions beneath the surface. He trusts readers to interpret the subtext.
  3. Sparse Description: Hemingway tends to use minimal description when it comes to characters and settings. He lets readers fill in the details with their imagination, focusing on the essentials.
  4. Dialogue-Driven: His novels often feature realistic and authentic dialogues that reveal characters’ personalities and relationships. These dialogues are crucial for conveying subtext and emotions.
  5. Flashbacks and Foreshadowing: Hemingway occasionally uses flashbacks and foreshadowing to add depth to his narratives. These techniques provide insight into the characters’ past experiences and future consequences.
  6. Themes of Stoicism and Existentialism: Many of Hemingway’s works explore themes of stoicism, the “grace under pressure” philosophy, and existentialism. His characters often face challenging situations with courage and grace.
  7. Hemingway Code Hero: The protagonist in Hemingway’s novels typically embodies the “Hemingway Code Hero” qualities, such as bravery, self-reliance, and a sense of honor. These characters often grapple with existential questions.
  8. Multiple Settings: Hemingway’s novels often involve characters moving between different settings, reflecting his own experiences as an expatriate and traveler. These settings contribute to the themes and atmosphere of his works.
  9. Nonlinear Plot: While Hemingway’s novels may not follow a strict chronological order, they usually present events in a way that serves the narrative’s emotional impact rather than a linear timeline.
  10. Strong Endings: Hemingway often concludes his novels with powerful, open-ended, or thought-provoking endings that leave readers contemplating the story’s implications.

Notable examples of Hemingway novels that embody these characteristics include “The Old Man and the Sea,” “A Farewell to Arms,” and “The Sun Also Rises.” His writing style and structure continue to be influential in modern literature.

8 Dinner Parties in Literature Gone Wrong

From Electric Lit:

There’s something inherently charged and dramatic about a dinner party—various individuals, couples, or families coming together to share a meal, perhaps several courses over several hours, with everyone trapped in their seats. No escape, interruption, or distraction. Just the food, and each other’s company. 

In real life, the drama of these dinner parties is often confined to a mouthy uncle, or a political debate that morphs into a shouting match after too much wine’s been served. In fiction, though, the possible dramas and dangers of a dinner party are almost limitless—the tight, intimate space of contrasting characters with conflicting motivations a perfect setting for writers to enact their very worst. A fictional dinner might be capable of upending a character’s life over the course of just a few pages, for instance. Or the dinner food or invitees themselves could be treacherous. Or, as in my novel, a dinner party could be the very inconvenient situation a character finds herself in on the brink of the apocalypse.

. . . .

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Jack and Grace are the envy of their dinner guests: he’s handsome, successful, and charming; she’s graceful, doting, and a wonder in the kitchen. Little do these dinner guests know, though, that the elaborate three-course meal Grace has prepared is a malicious test designed by Jack, a secret sociopath—and if the beef wellington is undercooked or the souffles overdone, there will be hell to pay. 

. . . .

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Protagonist Wallace, a gay, Black, introverted biochemistry graduate student, is pondering leaving his predominately White Midwestern university given the many indignities he’s endured inside his lab and on campus. Wallace’s limits are further tested when he’s invited to a campus dinner party. The danger, here, is overt when one of the other guests makes racist, incendiary remarks to Wallace during the meal. But there are also the more subtle, pervasive dangers of the institutional system in which Wallace is enmeshed, a system that consistently suppresses and permits these types of comments and conversations. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Hemingway’s Letters to Fitzgerald

From The New York Times, October 25, 1972:

The strangely ambivalent relationship between two of this country’s foremost novelists — Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald — is pitilessly traced in a series of letters that Hemingway wrote between 1949 and 1951 to Arthur Mizener, Fitzerald’s biographer, and that are due to be auctioned Tuesday at Sotheby Parke Bernet.

The unpublished typewritten letters, part of a large collection of modern first editions, autograph letters manuscripts to be sold at the auction, offer penetrating insights into Hemingway’s mixed feelings about the friend who was one of his earliest supporters but for whom he said he “never had any respect.” They also present his strongly personal – and frequently scatological – views of such other prominent literary figures as Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Edmund Wilson, Maxwell Geismer, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust and Budd Schulberg.

The eight letters, which Sotheby Parke Bernet calls “the most important group of Hemingway letters ever to appear at auction,” are expected to bring between $4,000 and $6,000, although a spokesman for the auction house said they might go for considerably more.

. . . .

The Hemingway-Fitzgerald relationship began in 1925 when the latter was instrumental in bringing the noted Scriber’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, and Hemingway together, A rift developed between them in 1936 after Fitzgerald published in Esquire a confessional article entitled “The Crack-Up,” in which Hemingway felt Fitzgerald demeaned himself. Shortly thereafter, Hemingway spoke slightingly of Fitzgerald in his short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” but Fitzgerald bore the insult with remarkable patience and just before his death in 1940 wrote Hemingway a laudatory letter on the publication of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” adding, ‘I envy you like hell and there’s no irony in this.”

The letters also provide glimpses of Hemingway as he strikes out at Edmund Wilson, whom he calls a great critic with “strange leaks in his integrity,” because of Wilson’s suggestion that Hemingway had been influenced, by a mysterious “wound,” and of his famous boxing match with the Canadian writer Morley Callaghan, one round of which Fitzgerald, as referee allowed to go on for 13 minutes. And Hemingway writes sadly about the killing of a young German soldier in World War II.

In one excerpt, Hemingway said that James Joyce was the only living writer he ever respected. “He had problems,” Hemingway wrote, “but he could write better than anyone else. Ezra was nice and kind and friendly and a beautiful poet and critic. G. Stein was nice until she had the menopause. But who I respected was Mr. Joyce, and not from reading his clippings.” The eight letters, all addressed for Hemingway’s home of Finca Vigia in the Cuban village of San Francisco de Paula, about 15 miles from Havana, were written in response to requests by Mr. Mizener for information on Fitzgerald. Mr. Mizener, whose letters will also be auctioned in the same lot with the Hemingway letters, was already working on the biography, which was published in 1951 under the title of “The Far Side of Paradise.”

Hemingway’s first letter, dated July 6, 949, advised Mr. Mizener to get in touch with Sheilah Graham, Fitzgerald’s last love, whom he described as “the movie critic,” for additional information, and added: “I loved Scott very much but he was extremely difficult with that situation he got himself into and Zelda constantly making him drink because she was jealous of his working well…He had a very steep trajectory and was almost like a guided missile with no one guiding him.”

. . . .

In the next letter, dated Aril 22, Hemingway revels most clearly the ambivalence of his feelings about Fitzgerald. “I never had any respect for him ever,” he wrote, “except for his lovely, golden, wasted talent. If he would have had fewer pompous musings and a little sounder education it would have been better maybe. But anytime you got him all straightened out and taking his work seriously Zelda would get jealous and knock him out of it.’

