Institutional customers have “moved wholeheartedly to digital formats” – Association University Presses survey

From The New Publishing Standard:

A survey of the 154-member Association of University Presses (AUP) reveals the pandemic has set in train a rapid and likely unstoppable transition to digital.

As reported by the UK trade journal The Bookseller, the Cambridge University Press (CUP) saw the expected fall in sales as lockdown closed schools and universities, but while print sales are reviving, the pandemic has, according to CUP’s MD of Academic Publishing Mandy Hill,

accelerated the shift to digital for both institutional and individual customers.

Per The Bookseller’s summary, Hill expects that trend to continue.

Anthony Cond, MD of the Liverpool University Press (LUP), said the pandemic had presented uni presses with,

the unique opportunity to reset spending.

Cond said the shift online of conferences and events had delivered increased engagement and financial savings.

. . . .

David Clark,managing director of the academic division of the Oxford University Press said that institutional customers have,

moved wholeheartedly to digital formats.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Having worked in the university library during his freshman year in college, PG has no doubt that college and university libraries find that ebooks save lots of money that would otherwise be spent on employees returning physical books to their proper place in the stacks, helping confused students find where the Armenian Anthropology books reside, etc.

As PG discovered, if the library is large enough, a book reshelved in the wrong location is as good as lost. More than one student who pulls out a physical book on one floor of the library who can’t find a study carrel on that floor or is meeting friends for joint “study” on another floor will quite often put the book on the most convenient shelf available on the way toward the closest exit.

PG once discovered a thin volume that had slid down a gap between two large metal bookcases that were placed back to back. How long the book had been hidden in that location between the bookshelves, PG could not speculate other than to say there was a great deal of dust on it.

Cottagecore Debuted 2,300 Years Ago

From JSTOR Daily:

If there’s a style that defines 2020, it has to be “cottagecore.” In March 2020, the New York Times defined it as a “budding aesthetic movement… where tropes of rural self-sufficiency converge with dainty décor to create an exceptionally twee distillation of pastoral existence.” In August, consumer-culture publication The Goods by Vox heralded cottagecore as “the aesthetic where quarantine is romantic instead of terrifying.”

Baking, one of the activities the quarantined population favored at the height of the pandemic, is a staple of cottagecore, whose Instagram hashtag features detailed depictions of home-baked goods. Moreover, the designer Lirika Matoshi’s Strawberry Dress, defined as The Dress of 2020, fully fits into the cottagecore aesthetic. A movement rooted in self-soothing through exposure to nature and land, it proved to be the antidote to the stress of the 2020 pandemic for many.

Despite its invocations of rural and pastoral landscapes, the cottagecore aesthetic is, ultimately, aspirational. While publications covering trends do point out that cottagecore is not new—some locate its origins in 2019, others in 2017—in truth, people have sought to create an escapist and aspirational paradise in the woods or fields for 2,300 years.

. . . .

Memories of Arcadia


Ancient Greece had an enduring fascination with the region of Arcadia, located in the Peloponnesus, which many ancient Greeks first dismissed as a primitive place. After all, Arcadia was far from the refined civilization of Athens. Arcadians were portrayed as hunters, gatherers, and sensualists living in an inclement landscape. In the Hellenistic age, however, Arcadia became an idea in the popular consciousness more than a geographical place.

Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great, had become a metropolis of more than a million people. The city was filthy, polluted, and ridden with disease. Its citizens developed what we can now call nostalgia for simpler times. They turned to Arcadia, which came to represent both an untainted, yet benign countryside and the spiritual haven of a simple life.

The Sicilian-born poet Theocritus (316–260 BCE), widely credited as the inventor of pastoral poetry, gave form to this longing for a return to the simple life. He wrote many Idylls, where shepherds and shepherdesses frolicked in nature and engaged in poetic and song contests. Theocritus raised shepherds and country people above their social and cultural status: they speak sophisticatedly, and they spontaneously engage in poetry contests. The target audience for this poetry, however, was the educated urban class who wanted to escape to the countryside while preserving their own refinement: “Theocritus’ shepherds (who seem to spend more time in pleasant conversation and lively love song contests, lying lazily during the resting hour on the grass by a river or spring, under shady trees, than in tending their flocks) move in an atmosphere of peace, quiet and happiness that is far removed from the harsh reality of pastoral life in all times and places,” write the scholars J. Vara and Joanna Weatherby in Mnemosyne.

. . . .

But it was in Elizabethan England that the pastoral genre really became in vogue. Shakespeare has two pastoral plays, As You Like It and A Winter’s Tale, whose source material includes the tale of Daphnis and Chloe. As You Like It contains a debate between pastoral and anti-pastoral: one character, the jester Touchstone, feels better at court, while he looks down on country people, while the shepherd Corin defends his own lifestyle. It’s actually not clear who wins the debate. What’s more, Shakespeare’s plays, including As You Like It and A Winter’s Tale, feature aristocrats play-acting being shepherds and falling in love with shepherdesses, but only marry them when they find out that said shepherdesses are abandoned royalty themselves.

Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love,” is one of the best-known examples of English Renaissance pastoral poetry, with a shepherd inviting his beloved to enjoy a romp in his own version of Arcadia, a vision of eternal spring. It inspired poetic replies from other poets, from John Donne to Dorothy Parker. Quite tellingly, the most famous reply comes from sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618), who had the shepherd’s beloved rebuke him, uttering words such as:

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten: In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

She points out, in other words, that the idea of Arcadia is rooted in fallacy.

Pastoral poetry, while detached and elitist in theme and style, is still marked by a sense of community, which is expressed through the form of invitation. “The invitation demonstrates that the pastoral landscape has something to offer, whether it is a rustic feast, country entertainments, or simply a homely cottage in which to rest for the night,” writes the literary scholar Kimberly Huth in Studies in Philology. Huth examines the spoken act of invitation in the context of early modern pastoral poetry, writing:

It acts as the first step in extending that community to others who may be passing through the pastoral world by offering not only a comfortable place to rest but also fellowship and belonging. The pastoral landscape is often imagined as an ideal world of respite from corruption of the court or city, but it is actually the invitation that creates the ideality of that world, which is only recognizable through interactions with other people in the landscape.

Cottagecore too has a strong community aspect, even if its invitations are mostly digital.

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily

The Tennessee Solution to Disappearing Book Reviews

From The New Yorker:

Long before the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the devastation of newspapers and media outlets of all kinds, book reviews around the country had already started to disappear. Papers like the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post eliminated their standalone sections; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Dallas Morning News let their book editors and staff critics go; coverage evaporated in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Orlando Sentinel. News outlets that once reviewed more than five hundred books every year—and, in some cases, three times as many—now rarely cover them at all.

That national crisis came for the Volunteer State just over a decade ago. Tim Henderson, the executive director of Humanities Tennessee, the state’s affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, remembers noticing fewer book reviews and fewer publications, but also talking with struggling local arts and culture writers. “When we saw the disappearance of arts coverage across the state, it was obvious we should respond,” Henderson said, “but not how.”

Humanities Tennessee eventually created something called Chapter 16: a part-digital, part-print publication that covers literature and literary life in the state by doing what almost any other outlet would—running reviews, profiles, interviews, and essays—but also by doing what almost no other outlet could afford to do: giving away its content for free, not only to readers but to any publication of any kind that wants to reproduce it. “We knew there was an audience for this, and we serve readers, not a bottom line, so we wanted to find a way to provide this free of charge,” Henderson said.

That is why, every week, as many as half a million people read something from Chapter 16, and it is why, although the outlet calls itself “a community of Tennessee writers, readers, and passersby,” it offers what might be a model of sustainable arts coverage for the rest of the country.

. . . .

 “The creative talent was there, and the readers were there,” Gerbman said, “and we felt like it was our responsibility to showcase it.”

Years before, Gerbman had driven the Tennessee novelist William Gay to and from a reading in Clarksville. They got lost that night on the way home, and a long conversation turned longer; in the course of it, Gay, who had spent much of his life hanging drywall and painting houses, and hadn’t published anything until he was in his late fifties, got to talking about his sadness that Tennessee didn’t show as much pride in or offer as much support for its writers as neighboring Mississippi. “That struck me,” Gerbman said, remembering Gay, who died in 2012. A few years later, she thought of his words again, when the novelist Inman Majors came home to Knoxville for a reading and confessed his disappointment that no newspapers in Tennessee had covered his book.

“There are so many working writers here, publishing books and doing good work, and we felt it was important for people to see that,” Gerbman said. The founders of Chapter 16 made it the publication’s mission to try to cover every book by a Tennessee author, every book about Tennessee, and every book by any author coming to Tennessee for an event at one of the state’s more than two dozen independent bookstores and nearly one hundred colleges. Even their name reflected that regional pride: Tennessee was the sixteenth state to join the Union.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

And here’s a link to Chapter 16

The Case of the Autographed Corpse

From Smithsonian Magazine:

On a Saturday afternoon in February 1933, at the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona, a White Mountain Apache Indian named Silas John Edwards and his wife, Margaret, stopped by a friend’s place to visit and relax. Edwards, a trim middle-aged man with a penetrating gaze, was an influential figure on reservations throughout the Southwest. Hundreds of followers regarded him as a divinely inspired religious leader, a renowned shaman and medicine man.

When he and Margaret arrived at their friend’s dwelling, a tepee, they found people drinking tulapai, a homemade Apache liquor. Three hours later, the Edwardses joined a group heading to another friend’s home. People who were there reported that Margaret confronted him inside a tepee, demanding to know why he’d been spending time with a younger woman, one of Margaret’s relatives. The argument escalated, and Margaret threatened to end their marriage. She left the party. Edwards stayed until about 10:30 p.m. and then spent the night at a friend’s.

Shocking news came the next day: Margaret was dead. Children had discovered her body, along with bloody rocks, at the side of a trail two and a half miles outside of the Fort Apache town of Whiteriver. They alerted adults, who carried her body home. “I went in the tepee and found my wife in my own bed,” Edwards later wrote. “I went to her bedside and before I fully realized what I was doing or that she was really dead, I had picked her up in my arms, her head was very bloody and a part of the blood got on my hands and clothing.”

He was still kneeling there, holding his wife’s body, when a sheriff and an Apache police officer arrived.

A medical examiner reported that Margaret had been killed by blows to her head and strangulation. Curiously, at least two of the rocks used to crush her skull were inscribed with her husband’s initials: S.J.E.

. . . .

Seventeen years later, in March 1951, Edwards—now 64 and still imprisoned at McNeil Island—wrote a desperate letter. “Up ’til now you have never heard of me,” he began, and then repeated the protestations of innocence he’d been making ever since his arrest. He had affidavits from witnesses who’d said he could not have committed the murder. The White Mountain Apache Tribal Council had unanimously recommended his release from prison. Another suspect had even been found. Edwards had pleaded with authorities for a pardon or parole, but nothing he did could move them.

This letter was a last-ditch effort to avoid dying of old age behind bars. Edwards thought the man he was writing to could get him out. The man was Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the Perry Mason mystery books.

. . . .

At the time Gardner got the letter from Edwards, he was living on a ranch in Temecula, California, about 60 miles northeast of San Diego and just outside the borders of a Pechanga Reservation. (Today, the ranch is part of the reservation itself.) His office was decorated with American Indian artwork, baskets, masks and moccasins. But Gardner, a Massachusetts native, had little knowledge of the religious life or cultural significance of the man who wrote to him from the McNeil Island Penitentiary.

What Gardner did understand were the flaws in the prosecution’s case. A bespectacled man with a commanding gaze, Gardner had spent years practicing law in California. In the early 1920s, he’d started writing mystery stories for pulp magazines. He’d published his first Perry Mason novel one month after the murder of Edwards’ wife. Over the years, Perry Mason—a fictional defense attorney who usually defended innocent clients—became the center of a literary juggernaut, generating sales of more than 300 million books as well as a popular TV show.