“Also alcohol, that we use was the Giant Killer, and that I could not have lived without many times; or at least would have cared to live without; was a straight poison to Scott instead of a food. Here’s something you should know too; he never slept with another girl except Zelda until Zelda went officially crazy. She was crazy all the time I knew them but not yet net-able. I remember her at Antibes saying, ‘Don’t you think Al Jolson is greater than Jesus?’ I said, ‘No,’ which was the only answer I knew at the moment…

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Fig Tree scoops Barker’s ‘propulsive’ literary horror in eight-publisher auction

From The Bookseller:

Fig Tree has scooped Old Soul, a “propulsive, beautifully written literary horror novel” from The Incarnations (Black Swan) author Susan Barker.

In an eight-publisher auction, publishing director Helen Garnons-Williams acquired UK and Commonwealth rights from Emma Paterson at Aitken Alexander Associates. North American rights have been acquired by Sally Kim, publisher of Putnam.

The novel was also recently the subject of a heated international eight-way auction for TV rights, handled by Lesley Thorne at Aitken Alexander Associates, the result of which will be announced soon. Rights have been sold in Germany to Suhrkamp at auction and was pre-empted by Psichogios in Greece. Fig Tree will publish it in hardback in early spring 2025.

The synopsis says: “In New Mexico, a woman and a teenager set out together across the desolate Badlands. But what does the sophisticated Therese want from 17-year-old Rosa, a hotel cleaner she has only just met? In Osaka, two strangers, Jake and Mariko miss their flight, and over dinner discover they have both lost loved ones whose paths crossed with a beguiling woman no one has laid eyes on since.

“Following the traces this woman left behind as she moved from country to country, Jake gathers testimonies from other troubled souls who encountered her across the years, until finally the trail leads him to a sculptor in Taos County, New Mexico who knows the woman better than anyone – and might just hold the key to who, or what, she is.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Raymond Chandler

PG is not certain what put him into a Raymond Chandler mood this afternoon and evening, but hopes you found the Chandler quotes of interest.

Chandler was born in 1888 in Chicago to an Irish immigrant mother and a father who was an alcoholic civil engineer who worked for the railway. His father later abandoned the family.

His mother managed to move the family back to what is now the London Borough of Croydon where they lived with Chandler’s maternal grandmother and received some reluctant support from his mother’s brother.

Chandler was educated at Dulwich College, a public school (which would have been called a private school in the US) in London. He did not attend university. After a brief stint with the Civil Service, he was an unsuccessful freelance newspaper reporter in London, writing his own fiction on the side.

In 1912, he borrowed money from his uncle (to be repaid with interest) to return to America, where he initially settled in San Francisco.

After moving up and down the American west coast, in 1917, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was sent to France to fight in the trenches in World War I. After his service was interrupted by two bouts with the Spanish Flu, the war ended and Chandler made his way back to Los Angeles.

Chandler married an American woman, started as a bookkeeper/auditor for an oil company, and rose to the position of vice president before being fired for alcohol abuse and promiscuity with some of the female employees.

Chandler then started writing pulp fiction for Black Mask magazine where Erle Stanley Gardner was another, more prolific pulp writer.

Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939, and featured the detective Philip Marlowe, speaking in the first person.

His second Marlowe novel, Farewell, My Lovely (1940), became the basis for three movie versions adapted by other screenwriters, including the 1944 film Murder My Sweet, which marked the screen debut of the Marlowe character.

In 1946, the Chandlers moved to La Jolla, an affluent coastal community north of San Diego. Chandler continued to have problems with his drinking, which worsened after the death of his wife in 1954. Chandler died in 1959.

Chandler’s reputation grew after his death. Many contemporary authors, including W. H. Auden, Evelyn Waugh, and Ian Fleming, greatly admired his writing. Fleming said that Chandler wrote “some of the finest dialogue written in any prose today.”

Drew Barrymore disinvited from National Book Awards

From Nathan Bransford:

Actress and (as I only learned this week) talk show host Drew Barrymore sparked an immense amount of controversy this week as she announced the return of her show The Drew Barrymore Show without union writers, who are on an ongoing months-long strike. Writers including Colson Whitehead noted the irony that Barrymore was slated to host the upcoming National Book Awards. Sure enough, the National Book Foundation announced that Barrymore would no longer be hosting. Barrymore also released a completely incoherent statement, including that she was acting with, well, whatever “astute humility” means and that “I hope for a resolve.” Who needs writers, right?

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG says trade unions are outmoded in today’s economy.

The curse of the cool girl novelist

From The New Statesman:

When George Eliot wrote her merciless takedown of “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” in 1856, she did not intend the genre to survive her attack. This wasn’t a mere hatchet job, where the axe takes out a few chunks from the body only for the thing to stagger on, but a complete decapitation inflicted by a sharpened machete. How vexed Eliot would be to learn that this monstrous genre has recently grown a new head.

In their 21st-century guise these novels inevitably look different, but bear the unmistakable marks of the original silly breed diagnosed by Eliot: they mistake “vagueness for depth, bombast for eloquence, and affectation for originality”, they treat the less enlightened with “a patronising air of charity” and, despite their obvious mediocrity, are hailed by the critics, in the “choicest phraseology of puffery”, as “stunning”, “magnificent”, a “tour de force!”

Whereas the original silly novels were romances, the new breed come to us in the form of a genre dubbed “sad girl lit” (romances of the self, perhaps), otherwise known as millennial fiction. And in place of the original “lady” author we have the cool girl novelist.

Like the silly novels of Eliot’s day, the newest iteration has come to dominate the literary scene, indeed, it seems to be a prerequisite for publication today that young women writers are incurably downcast. Just a cursory look at Granta’s 2023 Best of Young British Novelists list (judged by the godmother of cool girl novelists, Rachel Cusk) will give you an idea of the genre’s ubiquity.

In Britain alone, the depressed and alienated woman is the subject of such novels as Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts, Jo Hamya’s Three Rooms, Chloë Ashby’s Wet Paint, Natasha Brown’s Assembly, Sarah Bernstein’s The Coming Bad Days and Daisy Lafarge’s Paul. In America, the terminally sad girl is the subject of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Halle Butler’s The New Me. Irish examples of the genre include Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times, Nicole Flattery’s Nothing Special, and, it almost goes without saying, any novel by Sally Rooney. This is only a brief overview of a trend that has continued to lure new disciples for coming up to a decade now. Time enough for the genre to coagulate into parody.

While the silly novels of the 19th century were “frothy” and “prosy”, their heroines inclined to “rise to a lofty strain of rhetoric”, cool girl novels are uniformly spare, and their depressed protagonists hardly speak at all. If Eliot’s silly novelists forged their prose style in rooms adorned with silk ribbon and taffeta trim, the cool girl novelists of today write from white Scandi-inspired rooms, their prose monochromatically dull.

The anti-heroine of these novels is usually a PhD student (or at least an MA), crucially distinguishing her from the common undergraduate masses. Her knowledge of intersectional theory has left her crippled by a near constant anxiety about power imbalances and inequality. She is also perpetually worried, to the point of exhaustion, nay burnout, about the plight of the individual under capitalism. Her eyes have an unmanned look about them, while her brain anxiously jumps from one devastating indictment of our society to the next. Words like ecocide and patriarchy thrum inside her skull.

Her body, she understands, having read the second-wave feminists, is chronically objectified. She has no agency (a favourite word of hers), and passively submits to whatever misfortunes assail her. The residual power she does have over her body is concentrated on the act of nail biting, which she does constantly and savagely. There is always something the matter with her tongue, her skin crawls, her stomach is tight, her eye twitches, her throat is swollen. She loses hours in the day watching the light move across her bedroom wall, taking enormous notice of her breath and the sombre shadows cast by her succulent plants.

If the American novelist Henry Miller was narrating from inside the whale – a metaphor for passively accepting civilisation as it is; fatalism, in short – then these novels come to us from a sunken whale that will never again rise to the surface. Passivity is taken to its logical extreme, in that our (anti) heroines either pointlessly die, play dead, or feel dead. The contemplation of suicide is never much more than a page away, to the extent that the reader is inclined to remind the novelist of Camus’ advice: decide promptly “whether life is or is not worth living”. Henry James said that tell a dream and you lose a reader, and the same goes for tales of disassociation.

Yet the “most pitiable” type of silly novels, as Eliot observed in her essay, are the ones she calls the “oracular species – novels intended to expound the writer’s religious, philosophical, or moral theories”. Such novels are the inevitable consequence of a writer’s head being stuffed with “false notions of society baked hard” and left to “hang over a desk a few hours every day”. We might have hoped that a university education (not to mention the proliferating Master of Fine Arts programmes) would have cured writers of producing such novels, but it has only served to bake in a different set of orthodoxies.

Link to the rest at The New Statesman

PG notes that he does not always agree with items he posts.

Amazon is encouraging sellers to use AI-generated product listings

From engadget:

Amazon is launching a new AI tool that generates product listings for sellers. The feature uses a large language model (LLM) “trained on large amounts of data” to make it faster and simpler for vendors to describe their products. The company describes the tool as distilling the “significant work” of creating titles, bullet points and descriptions down to “just one step.”

Amazon says its Generative Listing Content tool only requires sellers to provide a brief product description in a few words or sentences. From there, it will “generate high-quality content for their review” — including a title, product description and bullet points — which sellers can peruse before refining or submitting as is. The company says many sellers have already tested the tool during the last few months, and their feedback indicates most of them use the generated content directly without revisions.

“These new capabilities will help sellers create high-quality listings with less effort and present customers with more complete, consistent, and engaging product information that will enhance their shopping experiences,” Amazon VP Mary Beth Westmoreland wrote today in an announcement blog post.

. . . .

“With our new generative AI models, we can infer, improve, and enrich product knowledge at an unprecedented scale and with dramatic improvement in quality, performance, and efficiency,” Robert Tekiela, Amazon VP of selection and catalog systems, wrote today. “Our models learn to infer product information through the diverse sources of information, latent knowledge, and logical reasoning that they learn. For example, they can infer a table is round if specifications list a diameter or infer the collar style of a shirt from its image.”

The new tool joins Amazon’s AI-generated review summaries, launched earlier this summer. That feature uses generative AI to train on a product’s reviews and spit out one-paragraph recaps, including clickable keywords. The company teases that it’s still getting started with incorporating generative AI into its storefront: “This is just the tip of the iceberg on how we plan to use AI to help improve the seller experience and help more sellers succeed.” CEO Andy Jassy said last month that, from now on, generative AI “is going to be at the heart of what we do.”

Link to the rest at engadget

Visions of Spreadsheets Danced in His Head

PG finally finished a detailed Excel spreadsheet for his accountant today.

He used to be quite efficient with Excel when he used it on at least a weekly basis.

However, although his fingers sometimes seem to remember what to do, PG’s gray matter has lost both domain knowledge and speed over several years of less-frequent encounters with spreadsheets.

He’s bone-tired of columns, rows, and if-then formulas.

Long Day Today

PG has had a long and full day today and needs to get to sleep. Very light blogging today.

Ernest Hemingway survived 2 plane crashes. His letter from it just sold for $237,055

From National Public Radio:

A few months after Ernest Hemingway and his wife survived two plane crashes in two days while on safari in Africa, he wrote a letter to his lawyer full of grisly details about his injuries — with the bravado that marked both his novels and his life. Now, that letter has drawn 12 bids at auction and ultimately sold for $237,055.

Hemingway wrote the letter in April 1954. At the time, he explained to his attorney, Alfred Rice, why he’d asked others to “give you the word” on his injuries from the crashes a few months earlier, in January.

“Couldn’t write letters much on acc’t of right arm which was burned to the bone 3rd degree and it would cramp up on me (still does a little but all burns ok),” he wrote. He says his right kidney ruptured and his liver and spleen were injured.

“I am weak from so much internal bleeding. Have been a good boy and tried to rest,” the letter read.

Hemingway’s wife, Mary, also suffered. “Mary had a big shock and her memory not too hot yet and it will take quite a time to sort things out,” he explained.

The couple had been sightseeing in Uganda when their Cessna “cracked up,” as the Associated Press reported at the time. Hemingway said the pilot had dived to avoid hitting a flying flock of ibises and, as a result, had been forced to land. The group camped overnight in the remote jungle.

Then the next day their rescue plane caught fire, forcing the passengers and pilot to scramble out.

When the couple finally emerged after a 170 mile automobile ride, the AP reported that Mary was limping and Hemingway’s head and arm were bandaged. But Hemingway was “carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin” and “appeared to be in high spirits as he shrugged off the crashes.”

Likewise, in the letter to his lawyer Hemingway insisted “everything is fine here.”

He sprinkles the details of his injuries amid more urgent seeming matters, asking his lawyer to pay a bill he never received, and said he hoped “the dept or Bureau will understand” that his receipts for the trip had burned in the second crash. He was on assignment for Look Magazine.

“Tell the Dept. that I am more valuable to them alive than dead and at present am trying [to] stay alive and get fit to produce,” he quipped.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio


PG is still working on taxes, so posts will be light today.

Science Fiction

Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.

Ray Bradbury

ChatGPT Response to More-Detailed Queries

PG was browsing one of his newsfeeds this morning and found an article about using more detailed queries with AI program, ChatGPT.

He tried it and was impressed by the response. ChatGPT could have done a better job formatting the matrix as a table, but PG was impressed by the comprehensive scope of the response.

(PG has reformatted the query for improved clarity for humans. ChatGPT doesn’t care about those sorts of trifles.)


I need your help to generate content ideas.

I’m building a marketing agency for small social media creators, writing daily content on both LinkedIn and Twitter for creators who have less than 15,000 followers but are seeing some decent initial traction.

The goal of my content is to educate that audience about how I can take the responsibility of creating content off of their shoulders. This will give them back more time and also my team will produce higher quality.

To generate ideas, I want you to imagine a “Content matrix” table.

In this table, the X axis contains types of content, meaning ways to expand on a topic. The Y axis contains content topics to be matched with the X axis.