Like the hero he’d invented, Gardner felt drawn to cases involving the wrongly accused. He believed America’s criminal justice system was often biased against the vulnerable. In the 1940s, Gardner used his fame and wealth to assemble what he called the Court of Last Resort, a group of forensic specialists and investigators who—like today’s Innocence Project at Cardozo School of Law—applied new thinking to old cases.

Gardner’s team rescued dozens of innocent people from executions and long prison terms. Among them were Silas Rogers, a black man sentenced to death for shooting a police officer in Petersburg, Virginia; Clarence Boogie, a victim of false testimony in a murder case in Spokane, Washington; and Louis Gross, who had been framed for murder in Michigan. Gardner persuaded Harry Steeger of Argosy magazine to regularly publish his articles about his organization’s findings. “We are busybodies,” Gardner declared in a letter to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. “If, on the other hand, citizens don’t take an active interest in law enforcement and the administration of justice, we are going to lose our battle with crime.”

The letter from the Apache shaman made a strong impression on Gardner. “This Silas John Edwards case has been preying on my mind,” he wrote to James Bennett, the director of the Bureau of Prisons at the U.S. Department of Justice, on May 2, 1952. “This man is a full-blooded Apache Indian. There is every possibility that he didn’t get justice at the hands of a jury who may not have understood Indian psychology, temperament and custom. I think we should investigate the case.”

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

No one will ever see books like this again.

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

Three days before I sat down to write this blog post, I finished reading Drama High by Michael Sokolove. I clutched the book to my heart, and thought, no one will ever see books like this again.

Then I mentally slapped myself. I had slipped into traditional writer think.

Drama High was published by Riverhead Books in 2014. Riverhead was once a literary imprint of Penguin Publishing, and got subsumed into the whole Penguin Random House merger. Imprints lose their identity in mergers like this, and Riverhead is no exception. I doubt the imprint would have published a book like this in 2019.

For those of you who haven’t seen the book, and I would assume that’s most of you, Drama High focuses on a high school in Levittown, Pennsylvania, that has developed a highly recognized theater department. The book, written by a former student, is a love letter to teaching as well as to theater. It’s filled with heart and compassion and general quirkiness.

The book ended up becoming a bestseller after it became the inspiration for the short-lived TV show Rise. I have no idea how I found it; probably the Amazon algorithm, because I haven’t been in a bookstore since the pandemic started.

But I got caught in that traditional publishing think: that only trad pub could take a risk with a small book like that and yet make sure it got to the places it needed to go.

And you know, in the limited book world I grew up in, that was true. When I came of age as a reader, there was a mountain of book outlets—not bookstores, per se, but places to buy books all the same. As a kid, I got my books (gothics and skinny mysteries and the occasional weird horror thing) from a drugstore a few blocks from my house.

By the mid-1990s, there were “dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of stores in the country that carried 100,000 titles or more” according to an October blog post by Mike Shatzkin.

That seemed like a lot of books. But we had to buy a title when we saw it, because if we waited, we might never see the book again. I searched for books by Phillip Rock for three decades, because I discover the first in the series in a used bookstore. I might never have found the last two books in his only series if it hadn’t been for Amazon and Downton Abbey.

Quirky books, like Drama High, only got commissioned because someone thought the book would do well enough. Had the book been published in the previous century, someone would have thought the book would do well in niche bookstores.

Only there really aren’t that many niche bookstores anymore. There are barely bookstores right now, because of the pandemic. This month, for example, we are losing one of our oldest bookstores here in Las Vegas. The owner finally decided—with the economic collapse and the pandemic—that it’s time to retire.

Other bookstores have other issues. It’s going to cost money for bookstores to get proper ventilation systems and, in some cases, put their inventory online. It’s not something you can just hire a few college students to do; it takes a true structure.

Book buying has changed, although reading hasn’t. As I’ve said in the previous two trainwreck blogs, traditional publishing needs to recognize how book buying has changed.

And it looks like some people in traditional publishing are finally beginning to understand that the changes they’ve been living through these past 20 years are permanent. The way Things Are Being Done has to change.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

PG says making certain the trains run on time is a different business than building a railroad or building and continually improving a quality ecommerce site.

Traditional publishing (and the big and habit-encrusted European conglomerates that own most of traditional publishing in the United States) is no place to seek innovation and nimble adaptation skills. Their evergreen solution to financial difficulties is to find another blockbuster celebrity book, “Michelle Obama’s Thanksgiving!” – “Tina Fey on Motherhood!” – “Isaac Mizrahi’s Styling Secrets!” AKA making the publishing business run on time.

Does anybody who can get a tech job (or maybe any job) at Amazon ever consider going to work for a New York City publisher? Ditto for Google, Apple, etc.?

What intelligent and aware college graduate is going to look for work at a traditional publisher unless there is no other choice available? (a possibility these days, PG admits). It’s the ultimate low-paying dead-end job. Period. Find a wealthy spouse ASAP.

Some of the senior people in publishing got into the business when it looked like it had a future, but if they’ve truly drunk the big publishing Kool-Aid, PG isn’t certain exactly where they’re going to end up when the consolidation of publishing starts up again. And it will. PG suspects some of the owners of traditional publishing companies are spending serious time trying to figure out who the greater fool might be so they can dump that boat anchor.

Whatever publishers survive will have Amazon to thank for it (although PG doesn’t expect them to acknowledge that fact).

PG is not a futurist, but he’s read enough from smart people who are to conclude that the effects of the world-wide economic shut-down on education, businesses, lifestyles, etc., are not going to end when Covid goes away.

A lot of small businesses that closed aren’t going to reopen. Landlords, many of whom are small businesses themselves, will understandably want to get any sort of tenant that will pay the rent in full and on time. PG doesn’t believe that bookstores will be exempt.

People who are buying lots of stuff from Amazon, including books, aren’t going to immediately snap back to traveling from store to store to buy things.

Later today PG is probably going to post about some of the long-term impact that the Spanish Flu had in the early 20th century that lasted long after the virus had petered out.

UPDATE:

PG promises that he had not heard about CBS trying to sell Simon & Schuster, as documented in the New York Times story he linked to a couple of posts above this on until after he put up the original version of this post earlier today.

He wonders if he needs to obtain some sort of license before displaying his prescience in public again.

The Secret of the Unicorn Tapestries

Via Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain

From The Paris Review:

Nobody knows who made the Unicorn Tapestries, a set of seven weavings that depict a unicorn hunt that has been described as “the greatest inheritance of the Middle Ages.”

Without evidence, the La Rochefoucauld family in France asserted that the tapestries originate with the marriage of a family ancestor in the fifteenth century. The tapestries did belong to the La Rochefoucauld in 1793, before they were stolen by rioters who set fire to their château at Verteuil. The family regained possession sixty years later, when the tapestries were recovered in a barn. The precious weavings of wool, silk, gold, and silver were in tatters at their edges and punched full of holes. They had been used to wrap barren fruit trees during the winter.

In late 1922, the Unicorn Tapestries disappeared again. They were sent to New York for an exhibition, which never opened. A rich American had bought them and transferred them to his bank vault before anyone else could see them. In February 1923, John D. Rockefeller Jr. confirmed from his vacation home in Florida that he was the American who had acquired the tapestries for the price of $1.1 million. The tapestries were transferred to Rockefeller’s private residence in Midtown Manhattan.

Fourteen years later, Rockefeller donated the tapestries to the Cloisters, a new medieval art museum he had funded as a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The mysterious works were to be on regular public display for the first time in their five-hundred-year history. James Rorimer, the first curator of the Cloisters, had the intimidating task of interpreting them.

On July 26, 1942, the New York Times reported that Rorimer had identified symbols that proved the key to the mystery, among them a knotted cord, a pair of striped tights, and a squirrel. He identified these as symbols in a system that pointed to Anne of Brittany as their owner and decided the tapestries had been made to celebrate her marriage to Louis XII in 1499. No one who read the news that Sunday was able to see the Unicorn Tapestries for another two years. The weavings were moved to a secret location following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

The Frankfurt Book Fair “will be increasingly supplemented by digital and virtual formats.”

From The New Publishing Standard:

The Buchmesse largely paid lip-service to the digital alternative while holding out hope the in-person event would go ahead. The ugly sister was to get a cheap make-over, but not plastic surgery.

Dressed up as “streamlining and restructuring”, the world’s largest trade publishing fair is finally catching up with the 21st century this year, embracing the digital advantage and opening up the fair to the world.

Of course the Buchmesse has long been a leader in pushing the global element of the publishing industry, but its approach was always, right up until 2020, via the analogue 20th century model that involved hauling people and companies halfway around the world to be paraded before an audience that likewise had to be able to travel half way around the world to engage.

By definition that closed off huge audience reach globally and denied publishing stakeholders in much of the world a realistic opportunity to engage. If a would-be participant or observer could not afford to be there or was not lucky enough to be on the much-valued subsidised invite list then the Buchmesse was just something we got to read about in the trade journals, and then of course only snippets from what the trade journalists had cobbled together. Because with the best will in the world the reporters who were able to be there could only be in one place and monitor one event at a time.

. . . .

Why was it that even as the pandemic took off in the spring of 2020 the Buchmesse, along with almost every other trade event (DBW the notable exception – all credit to Bradley Metrock), was stubbornly insisting the show would go on as it had always gone on?

. . . .

Reporting for the Buchmesse journal Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson said this past week that, having pulled in 200,000 digital participants in October, the Frankfurt Book was,

“modernising its concept” and restructuring some of its staffing (to) “ensure the continued existence of the fair” long-term.

Buchmesse CEO Juergen Boos, assuring us the traditional fair would resume in 2021 assuming Covid-19 conditions allowed, said in a press release,

At the same time, we must open ourselves up to alternative marketing and dialogue formats in order to meet the changing needs of all market participants.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG has read several articles lately written by people whose opinions he takes seriously to the effect that there are going to be some permanent changes, at least in the United States, resulting from not so much the Covid pandemic, but by the adaptations many have made during the pandemic.

Working from home instead of commuting to an office is one of the more prominent examples.

The Wall Street Journal published an article a couple of days ago that reported a significant number of San Francisco and Silicon Valley tech workers who have been working from home have discovered they they are more productive and enjoy their lives more when work doesn’t include a 1-2 hour commute to and from their home each day.

Some are even moving to Nevada, Utah or Idaho to take advantage of lower prices, lower taxes and an improved lifestyle while working for companies headquartered in the San Francisco area. Some parts of these states are also receiving transplanted companies from those Northern California locales.

For those outside of the United States, the cost of living in the San Francisco area, including Silicon Valley, a series of suburbs extending south of San Francisco for many miles, has become extraordinarily high. PG is informed that some lower-paid workers are living in their cars or vans, taking advantage of tech company exercise facilities or health clubs for showering, etc.

According to Zillow, the average cost of a middle-tier home in Palo Alto, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley is over $3 million, up 10% from last year’s average and forecast to increase another 10% next year. Traveling east from San Francisco a little over 200 miles just over the border to Carson City, Nevada, a prospective home purchaser would pay about 10% of the Palo Alto price for a middle-tier home.

On top of the savings from lower housing costs, a typical Silicon Valley tech worker will pay a California state income tax of about 10%. Nevada has no state income tax.

With his forecasting hat on, PG (along with people far more knowledgeable than he is) predicts that more and more employers will be willing to hire knowledge workers who want to work remotely now that Covid has demonstrated that it’s a viable business model.

Light Blogging Today

PG has decided that he is likely to descend into Covid-Craziness if he doesn’t get a little R&R, so blogging will be light today.