The X-axis has these content types, formatted like this:

[NAME] (explanation on how to use it)

1. [Actionable] (Ultra-specific guide teaching readers HOW to do something)

2. [Motivational] (Inspirational personal or industry stories about people who did something extraordinary)

3. [Contrarian] (Go against the common advice and say something contrarian to the common beliefs on the topic, and explain why)

4. [Observation] (Observe a hidden, secret, or silent but IMPORTANT trend in the topic/industry)

5. [Prediction] (Compare the status quo with a prediction about the future, and explain to the reader why that is) [Y AXIS] The Y axis contains 5 topics I often talk about: 1. Branding 2. Networking 3. SEO 4. Analytics 5. CopywritingChatGPT

ChatGPT Response:

Sure, I can help you generate content ideas using the content matrix you’ve described. Here’s a set of content ideas based on the X-axis content types matched with the Y-axis topics:

  1. [Actionable] (Ultra-specific guide teaching readers HOW to do something)
    • “Actionable Branding Strategies for Small Creators: Step-by-Step Guide”
    • “Networking Success: Practical Tips for Small Creators to Expand Their Reach”
    • “Mastering SEO: A Step-by-Step Guide for Creators with Less Than 15,000 Followers”
    • “Crunching Analytics: How Small Creators Can Extract Valuable Insights”
    • “Crafting Compelling Copy: Actionable Tips for Small Creators”
  2. [Motivational] (Inspirational personal or industry stories about people who did something extraordinary)
    • “From 100 to 10,000: How One Small Creator Transformed Their Brand”
    • “Rising from Obscurity: Stories of Small Creators Who Nailed Networking”
    • “SEO Success Stories: How Small Creators Won the Search Game”
    • “Analytics Adventures: Small Creators Who Turned Data into Growth”
    • “Copywriting Chronicles: Small Creators Who Found Their Voice”
  3. [Contrarian] (Go against the common advice and say something contrarian to the common beliefs on the topic, and explain why)
    • “Why Branding Isn’t Everything: Contrarian View on Small Creator Success”
    • “Networking Less, Connecting More: Challenging Traditional Approaches”
    • “SEO Myths Debunked: Unconventional Strategies for Small Creators”
    • “Rethinking Analytics: Contrarian Perspectives for Small Creator Growth”
    • “Copywriting Simplified: Challenging Complex Copy for Small Creators”
  4. [Observation] (Observe a hidden, secret, or silent but IMPORTANT trend in the topic/industry)
    • “Unveiling Branding Nuances: The Hidden Factors That Impact Small Creators”
    • “The Subtle Power of Authentic Networking for Small Creators”
    • “Beyond Keywords: The Unseen Factors Shaping SEO for Small Creators”
    • “Cracking the Analytics Code: Uncovering Patterns for Small Creators”
    • “The Unsung Hero of Content: How Subtle Copy Elements Impact Success”
  5. [Prediction] (Compare the status quo with a prediction about the future, and explain to the reader why that is)
    • “The Future of Branding: Predictions for Small Creators in a Dynamic Landscape”
    • “Networking 2.0: Anticipating Trends That Will Shape Small Creator Connections”
    • “SEO Evolved: Predicting the Next Phase of Search for Small Creators”
    • “Analytics Augmented: How AI and Data Will Transform Small Creator Insights”
    • “Copywriting Trends: Predicting the Language of Success for Small Creators”

Feel free to use these content ideas as a starting point to educate and engage your audience of small social media creators!

For PG, the longer query/more detailed AI response was quite illuminating.

The Great American Novel

From The Economist:

John William De Forest coined the term “Great American Novel” in 1868. In an essay he argued that the novel had yet to be written that captured “the picture of the ordinary emotions and manners of American existence”. Worthy authors, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, he said, had “staggered under the load” of trying. Harriet Beecher Stowe, in his reckoning, had come closest with her epic slave tale, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (despite its “very faulty plot”).

Ever since De Forest wrote those words, literati have speculated about what book might qualify as the gan. Whereas the great British works of literature have tended to fixate on class, that is just one of the strands that wind through America’s defining novels. In America class is often related to its ethnic diversity, the result of waves of immigration that began with the first English settlement in Virginia in 1607 and was soon followed by the forced transportation of slaves from Africa. Novelists have celebrated America’s variety and, perhaps more often, wrestled with the racism and exclusion suffered by people who were not fully accepted by their countrymen. A third great theme is America’s vastness, which encourages writers to fill their pages with wanderers, runaways and opportunity-seekers. Many great novelists, from Mark Twain to John Steinbeck to Colson Whitehead, combine these strands in ways that might have persuaded De Forest.

Our candidates for the gan both hew to and depart from common ideas of what it should be. They are the choices of people who work on our American politics podcast Checks and Balance (plus a couple of staffers from other parts of The Economist)

. . . . .

Our selection does not aspire to be the Great American Shortlist. There are no books by Herman Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Saul Bellow, nor any by Twain, Steinbeck or Jonathan Franzen. Some of our choices are established in the canon; others may someday enter it. In general they take a bleak view of America, perhaps one that is too dark. But all these works capture something of America’s character.

The Age of InnocenceBy Edith Wharton

If a propensity for action is a quintessential American trait, this book searingly portrays its absence. “The Age of Innocence”, published in 1920 but set in New York in the 1870s, is the most famous novel about the Gilded Age, a time of breakneck American growth. The city is in transition. In the book’s second paragraph Wharton writes of the new people whom New York is “beginning to dread and yet be drawn to”. Yet this is a book not about change, but about the forces that resist it. Wharton’s New York is a city of manners and convention, of immaculate surfaces and unruly thoughts, which rise insubordinately in the blush of a cheek or clasp of a hand.

It is this gap between exterior and interior life that torments Newland Archer, Wharton’s protagonist. Archer is due to marry May Welland but falls in love with her cousin, Ellen Olenska. She represents a new mode of being. Newland is entranced by “a world where action followed on emotion with such Olympian speed”. But he neither chooses to leave with Olenska nor chooses to stay. New York’s expert social artisans craft a result, which Archer accepts joylessly, as his imagined life with Olenska overshadows his real one with Welland. In this novel what is left unsaid, and the actions not taken, are as important as what is said and done. Wharton can convey with an ellipsis what other writers require a paragraph to describe. In Gilded Age New York the old gives way eventually to the new, as it always does, but not for Archer. Societies move forward, even as men remain stuck, haunted by the past.

. . . .

The Sound and the Fury. By William Faulkner. 

The American South is America distilled. When William Faulkner wrote his great novels in the early 20th century, the South was by turns prideful and ashamed: of its grand aristocratic families alongside its poverty, its bellicosity alongside its chivalry, its racial hierarchy alongside its fervent Christianity. No one grappled with these immense contradictions as Faulkner did.

“The Sound and the Fury” is “a real son-of-a-bitch”, Faulkner wrote to a friend to whom he sent a copy. “This one’s the greatest I’ll ever write.” Anyone who casually cracks it open may also feel like swearing at first. The novel uses the modernist technique of stream of consciousness. The minds in this case are those of the Compson family, a once proud Southern dynasty that is undone by alcoholism, cynicism, greed, obsession and promiscuity. Following the narrative requires the reader to engage in some jigsaw-style rearrangements, but patience is rewarded by journeys that lead to extraordinary vistas. The mind of Jason Compson is as sulfuric and searing as the atmosphere of Venus. The shattered intelligence of Quentin is difficult to traverse, yet you are compelled to. The interior narration of Benjy, who is mentally impaired and mute, flits unencumbered across time and space. Faulkner took his title from a soliloquy of Macbeth: Life’s “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury / Signifying nothing”. In Faulkner’s hands, the tale signifies everything.

. . . .

Ask the DustBy John Fante

John Fante’s LA story, a flop when it was released in 1939, is now widely considered to be a classic. It is the tale of Arturo Bandini, a 20-year-old writer living in squalor on the west coast. Readers live in the mind of a self-absorbed man who, through spite and cowardice, ruins every good thing he touches.

Set in Depression-era Los Angeles, itself a central character, the book also reads like a dark internal monologue of America itself. Bandini’s uncomfortable relationship with Latinos, Jews and others who come from backgrounds that differ from his seems to stem from discomfort with himself. He taunts a Mexican waitress with whom he is in love, telling her that she could never be a true American (which is a bit rich, she points out, coming from a black-eyed “Eyetalian”). Despite claiming to be an atheist, he appeals to religion whenever life doesn’t live up to his expectations. Fante has been called a “pre-Beat” writer. His prose—staccato, incessant, funny—was the forerunner of a uniquely American style. Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski are among its heirs. Bukowski, who in 1979 wrote the introduction to a reprint of “Ask the Dust”, called Fante his “god”.

A Visit from the Goon SquadBy Jennifer Egan

If many American novels are driven by agency, “A Visit From The Goon Squad” is powered by angst. Made up of 13 short stories loosely linked by Bennie Salazar, a music executive, and Sasha Blake, his assistant for a while, the book continually shifts perspective and form and is pervaded by unease. The tales sprawl across countries and decades, from the late 20th century to the near future. Jennifer Egan, whose novel won the Pulitzer prize in 2011, uses this loose-limbed structure to explore the inner lives of people inhabiting multiple Americas. Despite their differences, all are united by a despairing feeling that circumstance shapes their lives far more than their actions can. “Time’s a goon right?” one middle-aged rocker says to another. “You gonna let that goon push you around?” Of course, although some characters put up a fight, in the end time wins. Ms Egan’s America is not a country where anything is possible. When her characters do find some sort of fulfilment, it is rarely the kind they had envisaged in their youth. 

Link to the rest at The Economist

Had PG been creating such a list, he would have included some of authors on The Economist’s “no books by” list, but any “Great American Novel” list would have omitted books that some readers would insist should be on such a list.

PG admits to not having read some of the books and authors included on the list and will be interested in seeing what visitors to TPV may have to say about them.

US – print book sales continue to decline. So where is the #BookTok boom the industry loves to get so excited about?

From The New Publishing Standard:

“The summer is turning out to be a tough one for book sales.” So says Publishers Weekly‘s Jim Milliott.

Milliott explains: “Unit sales of print books once again fell last week, dropping 7.6% compared to the week ended August 13, 2022 at outlets that report to Circana BookScan. And once again, the once sturdy adult fiction segment had a down week compared to a year ago. And also once again, the reason for the decline in adult fiction is not hard to find—the lack of titles that can match the sales velocity that books by Colleen Hoover and other BookTok-fueled authors achieved last year.”

As always, Jim Milliott has details of the titles that are topping the charts, with sales numbers, but what’s not explored in Jim’s piece, once we set aside the three “once again” reminders that this is not some statistical anomaly, are the implications of his last line as quoted:

“The reason for the decline in adult fiction is not hard to find—the lack of titles that can match the sales velocity that books by Colleen Hoover and other BookTok-fueled authors achieved last year.”

Leaving the big question, what has happened to the BookTok magic wand? And are publishers – and the wider industry – prepared for BookTok’s self-evidently waning influence?

BookTok of course rode the Pandemic bonanza of unexpected extra reading time, and publishers reaped the rewards, but with the Pandemic (for now) in the rear-view mirror, not only is reading time reduced, but screen time to spend on BookTok is reduced, meaning those undeniably fantastical figures the industry experts love to throw about, that show how BookTok can save the industry amid the economic downturn, are little more than history. If it was ever for real.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Proof of Life

Rumors of PG’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

The move from Casa PG to Casita PG has been all-encompassing.

Mrs. PG and PG had lived in Casa PG for about 24 years. For six years prior to that, large organizations that employed PG paid for all moving expenses, including boxing everything up, hauling it to a new location, then unboxing and placing items hither and yon at Mrs. PG’s direction at a new and larger abode.

It’s amazing how much stuff has accumulated when one hasn’t really culled one’s possessions in any meaningful way. PG located some boxes that had not been opened in over 25 years. They went into one of the three large dumpsters the PG’s filled in preparation for their down-sizing.

We are in the new place and PG wishes he had paid for unboxing. From PG’s present location, he can see twelve sealed boxes, two unopened file cabinets and some random lamps yet to be plugged in. There are many more unopened boxes in other rooms. PG and Mrs. PG have been eating out for a great many meals since the kitchen has yet to be unboxed.

PG is anxious to blog because TPV is one of the few parts of PG’s life that hasn’t completely changed. When his hand is not cramped from too much boxcutter time, he’ll be posting.

Artificial Intelligence: Issues in a Hot Summer’s Debate

From Publishing Perspectives:

Heating up right along with international temperature gauges this summer, the issues around “artificial intelligence” and publishing seem to become more contentious weekly.

The United States’ Authors Guild updated its information on Wednesday (July 19) to say that more than 10,000 “writers and their supporters” have signed an open letter to CEOs of AI companies including OpenAI; Alphabet (parent of Google); Stability AI; IBM; and Microsoft.

As frequently happens in the Guild’s approach—which is not unlike that of many NGOs issuing their statements on various issues—there’s an impressive list of big names being rolled out here, the advocacy organization having attracted signatories including Dan Brown, James Patterson, Jennifer Egan, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Roxane Gay, Celeste Ng, Louise Erdrich, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and George Saunders.

At the core of this protest is a very real alarm that the source material on which a large language model might be “trained”—the texts used in advanced statistical algorithms’ collection of linguistic content patterns—may well be copyrighted works. Franzen is quoted by the Guild saying that the organization is “advanc[ing] the rights of all Americans whose data and words and images are being exploited, for immense profit, without their consent—in other words, pretty much all Americans over the age of six.”

Certainly on its face, this copyright challenge is immediately and urgently part of a deepening and widening body of alarm now being reflected by elements the actors’ and writers’ strikes in Hollywood. While writers’ vulnerability might be closer to that of the writing corps in book publishing, the parallel threat to actors is unmistakable: their likenesses and voices can be artificially captured and manipulated, giving the broader AI controversy an easily understood visual component. The crisis of residual payments from many streamers may be the immediate money-ask in those labor actions, but as Andrew Dalton has written for the Associated Press, “Artificial intelligence has surged to the forefront of Hollywood’s labor fights. … The technology has pushed negotiations into unknown territory, and the language used can sound utopian or dystopian depending on the side of the table.”

At a national governmental level, in the States on Friday (July 21), Cat Zakrzewski writes at the Washington Post, “the Biden White House on Friday took its most ambitious step to date to address the safety concerns and risks of artificial intelligence, announcing that seven of the most influential companies building AI have agreed to a voluntary pledge to mitigate the risks of the emerging technology, escalating the White House’s involvement in an increasingly urgent debate over AI regulation.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Braille Is Alive, Well, and Ever-Evolving

From The Millions:

A few times a day, a strange, pulsating sound fills the Boston headquarters of the National Braille Press. Thun-thun. Thun-thun. This is what employees of the nonprofit braille publisher call the office’s “braille heartbeat,” generated by an assortment of printing presses—50-year-old Heidelbergs and modern big-roll embossers alike—pumping away in the basement, producing books and other reading materials for blind readers.