20 Greatest Fictional Female Detectives and Sleuths

From Blue Fairy Film Blog:

Jessica Fletcher

Jessica was played by Angela Lansbury on the CBS television show “Murder She Wrote” between 1984 and 1996, and was the ultimate detective. She wrote murder who-done-its by profession, but always seemed to stumble into murder investigations as well; whether while travelling extensively around the country, or at home in Cabot Cove, Maine. Widowed some years ago, Jessica has a cadre of friends, relatives, and acquaintances who keep her busy when she isn’t stopping murderers. Jessica is a great detective not only because she deduces clues based on happenstance and observation, but because she is a witty and interesting person with a penchant for the macabre.

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew is one of the most famous girl detectives, and for good reason. Nancy first appeared in 1930 in a series of mystery novels written by various people under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene. Since that initial series Nancy has been revamped various times for everything from seventies TV series to made-for-TV movies and modern book series. The version of the books I read as a little girl was the revised 1959 versions, bound in yellow with hand drawn covers. Nancy is a great detective, who often uncovers stolen objects or missing people with the help of her female friends Bess and George, her boyfriend Ned, or her father, Carson. She is headstrong, smart, and a major sleuth, making her an optimal role model for young girls.

. . . .

Dana Scully

The supernatural show “The X-Files” of course needed a skeptic to offset the obvious weirdness of aliens, shift-shapers, and in-bred murderous clans. Dana Scully saw everything as the partner of Mulder, and throughout she conducted herself with professionalism and skepticism. She solved some crimes and uncovered giant conspiracies as well. Scully remained the backbone of the show throughout its nine seasons, and subsequent movies, and showed that being an FBI agent is more than solving crimes, it’s opening your mind.

Link to the rest at Blue Fairy Film Blog

Why do we enjoy reading about female detectives?

From The Independent:

One of the questions I am asked most frequently at literary events is this: why have you chosen to write about women? This question, I suspect, is a familiar one for male authors who choose to have female protagonists in their books, and no doubt the answers they give are varied. My own answer focuses on the nature of the conversation that my female detectives have.

If that small office in Gaborone were to be home to two male detectives rather than two female sleuths, I imagine that the conversation would be much less interesting. This is not to say that men – and male detectives – do not talk about things that matter; it is just that they would be less likely to make the same observations that Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi make. Their conversation, in effect, would be less personal, less subjective – and less emotionally engaging. Of course any generalisations about the behaviour of men and women will give rise to accusations of gender stereotyping, but why deny that, for one reason or another, there are differences in the perspective that men and women have on the world? Certainly it would be an unobservant detective who failed to notice these.

Why do we so enjoy reading about female detectives? Part of the enjoyment, I suspect, lies in the satisfaction that we derive from seeing women, who have suffered so much from male arrogance and condescension, either outwitting men or demonstrating that they are just as capable as men of doing something that may have been seen as a male preserve. We live today in a society in which gender equality has been, to a very large extent, realised. At the time at which The Female Detective was written, in 1864, of course, things were very different. The relegation of women to a subservient position within society – a position in which they were outsiders to the male-dominated worlds of work and affairs – meant that for women to be involved in the investigation of crime was a novel thing. Today one might expect that novelty to have faded, as women do all the jobs previously monopolised by men. Yet the idea of the female detective as being special or unusual still persists in literary and cinematic treatments of criminal investigation. Why do we still think that female detectives are in some way special and make, for that reason, good reading?

The explanation probably has to do with gender stereotypes. At the time at which The Female Detective was written, these stereotypes would have had the force of established truth. Andrew Forrester’s novel was the first to feature a professional female detective, Miss Gladden, in British fiction. Middle-class women did not engage in what were seen as ‘”unladylike activities”. They were protected from the harsh realities of life; they were thought to be in regular need of smelling salts; they were assumed to have no interest in sex; there were many jobs that a woman simply could not be expected to do because they were viewed as unsuitable for finer female sensibilities. The idea of a woman being involved in the murkiness of criminal detection must have been radical and adventurous in Victorian times: women simply did not do that sort of thing. 

Link to the rest at The Independent

Women and Crime Writing: We’ve Always Been Detectives

From CrimeReads:

If you were worried that popular fiction for women has too often been about finding Mr. Right, well, that time is past. It’s now just as often about finding Mr. Prosecutable DNA Sample. But what looks like a change in genre and readership betrays a deeper, older current. For women, psychological thrillers and true crime have long been here. Maybe it’s time to look at how we’ve arrived at a place where we can talk openly about our interest in stories where we are so often the victim.

Readers look to novels for many things but finding those resolutions that elude us in real life is an important one. Sometimes we go to thrillers for protection, to read stories about being a victim as a way to reverse that, in our minds even if we can’t in reality. What we call thrillers for women in 2020 have their roots in female focused dramas of the 1930s, like the play and film Gas Light—which gave us the term—and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. These were stories about women who had to figure out the truth of their situations, often completely alone, to save their sanity. As critic Kat Ellinger points out, these stories in turn were inspired by Gothic literature of the 19th century, the first genre with mostly female readers and authors, which featured heroines who aren’t believed, and who are tormented by norms, the system of marriage, and their very homes. (In a somewhat accidental tribute, those elements crept into the background of my novel Little Threats: as girls my protagonists act out scenes from Jane Eyre; and the setting over the decades is a family house that the characters are psychologically oppressed by—in this case a McMansion.)

In those classic stories the women had to rely on intuition and whispers, while in the new millennium the tech giants have given us free investigatory and surveillance tools that The Second Mrs. de Winter could only dream of. I still remember the generational unease I felt when a younger friend told me how proud she was that she no longer kept Google alerts for an ex-boyfriend. I don’t need to point out that tech has kept the most effective of those tools for themselves, though it is interesting that Amazon and Apple chose feminine names, like Alexa and Siri, for their home-embedded detectives. It’s also no wonder that by 2012’s Gone Girl, the Gothic heroine was upgraded to having Terminator-like focus and skills. By presenting a paranoid male fantasy as fact—“Can you believe my jealous wife is framing me for her murder?”—Gillian Flynn brilliantly devised a female revenge narrative that turned the gaslighting of the Scott Petersons of the world around, and cranked it into a flamethrower.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

PG notes Dame Agatha published her first Poirot mystery 100 years ago and her first Marple mystery 90 years ago.

However, a bit of research discloses:

The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester was published in 1864 and its serial adventures feature Mrs Gladden, an undercover police agent – women were not formally recruited to London’s Metropolitan Police until 1923 – who employs subterfuge and logical deduction. Revelations of a Lady Detective by William Stephens Hayward followed a few months later and features the even racier Mrs Paschal, who smokes, carries a revolver and discards her crinoline to go down a sewer, but also shows the sort of clinical reasoning that Sherlock Holmes would display decades later. Mr Bazalgette’s Agent by Leonard Merrick appeared in 1888 and can claim to be the first British novel featuring a female detective rather than a collection of serial adventures.

Readers want academic expertise

From The Bookseller:

In May of this year, SAGE publishing took a step that was part gamble, part experiment. As discussions over lockdown policies dominated the global conversation, Professor Stephen Reicher emerged as one of the most authoritative voices in the field, through his work with the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (or as we call it, ‘the other SAGE’). Reicher was a contributor to Together Apart: The Psychology of Covid-19, a book we had originally scheduled for publication in October. 

We took the decision to release a free, uncorrected proof of the book on the community site, Social Science Space, with the aim of prioritising the public’s need to know the facts, where politics so often seeks to camouflage and obscure. To date, the manuscript has been accessed over 48,000 times.

The widespread take up of an academic publication was gratifying, but it confirmed what we’d suspected at SAGE: in an age of memes and misinformation, there’s a huge countering hunger for books that are serious, in-depth and written and produced by, yes, experts.

In recent years trade publishers have seen massive success with the likes of Yuval Noah Hariri’s Sapiens, Tim Harford’s How to Make the World Add Up, and Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women. These are serious books tackling big systemic issues and drawing on academic expertise. 

It is thought in some circles that accessible, trade publishing and academic rigour don’t mix: in academic publishing, there is a wariness of the “X changed the world” (Cod; Christianity, Spanish Flu); academia can be seen by trade publishers as narrowly focused, overcomplicated and, as a result, lacking in commerciality. 

But there is no real reason why complexity should be sacrificed to accessibility. 

. . . .

Academic expertise has rarely been so important or so devalued as it is today. The world’s leading experts on the most pressing issues of our time are often overlooked, or thought of as hidden in journals and academic studies. 

Now is the time for publishers to do their bit to surface research and expertise that can explain, define and even change society for the better. We must take seriously our role in fighting misinformation and not under-estimate the public’s appetite for well-researched, grounded content. Crucially, we must seek and amplify diverse voices, so that we can understand the nuances of society from all angles and viewpoints. 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG will be happy to read any thoughts visitors to TPV care to share.

However, PG’s initial response to the idea described OP was not terribly positive.

In PG’s perception, at least in the United States, over the past few decades, academics seem to have become more and more of a political monoculture.

This might not be important if, also over the past few decades, almost everything has become political.

For example, some books, essays, etc., that were once considered to be provocative have, at least in some academic settings, become verboten. Some commonly-used terms and phrases of 50 years ago are now racist, sexist or some other type of -ist.

If something or someone (dead or alive) becomes any type of -ist, that person, book, theory, idea, poem, song, etc., must not only condemned, but removed – if not destroyed, it must be hidden away where, like a cobra, it can only be approached by trained experts in protective clothing.

As one example, PG will mention a poem, The Congo, subtitled A Study of the Negro Race, by Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931).

PG read/performed The Congo for a class assignment during the Bronze Age. He recalls including in his introduction a note that Lindsay was a man of his time and used terms that were common when he lived, but not regarded as acceptable any more.

The first words of The Congo, in a section Lindsay titled, I. Their Basic Savagery, will provide a sense of some of the language Lindsay used:

Fat Black Bucks in a wine-barrel room

The poem elaborates on this theme in America, then changes locations to Africa, The Congo, to be specific and depicts a primitive and violent culture.

The third section of the poem – III. The Hope of Their Religion – begins with a depiction of an African-American Christian minister calling his congregation to repentance, urging them to change from their evil and unchristian ways.

The scene then changes back to a vision of the Congo and depicts the influence of Christianity on its people:

And the gray sky opened like a new-rent veil
And showed the apostles with their coats of mail.

The vision expands further, describing a wonderful and redemptive change among the former savages:

Then along that river-bank, a thousand miles,
The vine-snared trees fell down in files.
Pioneer angels cleared the way
For a Congo paradise, for babes at play,
For sacred capitals, for temples clean.
Gone were the skull-faced witch-men lean.
There, where the wild ghost-gods had wailed
A million boats of the angels sailed
With oars of silver, and prows of blue
And silken pennants that the sun shone through.
‘Twas a land transfigured, ’twas a new creation,
Oh, a singing wind swept the Negro nation;

PG thinks he has a good idea of what would happen to him today if he performed the same poem for a classroom full of college students and a professor who had fainted shortly after the beginning of the performance.

So what do we do with what was, in its time, an enlightened literary depiction of the possibilities a white man foresaw for an African-American population in the United States that had been freed from slavery, but were still regarded by many as a sub-human race?

From a history-of-American-poetry perspective, Lindsay was also was one of the first writers who wrote singing poetry, poetry meant to be sung or chanted. Ironically, singing poetry, sometimes called praise song, is one of the most common forms of poetry in Sub-Saharan Africa and often includes a religious theme.

PG has included three videos, one, a very old recording of Vachel Lindsay performing The Congo (it’s 5 minutes plus long, but you’ll get the idea pretty quickly) and two short videos of the performance of modern African praise poets.

Guest Bloggers on TPV?

From time to time, PG receives emails from people who would like to write a guest blog post for TPV.

Typically, he politely declines.