NBP has been at the forefront of braille publishing since 1927, when it was founded by the blind Italian immigrant Francis Ierardi—a classmate of Helen Keller’s at the Perkins School—as a weekly newspaper serving Boston’s blind community. Demand was so great that it went national after just three months. Since then the organization has expanded far beyond a single publication. Today, NBP produces and distributes braille books, reading materials, and technologies for the nation, with clients ranging from individual blind readers to the Library of Congress.

Bringing braille to young readers in particular is central to NBP’s mission. “Our goal is to support braille literacy,” said NBP president and CEO Brian MacDonald, and fostering that literacy depends on early intervention. As part of its ongoing efforts, in 1983, NBP launched one of its flagship programs, the Children’s Braille Book Club. The first-of-its-kind subscription service pioneered the “print/braille” book format by distributing mainstream children’s books with added braille. (Under the 1996 Chafee Amendment to the U.S. Copyright Law, nonprofits can reproduce copyrighted works in forms that make them accessible for people with disabilities that impact reading.)

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, NBP drew headlines by hosting a midnight release party, complete with accessible editions of the book. Scholastic sent NBP the manuscript early in order for it to be transcribed, and the office had to cover its windows and employ an armed guard to protect what was at that point the most valuable manuscript in the world. Staff worked around the clock to ensure the braille volumes were ready in time.

The work paid off, and on the evening of July 20, young readers in wizard costumes descended on NBP’s offices to unbox their copies of the final Harry Potter book at the stroke of midnight, just as their sighted peers were doing throughout the country.

What makes NBP unique is its publishing arm. NBP is the only organization in the U.S. that publishes its own books by blind authors for blind readers. Editorial director Kesel Wilson, who had a long career in traditional publishing at companies such as Scholastic and Pearson before joining NBP, commissions and edits original titles.

The number of new books varies each year because Wilson, who said she’s “deeply connected” to the community NBP serves, commissions titles based on “actual demand.” When she has an idea for a book, she speaks with NBP authors and readers to gauge whether it would meet an immediate need. As a result, NBP has become known for its technology books, which include manuals for various software, operating systems, apps, and devices, as well as lifestyle titles on topics including cooking, fitness, and online dating. Recently, NBP published a guide to emoji, reproducing 97 face emoji as tactile graphics to help blind readers identify the differences among them, which “can be as subtle as a lifted eyebrow,” Wilson said.

The publishing arm is largely subsidized by what MacDonald called NBP’s “exploding” B2B business producing brochures, tests, textbooks, business cards, airline safety guides, and more. In 2021, for example, NBP produced 35,000 large-print and braille menus for Starbucks stores. These kinds of projects allow it to sell its own books below cost, despite the enormous expense of producing braille, through its own online bookstore. The bookstore is the primary sales outlet for NBP’s titles, which the press promotes at the National Federation for the Blind’s annual convention as well as other related conferences and gatherings.

Producing braille books largely falls on the shoulders of specialized publishers like NBP, but some editors think mainstream publishers could be doing more. In 2016, DK senior editor Fleur Star, who works in the U.K., helped launch the DK Braille Books series, which to date comprises five children’s books that combine print, braille, printed images, and tactile images.

The idea for the series, produced in partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, arose in 2013, when Clearvision, a postal lending library of print/braille children’s books, visited DK’s London offices and outlined how mutually legible print/braille books can unite blind and sighted readers. Star and several colleagues were moved to action.

“We wanted to create books that could be shared by all,” Star said, “whether a visually impaired child with sighted family and friends or a sighted child with a visually impaired parent.”

Star laments that there’s “a very limited range of tactile reference books,” and of print/braille books in general, for blind young readers, which she feels is a missed opportunity. “If more mainstream publishers produced these books, we could open up the market,” she said, adding that in an ideal world, there would be enough print/braille books to have their own section in bookstores.

Deafblind author Elsa Sjunneson agrees that mainstream publishers could be doing more for visually impaired readers. “Publishing is an inherently sighted industry,” she said. She uses a Kindle with large print and audiobooks to read and is not fluent in braille, which she’s “saddened by.” Many blind people report that braille allows for a far more immersive reading experience, and scientists have found that reading braille activates the visual cortex, the same part of the brain used when reading print.

“In a technological world,” Sjunneson said, “analog skills like braille are often put in the background, and they shouldn’t be.”

Link to the rest at The Millions

Not Dead Yet

PG apologizes for his failure to post yesterday without advance warning.

As he has mentioned, the PG’s are in the process of downsizing in preparation for a move to more cozy surroundings in less than a month. (Downsizing = They are currently filling dumpster #4.)

Yesterday PG was engaged in the not-inconsiderable task of dismantling his usual computer setup. It’s amazing how many little items have been hiding in dusty places PG didn’t realize existed behind various and sundry pieces of hardware. The mother of all computers has been broken down into its constituent parts, ready to be boxed.

PG is now working from a laptop. He’s also dealing with the lack of lots of little apps, scripts and programs he has used since time immemorial that were on his desktop setup and aren’t available on the baby computer.

Despite the fact that he moved the keyboard and mouse from his usual setup, PG feels like he’s blogging in rubber waders half-filled with swamp water.

The biggest change is the lack of three good-sized monitors that allow him to drop things from the middle monitor to one on one side or the other and bring them back later without conscious thought.

PG understands these are first-world problems and he is entitled to no sympathy from anyone, so commiserations are not necessary in the comments (but he won’t mind if they show up).

The Art of Handwriting and Letter Writing: A Connection to Our Past and a Glimpse into the Soul

From Culture.org:

In the age of technology, the art of handwriting is becoming increasingly rare. Gone are the days when we would sit down and put pen to paper, diligently crafting each letter and word.

We now turn to digital platforms for communication, losing the personal touch that handwriting brings.

The beauty and uniqueness of each person’s handwriting can reveal a lot about their character, their style, and their mindset.

In Fleur Jaeggy’s 1989 novella “Sweet Days of Discipline,” the narrator, a 14-year-old girl, becomes fascinated with the handwriting of a new classmate, Frédérique.

Handwriting serves as a façade, a way of establishing one’s identity and personality. Each person’s handwriting is a subtle indicator of who they are, with every curve, angle, and flourish providing a glimpse into their soul.

Handwriting is a form of self-expression, a means of showcasing our individuality and our personal insignia.

Letter writing has long been a significant part of Western culture. From the love letters of Abelard and Heloise to the philosophical musings of Seneca and the creative guidance of Rainer Maria Rilke, letters have captured the essence of human emotion, thought, and relationships.

They serve as powerful time capsules and snapshots of our lives, preserving our past selves and the people who have shaped our existence.

The Power of Letters

Love letters, in particular, hold a special place in the genre. They reveal the depths of human relationships, the vulnerability of emotions, and the universality of love.

Famous love letters, such as those exchanged between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, or Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, showcase deep emotions and leave a lasting impact on the reader.

Letters as a Form of Self-Expression

For women, letter writing has been a means of self-expression and communication without the need to identify as “writers.”

This “kitchen-table” approach to writing has allowed women to create from within their lives, surrounded by domestic responsibilities.

It has resulted in a radical form of writing that brings visibility to the daily realities of women’s lives. Writers like Gwen Harwood and Margaret Oliphant embraced interruptions and distractions as a natural part of the creative process, challenging the notion that an entirely uninterrupted space for writing is necessary.

The Loss of Tangibility

As digital communication replaces traditional letter writing, we risk losing the spontaneity and physical connection that handwritten letters offer.

Emails and text messages lack the tangible presence of the human hand on paper, the weight of the ink, and the texture of the paper.

Link to the rest at Culture.org

PG attempted but failed to recall the last time he had written a letter with his terrible penmanship. He’s signed his name under a short message on greeting cards and has scratched down the odd note for himself, but he is 99.99% a keyboardist for written communications.

Writing by hand seems so very, very slow and, being out of practice, PG has to cross out words that nobody could read and rewrite them even more slowly, which takes away whatever spontaneity and elegance a hand-written note from him might otherwise communicate.

As for tangibility, if visitors to TPV could have a glimpse of the top of PG’s desk, they would see tangibility, piles and piles of tangibility including tangles of computer cables, various and sundry printouts about subjects like Form 941E and Property Condition Disclosures, pages headed, “If You Have Questions” and a user’s manual for a pocket camera PG can’t seem to locate.

Oh, there’s also an old heirloomish silver teapot with an accompanying silver cream pitcher that recently turned up while PG was cleaning out a closet and a silver tweezery device to grasp sugar cubes and drop them into your non-silver tea cup should the need arise.

That’s max tangibility.

(In the 21st Century, does anybody actually use a silver teapot more than twice in their lifetime? How about if they don’t have a live-in maid/butler to polish silver in her/his/their spare time?)

On Posthumous Editing: Should Books be Edited for Contemporary Audiences?

From Book Riot:

What do you remember best about your favorite childhood book? Is it the setting, the characters, the descriptions of food? For me, it’s always the way it made me feel. Usually, the feeling was “less alone,” “hopeful,” or “indignantly determined.” Reading a classic book with decades of history behind it was exciting to me to see why the book was so famous and what made it appealing to different generations. Was I having the same reaction to a book as generations of other readers? What about the past was different, and what was the same? Currently, there’s a bit of a trend of posthumous editing of classic fiction to update the works to be more appealing to contemporary audiences.

I say “trend” because it has recently occurred with the blessing of four major author estates. Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Agatha Christie. In the case of Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl, the edits are argued to be necessary for sensitivity purposes. They’re for kids, and kids shouldn’t have to be exposed to the bigoted beliefs of the authors whose books are ostensibly giving kids lessons about morality. Fleming, Le Guin, and Christie are titans of genre fiction, and their respective estates likely rely on regular sales, in addition to movie and television option agreements and royalties.

The edits have caused a variety of reactions, from The Washington Post’s editorial board railing against the “threat to free expression” to The New York Times’s more measured take, to arguments to leave authors like Roald Dahl in the past. Since this trend seems to be getting integrated into the processes of managing author estates and new printings of classic works, we should look at the argument from all sides and understand what this means for the future of publishing and readers in general.

. . . .

Dr. Seuss’s estate announced last year that six of his poorly-selling titles with dated content would no longer be in print. By contrast, Dahl’s estate removed some unfriendly words: “Classics by Roald Dahl have been stripped of adjectives like ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ along with references to characters’ gender and skin color.” Ursula K. Le Guin’s son Theo, who manages her work, allowed editors to remove ableist words like “lame” and “dumb” from her Catwings series.

For Fleming and Christie, the estates have decided to cut racial slurs and outdated language from the books. Mystery and spy thrillers are generally meant for cozy reading, and coming across a slur or one of Fleming’s more colorful descriptions of a female body could be disruptive. It’s argued to be for the readers so they can continue to experience the joy of these stories without the baggage of past prejudices. But it’s also for the continued relevance of the brand.

. . . .

The biggest argument in favor of posthumous editing is for contemporary readers to continue to connect to stories that have delighted readers for generations, without the jarring language that will take you out of the story. However, it’s hard to argue that continued profits are not a major incentive as well. The Dahl estate especially has to scramble to stay relevant. The updated movie version of The Witches does not feature the hooked noses of the original movie adaptation and book. I’m sure the Wonka movie with Timothée Chalamet will include some tepid justification for the indentured servitude of the Oompa Loompas.

The Washington Post’s editors argue vehemently against the practice of editing and ask instead for editors “to surround original works with context, in the form of critical introductions as well as annotations in new editions, wherever possible. It’s urgent to explain, in introductions and scholarly comments, why certain words are harmful; about a given author’s personal biases and politics; and how each shaped their view of the world.”

. . . .

For Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie, it’s a little more complicated. Annotations would be a good opportunity for readers of those books to learn more about the cultural conditions around their writing. But the characters of their books are tied to ongoing media brands: James Bond movies, and Kenneth Branagh’s quest to make boring Agatha Christie movies for the rest of his career. The Bond brand extends to the books. If someone comes to Bond through the contemporary films, the books will probably feel dissonant. It’s all about brand integration.

For an author like Agatha Christie, edits to racist language feel important to preserve the cozy mystery experience of reading the novel. The idea is to make the books accessible and sensitive to all readers, as opposed to just white ones. The counterpoint is that there are plenty of authors of color working in the mystery genre today, even writing in the historical English countryside mystery genre. Christie is a starting point of inspiration to a vast genre, so it is not a discredit to her legacy to point out that her work is specific to the first half of the 20th century and its cultural context.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG suggests that leaving the books in their original form is the best practice. If some souls are too sensitive to understand that people of earlier times expressed themselves in different ways because those types of expressions were the standards of their eras, PG suspects the problems are with the overly sensitive instead of the books.

Words have consequences, but readers of reasonable intelligence can deal with outdated standards of expression. Shakespeare used terms offensive to 21st Century eyes and ears and PG suspects it doesn’t hurt anyone to understand those terms in their historic contexts.

All spoken languages change over time and changes in spoken language tend to show up in written language. PG can easily envision a future in which current politically-correct terms and formulations are regarded as stupid and, among intelligent and well-bred individuals are generally recognized as inappropriate ways of speaking.

If this is really a problem, PG predicts there will never be any lasting fixes.

Under the Weather

PG is feeling unlike his usual wiseguy self, so he’s taking a blogging holiday today.

Rare books curator in West Virginia returns 119-years overdue library book to Massachusetts: ‘This came back in extremely good condition’

From Fortune:

On Feb. 14, 1904, someone curious about the emerging possibilities of a key force of nature checked out James Clerk Maxwell’s “An Elementary Treatise on Electricity” from the New Bedford Free Public Library.

It would take 119 years and the sharp eyes of a librarian in West Virginia before the scientific text finally found its way back to the Massachusetts library.