However, as regular visitors will note, PG has been finding a lot of interesting items on Jane Friedman’s blog lately and they’ve been written by guest bloggers instead of Ms. Friedman, who also writes excellent posts herself.

PG’s inimitable blogging style – usually sharing excerpts from interesting items he thinks might be helpful for authors and other highly-intelligent persons that PG finds as he wanders around the web – demands less of PG’s time than if PG were to write items of similar length and breadth himself (although PG was the fastest typist in his high school typing class [Unfortunately, he doesn’t think he still has the certificate attesting thereto.] and, yes, young people, he did so with a typewriter, hence his life-long persnicketyness about keyboards).

So, for the first time in several years, is PG wrong about something?

Should he accept requests for guest blogs from people who seem to be intelligent? (He would read the submissions before posting to make certain they seemed like something that would interest many or all of those who visit here regularly.)

Feel free to share your opinions in the comments.

The Digital Reader

It has been some time since PG has mentioned The Digital Reader.

It’s a great source of information of all sorts for indie authors.

The proprietor, Nate Hoffelder, has a great blog that covers a wide range of matters in the ebook world, including what’s new, the latest info from Amazon and Kobo, the dying gasps of Nook, etc., and valuable suggestions for indie authors.

5 Ways To Sell Your Book On Your Own Author Website

From Kindlepreneur:

You’ve been working hard to put your ebook together. Every last detail is fine-tuned, from the editing to the formatting.

Now, the only thing left to do is get it out there to your audience.

Except… what’s the best way to sell your ebook?

One option is offering your book on your own website, and I’m about to show you exactly how to do that!

. . . .

Selling ebooks directly from your own site comes with several advantages.

The biggest is you get to keep your profits.

Sure, most marketplaces have a built-in audience, which may help you sell to more customers, but they also take a portion of your royalties (between 65 and 30% per sale).

The other benefit of selling your ebooks directly to your customers is you can manage your customer relationship and customer experience from A to Z, which can help you differentiate your book from competitors.

. . . .

Option #1 Podia

Podia is an all-in-one platform that lets you manage, create, and sell your ebooks and digital products in one place.

Other features include email marketing, a site builder, a product page builder, a landing page builder, and the ability to sell online courses, digital downloads, webinars, and memberships. You can even provide an excellent user experience by using the proprietary built-in live chat tool.

  • How to implement Podia: To sell ebooks from your own author website, you simply log into your Podia dashboard and upload your ebook under the “Products” tab. Then, price your ebook and sync up to PayPal or Stripe payment gates. You can create and manage sales pages and product pages from the same streamlined dashboard and sell your ebooks directly to your customers — without any coding. If you have your own site already built, just add a product page and/or sales page to your site to start selling your ebook. If you don’t have a site yet, use the homepage builder in the dashboard editor to arrange your site’s content.
  • Pricing: Pricing ranges from $39 monthly for the Mover plan and $79 monthly for the Shaker plan.
  • Who Podia is best for: For authors who want to sell ebooks or any other digital product directly from their site and get a bunch of other features in the process.

If you like the idea of elements of your site being pre-built for you — but not everything — you’ll want to explore our next option.

Link to the rest at Kindlepreneur and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

On the Brink of a Nervous Breakdown

For visitors to TPV from outside of the United States, a great many people in the US are displaying characteristics indicating high stress levels due to the current election for the Presidency.

PG is, of course, as placid as a summer stream.

However, so far as PG has observed, a great many commentators on the book biz and writing in general appear to be in a state of suspended animation, looking at their televisions/smartphones/tablets, etc., or, perhaps anxiety-texting, so PG has not found much new content of interest to authors so far today.

He’ll do further looking from blogs operated by people who live outside of the US to see if he is able to unearth anything.

In the meantime, a bit of Rolling Stones.

Can You Care for Others Without Destroying Yourself?

From Electric Lit:

Women providing care––and the ways in which care can be made murky by expectations related to gender, religion, and tied unfairly at times to a means of proving love—is a significant theme in Lynn Coady’s latest novel, Watching You Without Me.

After Karen’s mother Irene passes away, Karen returns to her childhood home in order to process the complicated relationship she had with her mother, sift through the detritus of her former life, and make decisions about how best to support her sister Kelli, who is disabled. These reckonings lead to questions, both for Karen and the reader: How much can –– and should –– we care for others without losing ourselves in the process? What happens when caregivers burn out? What lines can and should exist between caregivers and the people they care for, and what harms are caused when these lines are blurred? 

In our current climate, one in which women are shouldering childcare duties while also attempting to maintain work (spoiler: it’s impossible), and parents are being told they are no longer allowed to care for children at home while they work (a policy arguably disproportionately affecting women), Coady’s book, one unapologetically written about women’s lives, for women, serves both as a balm and guide. And while the characters do grapple with significant issues related to self-preservation and complicated familial relationships, there’s also a compelling note of tension that rises to crescendo, rendering this a deliciously layered read.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG will limit himself to two comments:

  1. Any employer which has the gall to prohibit a mother or father, aunt, uncle, etc., from watching children who otherwise might be poorly-tended while working at home during something like the Covid Pandemic should suffer public shaming and, perhaps, the employee who made such a decision should also be identified and disdained to the max.
  2. The answer to the OP’s title – Can You Care for Others Without Destroying Yourself? – is, of course, yes.

People have been doing this for as long as children and aged relatives have existed. No reasonable person would contend that it’s easy and, perhaps, some people don’t have the necessary physical, mental and emotional stamina to do this sort of thing, but, without a doubt, it can be done without destroying oneself.

Indeed, more than a few caregivers have found the task to be highly rewarding. There is a bond that forms when one person serves another’s needs over an extended period of time that may not be entirely replicable in other contexts.

The following is but one of many, many expressions of that bond:

Love is not about what I am going to get, but what I am going to give. People make a mistake in thinking that you give to those whom you love, the real answer is, you love those to whom you give.

– Abraham Twerski

The Discovery of a Rare Pink Diamond

From CrimeReads:

A pink diamond is a key into the human heart, where it unlocks the store of delight, love, treachery, and greed that distinguishes us from other animals. I’m a sucker for a pink.

When I lived in London I would go blocks out of my way to check out Laurence Graff’s window in New Bond Street. There they’d be, at least one or two tiny pink stones twinkling away behind the thick glass with stupefying price tags. They looked so delicate—as if someone had leaned in and puffed a mist of pale-pink air into the heart of the jewel. But they’re not delicate. They’re stone-cold crazy. When I decided to switch from reportage to fiction, of course that’s where I’d start.

I knew a pair of South Africans who ran a barge on the Chicapa River in northeastern Angola during the civil war. They suctioned up the diamond-rich gravels by day and traded rocket fire with rebel guerrillas by night. One day in 1995 they hoovered up a 24-carat pink. They chartered a Learjet and took it straight to Johannesburg and sold it on the Bourse for $4.8 million. The buyer flipped it in New York for $10 million and the stone got polished into matching pears that were promptly sold, according to the street, to the Sultan of Brunei’s bother. He paid $20 million. If he’s ever short of cash, he’s in luck. He could flog them now for a quarter of a million dollars a carat. Better than owning shares in Google!

And for what? Nobody’s even sure what makes them pink. The color doesn’t come from the presence of trace minerals, like the boron that turns a diamond blue. Instead, some deformation of the crystal lattice happens while the stone is riding up from the depths in the kind of volcano called a diamond pipe. That imperfection can make a diamond pink. But, boy—not often.

So rare are pinks that the discovery of a big one galvanizes the whole diamond world, and when an 81-carater plonked onto the sorting screen of a barge on one of Brazil’s great diamond rivers—people, I booked my ticket.

I flew overnight to São Paulo and caught the connector to Belo Horizonte. In Belo, an Australian mining engineer named Steve Fabian picked me up. Steve ran a small mining company called Black Swan that had some diamond properties. Black Swan had bought a piece of the pink, and Steve had convinced his partners to let me see it.

We drove out into the beautiful countryside of Minas Gerais. Brazil was once the world’s leading diamond producer. Although its glory days are past, diamond people still love the place. Who wouldn’t? Brazil’s diamond rivers have coughed up eye-popping jewels. Just take the Rio Abate, where the pink I was going to see had been found. Pinks weighing 275 carats and 120 carats have come out of its muddy waters.

When Steve and I got to Patos de Minas, he called his partners, the Campos brothers, to tell them we’d arrived. They gave him a street corner where we were to wait. “They’re going to check you out,” Steve said. We stood outside the car and waited. It was the youngest brother, Geraldo, who finally arrived.

He was a fit, athletic-looking man in his early thirties. He wore the soccer jersey of the local team, faded jeans and immaculate Adidas running shoes. We chatted for a minute, he decided I wasn’t a bandit, and we drove to a three-story apartment building and climbed to the top floor, where Gisnei, the middle brother waited. Gisnei sat down beside me, peered meaningfully at my open notebook, and told me how it was going to be.

“Put down that Gilmar saw it first,” Gisnei told me, identifying the oldest brother. “Put down that Gilmar got to the Abaete first, and was the first to see the stone.”

In fact Geraldo got there first. He got out of his car and the men handed him the stone. He took out his loupe and studied it, then looked away to clear his head, took a deep breath and looked again. “I felt great emotion,” he said, “my feelings were very great.” When Gilmar, the senior brother, arrived, Geraldo handed him the stone. Gilmar, a hard man in his forties, took one look and began to cry. When the pink arrived at the apartment that day in Patos, I could understand why.

It was a knockout—strong color and cuttable shape. It had the frosted skin that river stones get from being rolled around in the rocks for a million years. But there was a great view into the interior. The brothers had polished off an unsightly protuberance on the edge, making a clean window into the stone.

. . . .

Diamond lore is full of stories of a cutter making his way through a pink when, suddenly, as if the diamond thought it had endured enough, the color faded from strong to faint, draining tens of thousands of dollars a carat from the stone before the cutter’s eyes. Steve arranged for a London expert to rate the cutting options. He thought it would remain a strong ink, and said their bottom price should be $130,000 a carat.

Sadly for me, the stone disappeared, a common fate for a multimillion-dollar liquid asset that doesn’t leave a banking trail. No one would tell me who had bought it or how much they’d paid. I dogged the rumor trail to a Hong Kong construction company, but after a few emails they slammed the door and I never heard another word until last year, when a thirty-carat intense pink polished diamond showed up in Los Angeles at a gem show at the natural history museum.

The curator of gems there wrote to ask if I thought the pink in his exhibition might have come from the Brazilian pink. The lender, he said, was uncertain of its provenance.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

How to Dress for the Apocalypse

From The Wall Street Journal:

Most apocalyptic movies play out like this: First humanity falls, then the sweaters get torn. OK, maybe it’s not quite that simple. But in nearly every catastrophic film of the past few decades—from 1997’s corny clunker “The Postman” to 1999’s hallowed chronicle “The Matrix,” to the sorta-schmaltzy, sorta-stirring “Hunger Games” trilogy (2012-2015)—hole-ridden, wholly beaten-up sweaters have served as the foundation for the character’s costumes.

“It almost makes you laugh,” said Nancy Deihl, director of the Costume Studies program at New York University’s Steinhardt School, of the tattered-knit trope. Though the pandemic has delayed many movies’ release dates, distressed clothes continue to punctuate the apocalyptic epics that have reached cinemas or are on deck. In the South Korean zombie-apocalypse film “Peninsula,” which came out in America this August, the characters battle the undead in threadbare sweaters, coats and shirts. In the trailer for “A Quiet Place Part II,” which is now slated to hit theaters next April, the knits remain intact (if in need of a good wash) but the T-shirt Cillian Murphy’s character wears is sufficiently sliced.

. . . .

The urge to shred has even begun to bleed over into the costume design for movies and TV shows that only glancingly concern the end-of-days. If you see a distressed sweater in any drama, it unmistakably signals misfortune. In the recently released HBO miniseries “The Third Day,” the drab, downtrodden sweater that Sam (Jude Law) wears as he explores an eerie British island is a dead giveaway that his journey will end tragically.

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

PG notes that there are a great many images that may provide some fashion clues about how one should dress for The Apocolypse (or maybe, An Apocolypse if it’s worthy of a TV seriesss).

“Death on the Pale Horse,” painted by the American artist Benjamin West in 1796
Karl Briullov: The Last Day of Pompeii, 1830-1833
John Martin: The Fall of Babylon, a mezzotint with etching, 1831
Allegory of the Apocalypse is a painting by Joseph Heintz the Younger c.1600-1678
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Arturo Souto, 1937 via Wikimedia Commons,  
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

If you’ve made it this far, PG suggests a couple of contemporary fashion accessories for the, an, the 2020, etc., Apocalypse.

Choose whichever suits your whims.

Amazon Literary Partnership Opens for 2021 Submissions

From Publishing Perspectives:

In May, as you’ll recall, we announced that the Amazon Literary Partnership program of grants had announced more than US$1 million in funding to a total 66 nonprofit organizations.

That program has now opened its application submissions process for its 2021 grants.

“As in previous years,” organizers of the program write, the effort is “to fund organizations working to champion diverse, marginalized, and unrepresented authors and storytellers.

“Supporting [recipients] with more than US$13 million in grant funding since the Amazon Literary Partnership began in 2009, our previous grant recipients represent institutions large and small, national and local, and include nonprofit writing centers, residencies, fellowships, after-school classes, literary magazines, national organizations supporting storytelling and free speech, and internationally acclaimed publishers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

“We are excited to work again with the Academy of American Poets for our Poetry Fund, as well as the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) for our Literary Magazine Fund.”

. . . .

In announcing the 2020 awards in May, the current director of the program, Alexandra Woodworth, said, “Given the impact that COVID-19 has had on the literary community, we’re proud to continue to fund these remarkable organizations sustaining literary culture in our communities now and for the future.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

It’s so frustrating to some when Amazon fails to act like a villain.

PG will keep his eyes open for similar announcements from Random House, Macmillan, etc.

Let’s Polarize Together

From Public Books:

We may have only one world, but life unfolds in many layers. A good way to understand our multitiered reality is through three seemingly unconnected cases: the flightless birds of the Aldabra atoll in the Indian Ocean; the inhabitants of China Miéville’s science-fiction classic The City & The City, whom we might call “the people & the people”; and, drawn from my own work, the world-dominating tech giants known as net states.

. . . .

There’s this bird, the white-throated rail. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, a bunch of them flew the 260 miles from their home in Madagascar to the coral atoll Aldabra, part of the Seychelles. The island had a lot to offer, including—most importantly, for the birds—no predators. Absent major threats, the Aldabran white-throated rail evolved to become flightless.

Then, two events occurred. First, about 136,000 years ago, a massive flood hit the islands of Aldabra. The Aldabran white-throated rail was wiped out; these flightless birds became extinct. However, as time passed, the atoll eventually resurfaced. And a new crop of Madagascan white-throated rails, for whatever reason, once again made the epic trek to Aldabra, resettling into a threat-free existence. And once again, without any predators to worry about, the new batch of Aldabran rails also evolved to be flightless.

This matters, because birds are sort of known for their ability to fly. Flight is, I would argue, their defining characteristic. The conditions of the Aldabra atoll—an expanse of 60 square miles stretched out across 46 islands, with no predatory creatures save, today, its 12 or so (nominally peaceful) human researchers—had the same effect on the same species of bird, twice: the loss of their most significant power, flight.

This raises the question: In the same situation—facing the same, threatless opportunity—how would humans evolve? What, indeed, is our most defining characteristic, our most significant power? What would we lose, if we had nothing to struggle against?

The answer may be found, as so many are, in science fiction. Specifically, Miéville’s award-winning 2009 novel, The City & The City. In this book, reality is wholly defined by what people choose to see or to actively not see. Two cities share exactly the same physical space, their inhabitants adapting to the same physical environment. However, the people of the two cities live entirely separate lives.

For the two cities’ residents, existence is perilously maintained. They’re only free to go about their lives so long as they rigorously maintain their governments’ requirements to literally only see their own cities’ people, places, and things—despite sharing the same streets and shops and air and space. So, they learn to see only what they are allowed to see, becoming so expert at the act that they eventually lose their ability to see anything else.

Like the white-throated rails, these two groups of people adapt to their surroundings. Separate from one another yet molded by the same environmental conditions, the people & the people wind up at separate but parallel inglorious ends: partial but consistent blindness.

Link to the rest at Public Books

FWIW, PG read The City & The City some time ago and found it interesting and and engaging. Like more than one science fiction (and fantasy) novel, China Miéville creates an engaging thought experiment and drops an interesting character or two into the middle of it.

However, for PG, it was well-written fiction, not a likely future for any world PG expects he or his offspring will inhabit.

For PG, the OP is a certain style of essay that begins with the author’s feelings or concerns which are then compared and contrasted with the situation in which fictitious characters are involved in a novel.

This genre often continues into a comparison of the way the essayist feels about one or more things that are happening to them or that they are thinking and imagines the extension of those perceptions and feelings into some sort of future existence, almost invariably novelish and dystopian in character.

Perhaps PG is particularly world-weary today, but that essay style seems quite predictable to him and he often perceives a bit of “poor me” or “poor us” in the author’s motivations.

PG is jaded about a number of things and, perhaps, is treating the OP more harshly than it deserves. However, as mentioned, he’s a bit tired of this class of self-expression because he has read so many lately.

Covid and its accompanying political reactions and counter-reactions seem to be a fertile breeding ground for projections of an author’s feelings onto a dark future for the world and every intelligent being inhabiting it.

Unfortunately, history amply records that horrible things happen to humanity from time to time. Some are less bad, some are bad and some are very bad. Covid is certainly not as great a tragedy as the wars of the 20th century or its plagues.

An estimated 20 million people died in World War I. World War II killed an estimated 70–85 million people.

The Spanish Flu infected approximately 1/3 of the world’s population and killed an estimated 50 million people in 1918, far more deaths than were caused by World War I — at the time, the greatest and most destructive war ever fought (at least between Western nations).

There are still an estimated 21 million cases of Typhoid fever and 200,000 deaths worldwide each year. AIDS/HIV, the cause of which was discovered in 1983, has killed an estimated 25–40 million people world-wide.

Without minimizing the suffering, deaths and disrupted lives involved with Covid (currently 1.8 million deaths world-wide according to internet numbers), the first twenty years of the 21st Century have been a walk in the park compared to the first twenty years of the 20th Century.

Perhaps PG is too much of an optimist, but he thinks we’ll come through Covid (and the US Presidential election which is its own bundle of insanity and dementia) in good shape, notwithstanding current concerns.

Humankind has survived and thrived through much worse times than those in which we are living at the moment.

A Guide to Conquering Your Demons with 5 Mathematical Sci-Fi Books

From Book Riot:

Mathematical science fiction books use mathematics in world-building to advance the plot and build characters. Building on Clarke’s three laws, Mathematical Fiction allows readers to discover the appeal of solvable questions. The right math can solve any problem, outsmart any foe, or conquer any demon. STEM fields that may not interest readers in real life become fascinating in fiction. I’m a math novice at best, but I always love it when mathematics explains impossible feats of heroism in sci-fi. I have compiled an action-packed list filled with suspense, romance, and silliness as well as advanced mathematics.

. . . .

The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

Welcome readers, to a little romantic locked room mystery novella from the dual perspectives of Trinity Jordan and Li Wei. Trinity is a self-proclaimed homebody recovering from an accident that took away her old life. Meanwhile, in the apartment across the hall, Li Wei is relearning what it means to be an almost-human A.I. unit. He uses statistical analysis and observation to acclimate to his new environment, developing a fascination for his gorgeous neighbor Trinity. With the help of Trinity’s friends, Li’s aunt, and Penny, a particularly capable Home A.I. Personal Assistant, they remember the truth. The feeling of wrongness is always on the tip of your tongue, just waiting for you to taste the rancid foundation Trinity and Li’s safety is built on. This Mathematical Sci-Fi novella is very boy-next-door meets Skynet and I love it.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

As someone who took just enough math to get a respectable SAT Math score, then stopped forever, Mathematical Sci-Fi sounds a bit intimidating, but perhaps PG needs to give it a try.

He can’t rule out the possibility that math has changed since the invention of the decimal point.

Neofeudalism: The End of Capitalism?

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:


IN CAPITAL IS DEAD, McKenzie Wark asks: What if we’re not in capitalism anymore but something worse? The question is provocative, sacrilegious, unsettling as it forces anti-capitalists to confront an unacknowledged attachment to capitalism. Communism was supposed to come after capitalism and it’s not here, so doesn’t that mean we are still in capitalism? Left unquestioned, this assumption hinders political analysis. If we’ve rejected strict historical determinism, we should be able to consider the possibility that capitalism has mutated into something qualitatively different. Wark’s question invites a thought experiment: what tendencies in the present indicate that capitalism is transforming itself into something worse?

Over the past decade, “neofeudalism” has emerged to name tendencies associated with extreme inequality, generalized precarity, monopoly power, and changes at the level of the state. Drawing from libertarian economist Tyler Cowen’s emphasis on the permanence of extreme inequality in the global, automated economy, the conservative geographer Joel Kotkin envisions the US future as mass serfdom. A property-less underclass will survive by servicing the needs of high earners as personal assistants, trainers, child-minders, cooks, cleaners, et cetera. The only way to avoid this neofeudal nightmare is by subsidizing and deregulating the high-employment industries that make the American lifestyle of suburban home ownership and the open road possible — construction and real estate; oil, gas, and automobiles; and corporate agribusiness. Unlike the specter of serfdom haunting Friedrich Hayek’s attack on socialism, Kotkin locates the adversary within capitalism. High tech, finance, and globalization are creating “a new social order that in some ways more closely resembles feudal structure — with its often unassailable barriers to mobility — than the chaotic emergence of industrial capitalism.” In this libertarian/conservative imaginary, feudalism occupies the place of the enemy formerly held by communism. The threat of centralization and the threat to private property are the ideological elements that remain the same.

A number of technology commentators share the libertarian/conservative critique of technology’s role in contemporary feudalization even as they don’t embrace fossil fuels and suburbia. Already in 2010, in his influential book, You Are Not a Gadget, tech guru Jaron Lanier observed the emergence of peasants and lords of the internet. This theme has increased in prominence as a handful of tech companies have become ever richer and more extractive, turning their owners into billionaires on the basis of the cheap labor of their workers, the free labor of their users, and the tax breaks bestowed on them by cities desperate to attract jobs. Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet (the parent company name for Google) together are worth more than most every country in the world (except the United States, China, Germany, and Japan). The economic scale and impact of these tech super giants, or, overlords, is greater than that of most so-called sovereign states. Evgeny Morozov describes their dominance as a “hyper-modern form of feudalism.”

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG will remind one and all that he does not necessarily agree with everything he posts here.

He hopes this is not happening at a lot of other places around the world, but large portions of urban America appear to have fallen into an endless Doom/Gloom cycle, sort of a Doom/Gloom wallow.

PG will note that, when he prepared this post yesterday, the book mentioned in the OP had an Amazon Sales Rank of #143,149 in Kindle Store. The LARB article is dated May 12, 2020, so whatever sales bump the book received from the review apparently didn’t last very long.

Even though the title of the book implies that capitalism is dead, apparently the publisher and author had no problem offering it for sale through an enterprise that is one of the greatest capitalist successes of the last twenty years. Maybe Amazon is on the brink of collapse, but PG wouldn’t bet on that.

(PG was going to put this post in the Non-Fiction category, but decided not to do so.)

Penney Dreadfuls & Murder Broadsides

From I Love Typography:

[A] new kind of serialized fiction . . . first appeared in London in the 1830s. It wasn’t Charles Dickens or Mary Shelley but it was cheap — only a penny — easy to read, entertaining, and extraordinarily popular.

. . . .

The emergence of the penny dreadful in England coincided with improved literacy. Nationwide educational reforms launched in the 1830s aimed to eventually provide universal, free, and compulsory state-funded education. In England, when printing was introduced in the 1470s, literacy was likely under 10%. By the 1830s, literacy rates were about 66% and 50% for men and women, respectively. By 1900 the literacy rate had risen to 97%. What’s more, in the nineteenth century there was sustained and unprecedented population growth. In England, between 1800 and 1850 the population doubled; it then doubled again between 1850 and 1900! That growth was accompanied by a marked demographic shift: already by the 1820s almost half of the UK’s population was under 20! Not only did the period mark an almost exponential increase in mass-produced and cheap print, on scales inconceivable prior to the Industrial Revolution, but it found a global mass market of readers — an increasingly large number of whom were young and literate. It’s in this environment that the penny dreadful made its debut.

. . . .

Before the nineteenth century, there wasn’t much in the way of fun and entertaining reading material for children. In fact, children’s literature as a genre was a pretty late starter, only getting off the ground in the eighteenth century, and even then it was usually didactic, pious, and moralizing — not particularly fun. The first children’s periodical, The Lilliputian Magazine, published by John Newbery, didn’t appear until 1751. By the late 1790s, Churches and religious organizations had begun to publish children’s periodicals and Sunday School magazines, but again they were rather stuffy and conservative, not really the kind of thing that children were excited to read. But that was about to change.

. . . .

In summing up the nineteenth-century ‘reading revolution’, historian Dr Mary Hammond writes: ‘The period 1830–1914 saw some of the greatest changes in readerships and the types and availability of reading material ever experienced in the Western world.’* By the start of that period, serialized fiction was already becoming hugely popular. It’s how Charles Dickens got his start with the serialization of The Pickwick Papers in 1836–37. But most early serialized fiction was intended for adult readers. What’s more, although books were now cheaper than they’d ever been, they were still beyond a working child’s meagre wages; for example, The Pickwick Papers was published in twenty 32-page installments, but at 5 shillings (1 shilling = 12 pennies) per installment, it was far too expensive for most working class adults, let alone children.

. . . .

Enter the penny dreadful, typically eight or sixteen pages, printed on cheap paper, taking its serialized story cues from gothic thrillers of the previous century. Most of the stories are now forgotten, but one notable exception is everyone’s favorite homicidal barber, Sweeney Todd. Before he appeared in the pages of a book, he was butchering his victims and selling their remains as meat pies next door in a penny dreadful serial, ‘The String of Pearls: A Romance’, published in The People’s Periodical in 1846.

Link to the rest at I Love Typography

There are lots of images taken from Penney Dreadfuls at the OP.

Here’s a page from Sweeney Todd from Wikipedia:

via Wikipedia

As the Vote Nears: High Season for US Political Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

How can we have published so many books about a man who doesn’t read them? Before you can even begin to sort that out, another such title will land. David Rothkopf’s Traitor: A History of American Betrayal from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump is being released Tuesday (October 27) by Macmillan’s Thomas Dunne Books, exactly one week to the feverishly awaited November 3 United States general election.

Was there ever a better moment for bicycle mobile libraries like the ones spotted sometimes in Europe? Polling-place regulations and COVID-19 precautions allowing, they could pedal around this week’s long queues of America’s early voters, offering pertinent reading options to these resolute patriots as they wait for hours to vote in their record-smashing numbers.

The Rothkopf book arrives with particularly strong endorsements. David Frum (author of HarperCollins’ Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy from May) commends Rothkopf’s “elegantly controlled fury” and “scorching accusation.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

For those visitors to TPV from outside the United States, PG doesn’t remember a presidential election season which felt like it dragged on for as long as the present one.

PG also suspects that if “None of the Above” were an option on the presidential ballot, it might win.

Regarding the OP, is there anyone in the US who is clamoring for bicycle mobile libraries? Particularly if they are filled with books about current political topics?

The old man

The old man was dreaming about the lions.

The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

What book has the most disappointing ending?

From The Washington Post:

The novel I’m reading has a terrible ending. But I’ll never tell you its title.

Such is the necessary restraint of a book reviewer — or at least a courteous one.

I go back and forth about the propriety of burying my appraisal of a book’s conclusion. After all, so much of how we feel about a novel depends on how the novel ends. But there’s really no way to critique a story’s ending without giving it away, which, according to my mail, is the single most irritating thing a reviewer can do. So, week after week, I bite my tongue, withholding whatever I might think about finales.

I know other critics — great critics — don’t share my reticence. This summer, in the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Winkler started her review of Maggie O’Farrell’s “Hamnet” by summarizing the final scene, a maneuver so brazen that my eyebrows still rise when I think of it. And James Wood, the Great Spoiler himself, once splayed out the whole conclusion of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” — complete with suspense-squashing quotations.

. . . .

But as much as readers don’t want reviewers commenting on endings, they definitely like to comment on endings themselves. Whenever conversation turns to books, the single most common statement I hear from friends is: “Yeah, but I didn’t like the ending.” I give a pained smile and change the subject.

. . . .

Last month, the online retailer OnBuy.com sifted through reviews on Goodreads to identify the Books With the Most Disappointing Endings. The methodology — searching comments for “ending” and variations of the word “disappointing” — feels a bit dubious, but the list is an irresistible walk down memory lane.

According to OnBuy’s final tally, British writers are particularly disappointing. That hack William Shakespeare wrote the worst finale of all time. In the immortal words of Bart Simpson’s friend Milhouse: “How could this have happened? We started out like Romeo and Juliet, but instead it ended in tragedy.” Booker winner Ian McEwan came in at a shameful No. 2. (For the record, I think “Atonement,” including its mind-blowing conclusion, is brilliant.) And gazillionaire writer J.K. Rowling magically takes two spots.

. . . .

Here’s OnBuy’s list of the Top 12 Most Disappointing Endings:

  1. “Romeo and Juliet,” by William Shakespeare.
  2. “Atonement,” by Ian McEwan.
  3. “Requiem,” by Lauren Oliver.
  4. “The Sweet Far Thing,” by Libba Bray.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

For the record, PG thinks the ending of Romeo and Juliet is excellent — unexpected and heart-rending.

Shakespeare had some clichés in his plays (almost everyone else does, as well), but a happy ending for the star-crossed lovers would have been too pat and predictable.

With the world on fire, climate fiction no longer looks like fantasy

From Grist:

The tops of houses poke above the waves. The desert has crept into fields, turning corn dry and brittle. Firestorms ravage entire towns, turning homes into charred, ashy remains.

You don’t have to read a novel to picture what climate change looks like anymore — you only have to read the news. But there’s new evidence that reading fiction about our overheating planet might make it feel more real, sort of like how watching a horror movie makes you scared of the basement for a while.

Authors have been imagining what a warmer world would look like ever since climate scientists first made their concerns about greenhouse gases known. But in recent years, climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” has really exploded. With contributions from celebrated authors like Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Amitav Ghosh, Cormac McCarthy, and Kim Stanley Robinson, it has left the realm of sci-fi, a reflection of how climate change has moved from speculation to touch every facet of our lives.

. . . .

“I think we’re close to the point where literature that doesn’t include climate change, in some way, shape, or form, just isn’t reflecting the reality that we inhabit,” said Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, an assistant professor of social sciences at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

A first-of-its-kind experiment published last month found that reading a short story about climate change makes people more worried about the crisis — even if the effect doesn’t last long. The study, led by Schneider-Mayerson, surveyed Americans who were interested in reading fiction and moderately concerned about the climate crisis. In the experiment, participants read short stories online and were then subjected to questions about climate change.

Link to the rest at Grist

During the ongoing months of The Year of Covid, PG wonders what the market is like for books that make readers more worried.

Of course, if you’re vaguely worried about the invasion of earth by space aliens (presidential candidates not included), books about that topic might sell well, but climate change may be something else.

However, as usual, PG could be completely wrong about this category of books.

A Sales Rep With No Regrets

From Publishers Weekly:

The year was 1978. I had just graduated from high school and was eager to begin the next chapter of my life. I was always interested in becoming a police officer, so I began the process. Law enforcement personnel came to my home to meet with me and my parents. It was a great meeting. Unfortunately, the meeting ended with them measuring my height. Apparently there was a height requirement. I failed because I was too short.

My mother suggested I further my education, so I registered for college to get a business degree. Since classes didn’t start until fall, my sister suggested that I apply for a job at the nearby wholesaler Gordon’s Books, which was then based in Denver. She had worked there briefly and loved the owners. Gordon and Blanche Saul were awesome! So, against my parents’ wishes, I decided to get a tuition refund and continue my career with Gordon’s. Within a short time, I was promoted to supervisor of order entry. It was great getting to know different booksellers and helping teachers and librarians with their book budgets.

Gordon’s was sold to Howard Bellowe, who, in 1991, would go on to sell it to Ingram Industries, which hired many Gordon’s employees. In joining Ingram, I became one of the first inside sales reps for the company, working for the famous Art Carson, our v-p of sales. I managed a small sales team in Denver and handled all new business. When Ingram decided it wanted its inside sales reps to be located in its LaVergne, Tenn., headquarters I was laid off. A year later, in 2001, the warehouse was closed. After 21 years working in wholesaling, I was looking for my next adventure.

Shortly after I left Ingram, Bill Preston, who had been my manager at Gordon’s, called me. He was the vice president of sales for Baker & Taylor, which had a sales office in Colorado. He wanted to know if I was interested in coming to work for him. I turned him down because I did not want to go through another layoff. After all, B&T was not based in Colorado. I was in my first week of training at the Rocky Mountain News when Bill called again: “I can’t believe you would give up all these years in the book industry,” he told me. And so began my career with B&T. I was its first inside sales rep.

During my time with B&T, I went on to manage sales teams in various offices. When (as I had feared) B&T closed its Denver office, Bill allowed me to work remotely. I went back to managing a territory, which was a blessing, because I missed working with my wonderful indie bookseller accounts. In 2019 B&T decided to close its retail division and, after more than 19 years with the company, I was once again looking for a new opportunity.

In early June of that year, on the Sunday after BookExpo, I was sitting at my computer working on my résumé when an email popped up from Cindy Raiton, president of sales for Bookazine. Many of my wonderful bookseller accounts had approached her at the show suggesting she talk to me. I flew to Bookazine’s headquarters in New Jersey to meet with Cindy and the owners. I was immediately impressed with their operation, kindness, and dedication to independent booksellers. I was soon hired, but less than a year into the job, Covid hit and I was laid off.

So here I sit today, too young to retire but with no idea of my next journey. I have not had to look for a job since 1978, so I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Being laid off once is awful, but being laid off three times—well, there are no words.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has two thoughts:

  1. The treatment the author of the OP has received sounds quite a lot like the publishing industry as PG knows it. Author or employee, the big boss runs the show and a great many people are expendable.
  2. A good sales person is often capable of selling a variety of different things. Convincing a potential customer to choose the product or service you’re able to provide is a skill that requires some knowledge of the market, but is most dependent upon people skills, intelligence, the ability to build lasting relationships based upon trust and understanding the commercial needs of others, expressed or unexpressed.

Some people with excellent sales talents become an Independent Sales Representative, AKA a Manufacturer’s Rep. PG doesn’t know if the book business has any, but, if they don’t, it might be a good idea to consider.

For those unfamiliar with this term, an independent sales representative is almost universally paid on a commission-only basis and usually sells to customers in a specified geographical region. Basically, she/he is part of a company’s sales, marketing and customer service team, but may live anywhere and doesn’t usually have an office of her/his own at the company.

One of the nice things about working as an independent sales rep is that you don’t have to work exclusively for a single company. Skilled independent sales reps typically sell a variety of products that don’t compete with each other. Sometimes, they’ll sell several different products needed by a particular industry, so a sales call can involve taking orders from a single customer for more than one type of product provided by different manufacturers who the sales rep represents. In contrast, an inside sales employee can usually only sell what her/his employer manufactures.

If one company terminates an indie sales rep, he/she still has the other companies’ products to sell to generate an income, so the impact is different than what happens to a full-time inside sales person who is laid off.

One other benefit of taking this path is that, typically, there is no cap on the amount of money the rep can earn. If the commission is 7%, the rep receives 7% of $1,000 or 7% of $1million if that’s what theindie rep sells during a month, quarter, year, etc.

Inside sales jobs involve the situation described in the OP. You’re an employee of a company and have a boss. Typically, you’ll be assigned a sales quota and a territory (a “territory” can be a geographical area or a line of business, e.g. nuts, but not bolts. An inside sales person often receives a base salary and benefits plus a commission on sales she/he makes.

The inside sales person’s boss typically receives a salary plus what is sometimes called an “override commission” based on sales made by the people she/he supervises. If the inside salesperson makes a $1,000 sale, the salesperson may receive a commission of 5% of the sale and the boss may receive an override commission of 2% of the sale.

One of the unwritten rules of a great many inside sales departments is that an inside sales rep shouldn’t earn more than the boss does, a distinct possibility for a really good sales rep who has a lower salary than the boss, but a higher royalty percentage. One of the ways to keep an inside salesperson from earning too much money is to split his/her territory and hiring a new salesperson to sell in the new territory or adding the new territory to the territory of another sales rep who services a less-fertile geographical area.

Over his legal/business career, PG has known some very successful independent reps who have been able to earn a great deal of money from their skills and work. For some standardized products that can be purchased from a number of manufacturers, an independent sales rep can effectively “own” the customer and, should a manufacturer treat the rep badly, she/he can sign up with a competitor and take the customer elsewhere.

While laws in the United States vary from state to state, a manufacturer’s ability to legally limit the activities of an independent sales rep’s activities are almost always more limited than an employer’s ability to limit the activities of an employee or ex-employee, at least for a period of time.

PG knows very little about the details of how books are sold to bookstores and book wholesalers, but if working as an independent sales rep works in this field, the author of the OP might have an alternative means of finding a way of using her connections and sales abilities that might not be subject to periodic layoffs that cut her income to zero.

UPDATE: PG did a bit of online research and discovered the National Association of Publishers Representatives, so, at least for some categories of publishers, apparently an individual can act as an independent sales representative. Here’s a link to the advantages the NAPR says can accrue to a company using an Independent Publisher’s Representative.

An ode to California dreamin’

From Amazon Book Review:

Over on the East Coast, I’ve been thinking a lot about the West Coast—specifically the colorful landscape and people that make California magical. In recent weeks, fires have ravaged and threatened California’s natural environment and many people’s lives and homes. In an homage to California, I thought I’d pull together a collection of novels that celebrate California.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

You can’t have a California booklist without John Steinbeck’s classic East of Eden. Primarily set in the Salinas Valley—”a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains”—East of Eden tells the story of the interwoven lives of two families just before the outbreak of World War I. Steinbeck’s masterpiece is an epic tale of family, humanity, and California.You can’t have a California booklist without John Steinbeck’s classic East of Eden. Primarily set in the Salinas Valley—”a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains”—East of Eden tells the story of the interwoven lives of two families just before the outbreak of World War I. Steinbeck’s masterpiece is an epic tale of family, humanity, and California.

. . . .

Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio

This is one of my recent favorites, The Son of Good Fortune, about a mother, Maxima, and her son, Excel, who are undocumented Filipino immigrants living in California. They each do their best to make money, blend in, and not get caught by the authorities. But what they do is not what you might expect: Maxima seduces men on the internet, eventually cajoling them to wire her money, while Excel flees to a hippie commune with his girlfriend and begins to wonder if he could make it his home. The Son of Good Fortune is a bighearted novel that disguises poverty, displacement, and disenchantment with hearty laughs and wacky characters. But don’t let that fool you—Tenorio writes with gusto and compassion about the undocumented in California.

Link to the rest at Amazon Book Review

The end of the general trade publishing concept

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

My brilliant friend Joe Esposito has written a piece to explain why Penguin Random House would want to acquire Simon & Schuster. I have also been thinking about why PRH, or any of the other three of the “Big Five”, would want to acquire S&S. In fact, two of the three, Hachette and HarperCollins, have indicated interest. Only Macmillan, which coincidentally or not just saw the resignation of its CEO, John Sargent, among the other four of the Big Five, is not on record as pursuing a purchase.

Here’s a snapshot of my view of the world of big consumer publishers and how it has changed over the past three decades, which informs my explanation of why PRH would want to buy S&S.

Big consumer publishers are called “trade publishers” because they have historically sold the vast preponderance of their units through “the trade”, the network of bookstores and libraries and their wholesalers that has grown up in the US over the past century. As the role and importance of bookstores in the overall distribution world of books has changed, so has the commercial reality for publishers.

In 1990, there were about 500,000 individual book titles to choose from because only what was in “books in print” was really available. There were, at that time, dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of stores in the country that carried 100,000 titles or more. Trade publishers who depended on that bookstore network and worked it regularly with two or three “lists” a year could almost always put out a few thousand copies of any book on their list through that bookstore network. Each new book published was competing with half-a-million others in the market, and the publishers were insulated from competition from any entity that didn’t cover the bookstores regularly the way they did.

The result of this was that most publishers made a little money on most of the books they published, unless they very much overpaid on the author advance or printed many more copies than they distributed. Publisher accounting obscured that fact, because almost all publishers did “title P&Ls” based on “unit cost accounting” which insisted that each unit sold carry its share of the publisher’s overhead, which was deemed to be 22 to 30 percent of the revenue, or even more.

This practice was nearly universal and based on fallacious logic. In fact, a publisher’s rent, warehouse costs, sales force costs, and office overheads did not go up or down with each book sold. They were fixed, or nearly fixed. Each title contributed margin if it brought in more dollars than it cost to originate and print, and all the margin from all the books contributed to retire overhead and then, when it was covered, constituted profit.

The point is that individual titles, let alone individual books sold, did not make profits and losses. Titles either contributed margin or they didn’t. The company made a profit or a loss.

. . . .

We’re in a different world today. The universe of possible titles now is about 18 million unique possibilities, or about 35 to 40 times more titles competing with each new book for attention and sales than existed three decades ago. (And all of those 18 million books, most of which live today as files ready to be printed-on-demand, are available in a day or two from Ingram.) Bookstores today are perhaps 25 percent of sales, so having a strong position with them only commands a fraction of the market. The stores are smaller in number and smaller in footprint; very few stores today carry more than 35-40,000 titles.

So publishers can’t make it on bookstores alone; very few titles, let alone whole lists, can. And for the sales made online, through book channels like Amazon or through specialty subject-specific marketing efforts a publisher might discover or construct, the publishers often don’t have the “insulation” that keeps a lot of competition out.

The net result of this is that publishers no longer are pretty much assured of positive margin on any book they publish. It isn’t just misleading accounting that is making them fearful of the commercial result of publishing speculatively; it is a fact that it is harder and harder to make money publishing a new book.

Big publishers (and Ingram, which is not a publisher but provides the full range of services and a shared infrastructure to 600 distributed publishers, making them collectively as big as most of the Big Five) have long recognized this market shift. They have been building “direct” sales efforts, including creating vertical websites, compiling email lists of book consumers, and “working” the Internet for sales and marketing opportunities, for well over a decade.

. . . .

But the big problem for the publishers is that backlist inexorably “decays” in sales power year by year. Titles, particularly non-fiction, become dated. This was not so noticeable in the days when new title publishing was profitable and added new blood to the backlist every season. But it must be increasingly noticeable in a time when new title production in many houses is being reduced and a smaller percentage of what is launched survives to become backlist.

Meanwhile, the big publishers are building sales capabilities through online channels, often topic- or audience-specific, that are wasted assets unless there is a flow of books new to those audiences to feed them. Penguin Random House has been very aggressive at building their digital marketing capabilities. That means they can sell more copies of many titles than anybody else can; they have more places to push and put them.

And all of that is why Penguin Random House could benefit a great deal from acquiring Simon & Schuster. They would get tens of thousands of commercially viable titles to push through channels they have that S&S did not. 

. . . .

General trade publishing will be soon be recognized as an artifact of a trade that no longer exists. It doesn’t make sense any more for the organizing principle for title acquisition and marketing to be “if it works in bookstores, and we are confident we can convince them it will, we can do it”. That was the general trade that the general trade publisher served. As the trade shrinks, so does the universe of general trade publishers.

Book publishing is not going to stop, or even slow down. Individual authors, purpose-driven publishers, and many organizations (including schools) that see books as useful to their mission, will keep pushing new titles into the marketplace.

. . . .

The books will still be there. All the ones from the past will still be available and there will be a steady flow of new ones every day. What will be different is that most of the books sold won’t go through bookstores, and diminishing shares of the book sales will go to “frontlist” rather than “backlist” or to “commercial publishers” rather than self-publishers, upstarts, or not-publishers doing books anyway. In any case, “general trade” is not a term that is likely to make much sense to anybody ten years from now. That’s a big change.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG wonders who’s going to end up owning the rights to the copyrights of all the traditionally-published books.

The large majority of these copyrights are tied up with the publisher for the full term of the copyright – the rest of the author’s life plus 70 years in the US and similar lengths of time in other countries.

Ownership of these contract rights will be owned by someone. If the publisher disappears as a commercial entity, someone else will own the publishing contracts.

A traditionally-published author might well ask, “Who owns my book now? Will they still pay royalties? Who do I sue if the owner stops? Will the owner be in the United States or elsewhere?”

Filippo Buonanni’s Harmonic Cabinet

PG says he hasn’t created a category for Piffle on TPV, but perhaps it’s time to do so.

Or, in the alternative, provide a content warning something like:

PG has come down with another case of temporary insanity.

There’s a lot of that going around, often associated with the Trump/Biden presidential campaigns.

The following may reflect PG’s current frame of mind. He’s called his doctor to see if there is a pill he can take, but has received no response.

From the Public Domain Review:

The German polymath and Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher had a lifelong fascination with sound and devoted two books to the subject: Musurgia Universalis (1650), on the theoretical (and theological) aspects, and Phonurgia Nova (1673), on the science of acoustics and its practical applications. It’s no surprise then to learn that his famed museum at Rome’s Collegio Romano boasted— in addition to “vomiting statues”, ghost-conjuring mirrors, and other curious wonders — a vast and diverse collection of musical instruments.

. . . .

Inspired by the collection of instruments in Kircher’s wunderkammer, and intrigued by the stories behind them, in 1722 Buonanni published his Gabinetto Armonico pieno d’istromenti sonori (or Harmonic cabinet full of sonorous instruments), an attempt to catalogue, for the first time, the musical instruments of the world. While there’s a short and often illuminating text for each instrument it is the 152 engraved plates — executed by Flemish artist and publisher Arnold van Westerhout — which really steal the show. The featured instruments are divided into three sections — wind, string, and percussion — and preceded by thirteen brief discussions of other musical categories, including: military, funeral, used in sacrifices, and, intriguingly, as used at sea: not sirens, but chantying sailors. While some of the instruments gathered in Buonanni’s book are as simple as the bee-keeper banging his tub, or the clacking of shoes against the floor, some are highly crafted, technical machines; the great organ at Palazzo Verospi requires a fold-out page to show it all. We are also treated to what might be considered more incidental instruments, for example, the bell about a bound criminal’s neck and the sound of a soldier’s sword being struck.

. . . .

Link to the rest at The Public Domain Review

8 Epic Journeys in Literature

From Electric Lit:

The journey story, where the hero must venture out into the world for reasons not necessarily entirely of his/her own devising, is likely as old as recorded literature.

Of course the journey story can also be understood as an allegory of the self, or soul, and its evolution in a lifetime, for storytelling is always an act, as Ann Carson says, “of symbolization.” In this sense, the journey story not only narrates the material events of a life, but the interior transformations an individual undergoes.

. . . .

The Epic of Gilgamesh, or He Who Saw Deep

The epic poem, one of oldest works of world literature, was composed in its earliest versions over 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and written in Babylonian cuneiform on clay tablets. Much of the reason it is lesser known than the younger works of Homer is because the epic itself was not rediscovered until 1853, cuneiform was not deciphered until 1857, and it wasn’t well translated until 1912. Fragments of the story on stone tablets continue to be found in modern-day Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

The basic story follows the King Gilgamesh of Uruk (modern-day Warka, Iraq) and his friendship with the wild man Enkidu. They undergo various battles including fighting and defeating the bull of heaven. Later, upon Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh journeys to the edge of the earth where he goes in search of the secret of eternal life and, not finding it, returns home to Uruk having in some manner, in spite of life’s sorrows and travails, made peace with his own mortality.

“Ever do we build our households, ever do we make our nests, ever do brothers divide their inheritance, ever do feuds arise in the land. Ever the river has risen and brought us the flood, the mayfly floating on the water. On the face of the sun its countenance gazes, then all of sudden nothing is there!”

. . . .

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

When I think of Hurston I recall her description in her essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” of the “cosmic Zora” who would emerge at times as she walked down Seventh Avenue, her hat set at a certain angle, who belonged “to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.” In Hurston’s extraordinary novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, the eternal and timeless qualities of imaginative literature are on full display in the very specific groundings of place and time, spoken language and culture. The book opens with Janie Crawford recounting her life story to her friend Pheoby upon her return to the all-Black town of Eatonville, Florida. The book, set in the 1930s, follows Janie’s narration of her early life, her three marriages (the last for love), and the many trials she undergoes including the death of her beloved during her travels, before she finally returns changed, wiser, independent. “You got tuh go there tuh know there…Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

The Reading Habits Of Five Generations

From the BookBaby Blog:

I’ll admit, I’m not great at remembering which generation is which, and I do get a kick out of how people like to pit one against another. I guess that’s just the way we do everything these days. OK Boomers vs. Millennials. Gen Z vs. Gen X. And is it wrong that I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the Silent Generation? That doesn’t sound very supportive, especially as they were preceded by the Greatest Generation. Who gets to name these groups, anyway?

. . . .

  • Gen Z prefers fantasy to other genres.
  • Millennials read more books than other generations.
  • Gen X reads more online news than other generations.
  • Baby Boomers rely on best-seller lists to find their books.
  • The Silent Generation spends the most time reading each day.
  • A preference for physical books spans all generations.

Link to the rest at the BookBaby Blog and thanks to Elaine for the tip.

PG will note there is an excellent and extensive infographic included in the OP (1-2 screens down from the top, depending upon your monitor), so you may have more reason than usual to click through.

Is American Fiction Too Provincial?

From Public Books:

Autumn brings the peak of the literary prize season: winners of the Booker, the National Book Award, the Women’s Prize, the Prix Goncourt, and the Nobel will all be announced by mid-November. American authors and books will be contenders for almost every award, large and small, for which they are eligible. That makes this an auspicious moment to revisit two persistent questions about American literature: Is it really a key part of the global literary system? And is the answer to that question the same for its “serious” and its mainstream forms? We can see the doubts behind those questions most clearly in a recent literary controversy, one that seems to have grown at once more and less relevant in the 12 years since it took place.

Autumn brings the peak of the literary prize season: winners of the Booker, the National Book Award, the Women’s Prize, the Prix Goncourt, and the Nobel will all be announced by mid-November. American authors and books will be contenders for almost every award, large and small, for which they are eligible. That makes this an auspicious moment to revisit two persistent questions about American literature: Is it really a key part of the global literary system? And is the answer to that question the same for its “serious” and its mainstream forms? We can see the doubts behind those questions most clearly in a recent literary controversy, one that seems to have grown at once more and less relevant in the 12 years since it took place.

Readers with longish memories and a taste for the absurd will recall the 2008 incident with Horace Engdahl, who was then the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy and is now a central figure in the Academy’s recent #MeToo and corruption scandals that canceled the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature. In the run-up to the 2008 award announcement, Engdahl explained that American authors were not competitive for the prize, because they were “too isolated, too insular” and didn’t “participate in the big dialogue of literature.”

The results of this claim were a good deal of hand-wringing among American authors and readers, some sympathetic head-nodding both here and abroad, and no noticeable change in the prize’s national distribution. (There have been two American laureates since 1978: Toni Morrison in 1993 and Bob Dylan in 2016.)1 On its own, the incident isn’t worth much attention today; it represented a passing amalgam of ignorance, publicity seeking, and the combination of arrogance and fallibility that James English diagnosed in these pages in his coverage of the Academy’s recent (and more serious) woes.

But the idea that American literature could be or should be (or perhaps already was) more deeply intertwined with the world outside the United States wasn’t unique to Engdahl. Scholars have repeatedly argued that what we call American literature has been bound up with other literary traditions (and markets) for centuries, and that contemporary US fiction has been especially explicit in its treatment of the world.

Domestic readers, meanwhile, have always made successes of at least some American-authored books set outside the US, of novels by writers who immigrated to the States, and of imported fiction largely divorced from American culture. Yet the nagging sense that American literature is at least a little provincial, a little self-absorbed in comparison to other nations—that Engdahl was a broken clock enjoying one of its twice-daily minutes of accuracy—has remained hard to escape.

Part of the problem is that it is difficult to say what is the normal or correct amount of national introspection. Danish authors, one presumes, write about Denmark more often and more deeply than do others. We don’t generally consider this a problem. And the United States naturally looms large in the imagination of writers around the globe, as do other wealthy, influential nations. So, we should expect differences from country to country and probably some overrepresentation of the United States across the board, especially in recent decades.

Link to the rest at Public Books

The short answer to the question in the title is “No”.

American fiction is American fiction. Swedish fiction is Swedish fiction.

Most purchasers of American fiction are Americans. Most purchases of Swedish fiction are Swedes. Swedes think Americans are weird. Those Americans who think of Sweden (a small minority) think Swedes are probably OK, particularly the blonde ones, but may not like that pickled herring stuff so much.

Nobel prizes are distributed according to the opinions of a small group of Scandinavians appointed by their nation’s parliaments (Norway) or elected by a self-perpetuating board that tends fill vacancies with other people just like themselves (Sweden).

The Nobel Peace Prize winner is selected by five Norwegians appointed by the Storting AKA the Norwegian parliament. The winner receives the prize each year in Oslo.

Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded by the Nobel Academy, established in 1786 by Swedish King Gustav III.

Visitors to TPV will all remember that Gustav III was a strong proponent of enlightened despotism. (PG note: Is that an oxymoron?)

Gustav III, the enlightened despot, came into power in 1772 via a coup d’état which ended Swedish parliamentary rule (generally referred to as “The Age of Liberty”). Thereafter, Good King Gustav spent a lot of public money money trying to forcibly annex Norway with Russian help.

In 1789, Gustav III helped organize a bunch of other kings who sent soldiers to to Paris to put down a popular uprising against the French monarchy and return his buddy, King Louis XVI, back to his rightful place on the throne.

In 1792, while Gustav III was attending a masquerade ball, he was shot and killed by someone who didn’t like him.

Wouldn’t anyone want their child to grow up to be just like Gustav III, the creator of the Nobel Prize for Literature?

But PG digresses.

The Swedish Academy, AKA Svenska Akademien, is composed of 18 members whose tenure is for life. (Gustave III thought the Swedish expression De Aderton – ‘The Eighteen’ – had a fine solemn ring to it. (Say it slowly, De . . . . . . Aderton . . . . and you’ll understand what GIII was talking about.))

The Swedish Academy publishes two Swedish dictionaries. The Swedish Academy meets for a ritual dinner every Thursday evening at a restaurant they own in the heart of the old town in Stockholm. (PG doesn’t know if pickled herring is a regular part of the festivities or not.)

The current Academy consists of 18 writers, linguists, literary scholars, historians and a prominent jurist. PG couldn’t find out how old the members are. Since they are appointed for life and get a free dinner every Thursday, PG suspects there is a high proportion of geezers and geezerettes.

Speaking of which, The Academy didn’t include any women until in the early 2010’s, but reports that, as of today, 1/3 of its current members are women. (A sexual harassment and rape scandal and ensuing cover-up attempts involving Academy members and at least one of their spouses in 2018 created a lot of openings).

(PG is of mixed blood, but the largest percentage of his blood is Swedish, so he’ll leave off with the anti-Swedish scorn in this post now.)

So, if American Fiction were not so provincial, more American authors would be selected as prize winners by 18 Swedish members-for-life who run The Swedish Academy?

And, if American Fiction were not so provincial, more American authors would be selected for the Man Booker Prize, awarded by five British Judges?

And, if American Fiction were not so provincial, more American authors would be selected for the Le prix Goncourt (self-explanatory)?

PG will end with three final questions:

  • What percentage of the American public worries about whether American Fiction is provincial or not?
  • What percentage of the American reading public worries about whether American Fiction is provincial or not?
  • What percentage of the American reading public cares about who wins any prize at all, foreign or domestic?
  • (Bonus Sub-question – What percentage of the American reading public who don’t live within 50 miles of an ocean cares about . . . .?)

Is the Publishing Trade Press Dead?

PG would appreciate it if visitors to The Passive Voice would forward links to anything they see in the Trade Press for Traditional Publishing that mentions the Barnes & Noble computer fiasco.

The Death of Max Jacob

From The Paris Review:

In late December of 1943, Max Jacob went to Orléans and Montargis to buy Christmas gifts for the children of the village of Saint-Benoît. He stayed for five days as a guest in the house of one of his doctor friends in Montargis, where he enjoyed the warmth of a cheerful family. He returned to Saint-Benoît for Christmas—the Mass celebrated in the basilica, the crèche with its plaster figures brought out year after year—followed by days of writing letters of New Year’s greetings and making ceremonial visits in the village. When he reported all this to Jacques Mezure on January 5, 1944, he didn’t yet know that his sister, Mirté-Léa, had been arrested.

Mirté-Léa was seized on January 4 and taken to the internment camp at Drancy. Jacob was beside himself. He threw himself into a campaign to save her, writing to everyone he imagined might have influence with the Germans: Cocteau, Marie Laurencin, Misia Sert, Sacha Guitry, the Bishop of Orléans, the Archbishop of Sens. He consulted his friend Julien Lanoë about whether or not to ask Coco Chanel, who had a German lover. His letters were heart-wrenching. He described his little sister, the “companion of his childhood,” her suffering as a widow, her devotion to her mentally handicapped son. “Dear friend, permit me to kiss your hands, the hem of your dress … I beg you, do something,” he implored Misia. Sacha Guitry replied that he couldn’t help “some unknown Jew.” If it were Max, he said, “he could do something.”

Drancy now contained men, women, and children. Transports to Auschwitz were leaving almost every week. Even as her brother sent his desperate appeals, Mirté-Léa was shoved into a train car on January 20; she went immediately to the gas