The discovery occurred when Stewart Plein, the curator of rare books at West Virginia University Libraries, was sorting through a recent donation of books.

Plein found the treatise and noticed it had been part of the collection at the New Bedford library and, critically, had not been stamped “Withdrawn,” indicating that while extremely overdue, the book had not been discarded.

Plein contacted Jodi Goodman, the special collections librarian in New Bedford, to alert her to the find.

“This came back in extremely good condition,” New Bedford Public Library Director Olivia Melo said Friday. “Someone obviously kept this on a nice bookshelf because it was in such good shape and probably got passed down in the family.”

The treatise was first published in 1881, two years after Maxwell’s death in 1879, although the cranberry-colored copy now back at the New Bedford library is not considered a rare edition of the work, Melo said.

The library occasionally receives books as much as 10 or 15 years overdue, but nothing anywhere close to a century or more, she said.

. . . .

The discovery and return of the book is a testament to the durability of the printed word, especially in a time of computerization and instant access to unfathomable amounts of information, Melo said.

“The value of the printed book is it’s not digital, it’s not going to disappear. Just holding it, you get the sense of someone having this book 120 years ago and reading it, and here it is in my hands,” she said. “It is still going to be here a hundred years from now. The printed book is always going to be valuable.”

Link to the rest at Fortune

Ukrainian Writer and Activist Victoria Amelina

From Publishing Perspectives:

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, when Ukraine’s Victoria Amelina gave us her thoughts on the slain children’s author and illustrator Volodymyr Vakulenko, she said, “Everyone in Ukraine, including Ukrainian writers, keeps losing their loved ones.”

Now, Amelina herself has been lost. She died on Saturday (July 1) of injuries sustained in the June 27 Russian missile strike on the pizza restaurant in the eastern city of Kramatorsk. Victoria Amelina was 37.

In the spring, she had made the trip to Lillehammer to be at the World Expression Forum, WEXFO, on May 22 and accept the International Publishers Association‘s 2023 IPA Prix Voltaire Special Award for Vakulenko. One of the things she told Publishing Perspectives about the slain children’s author was that “Vakulenko believed we are to make history. He always responded to the challenges of his time.”

Today (July 3), the IPA’s offices in Geneva have reported that the Prix Voltaire Special Award now honors Amelina as well as Vakulenko. In a tweet on May 28, Amelina announced that she’d delivered the IPA’s special Prix Voltaire to Vakulenko’s mother.

. . . .

Iryna Baturevych at Ukraine’s publishing-industry news medium Chytomo writes to us, “We are shocked. [Amelina] has a little son, almost the same age as my son. He will be 12 in July. Victoria was courageous.”

As Chytomo’s article notes, Amelina was working with a watchdog organization called Truth Hounds, which monitors and documents details of potential war crimes.

Reported today (July 3) by CNN’s Svitlana Vlasova, Claudia Rebaza, Sahar Akbarzai, and Florencia Trucco, Amelina has become the 13th person now known to have died from that attack Kramatorsk–which is close to the front lines in the Donetsk province. The attack was timed to a particularly busy moment when the Ria Lounge near Vasyl Stus Street was crowded with evening diners. At least 61 people are reported to have been wounded when what analysts say was a Russian short-range ballistic missile called an Iskander hit the restaurant.

In BCC’s write-up, George Wright reports that Amelina’s first English-language nonfiction book, War and Justice Diary: Looking at Women Looking at War, is expected to be published, although no time frame for that release is mentioned.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

How ChatGPT Wrote My Book Title

From Writer Unboxed:

Book titles are important. Writing them isn’t easy. With several working titles for my novel already on the scrap heap, I was ready for a new approach. Could ChatGPT, a text-generating algorithm, suggest new ideas for titles that I’d like and others would love?

Let’s find out.

Step one: Log in to OpenAI, access ChatGPT, and begin a New Chat.

Step two: Instruct ChatGPT to use a 500-word synopsis that I would provide to generate titles for a novel.

Step three: Copy-paste my synopsis and press Enter.

Six hours and 1,800 ChatGPT-generated titles later, I had 23 “maybe” ideas, including one—”The Wind Lords’ Curse”—that I especially liked and that caught the interest of my critique group, too.

Would I advise other authors to try this method to generate a book title? Short answer: yes. Using ChatGPT for this purpose was frustrating, time-consuming, and annoying. But trying to come up with more title idea on my own was also frustrating and time-consuming, if perhaps not as annoying. And, I ended up with a new title that I might never have thought of without ChatGPT’s suggestion. True, the title came from my synopsis, but it wasn’t word for word, and it didn’t actually take six hours and 1,800 titles for ChatGPT to suggest it. In fact, it was among the first thirty or so titles that came up after I provided the synopsis.

What did I learn from this exercise?

The most important lesson was that ChatGPT requires very specific instructions and it will follow those instructions exactly as they’re given, or it will find sneaky ways to sidestep the instructions, or it will completely ignore the instructions, sometimes repeatedly, and do its own thing.

Example 1: Zephyrs

My novel is about wind and weather. Early on, ChatGPT suggested multiple titles that contained the word “zephyr.” A fine word, perhaps, but one I didn’t want to use, so I added an instruction: “Do not use the word ‘zephyr’ in the titles.”

Yet still, the zephyrs continued. Before long, I had quite a collection: “Zephyr’s Journey,” “Zephyr’s Whispers,” “Zephyr’s Chorus,” “Zephyr’s Lament,” “Breath of the Eolian Zephyrs,” “Whispering Zephyrs,” “Echoes of the Zephyr,” “Chasing the Zephyr,” “Embracing Zephyrs of Transformation,” “Serenade of the Luminous Zephyrs,” and many more.

When I (temporarily) convinced ChatGPT not to give me any more titles with the word “zephyr,” it suggested “The Zephyrian Conundrum” and “Zephyrus’ Lament.”


With a new instruction, “Do not use words that begin with the letter ‘z’ in the titles,” the zephyrs continued, though they weren’t as numerous. Altogether, the first 1,800 titles that ChatGPT generated included 82 (4.5%) with some form of the word “zephyr.”

Example 2: Colons

Early on, most of the titles ChatGPT generated contained either two or three words. None of the titles contained only one word. When I asked the algorithm to generate longer titles, it became obsessed with using colons to add length to its suggestions.

Show of hands, please. Would anyone like to read a novel titled: “Solstice’s Serenade: Unveiling the Winds,” “Galeforge Chronicles: The Winds of Destiny,” or “Zephyr’s Chorus: A Symphony of Weather”?


Me neither.

When I added another instruction, “Do not use colons in the titles,” the algorithm generated the exact same list of titles as its previous response, only with dashes substituted for the colons. Try again? Commas.

The instruction, “Do not include any punctuation marks in the titles,” convinced the algorithm to generate suggestions without colons, dashes or commas, but it added a snide little warning: “Please note that without punctuation marks, the clarity and readability of the titles may be slightly affected.” As if anyone could, with the help of a comma, fall in love with a book title like “Echoes through Canopy’s Embrace Secrets of Nature’s Breath.”

And still, colons continued to appear, possibly because they’re so common in nonfiction titles. Final count in 1,800 titles: 182 (10%) had colons.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed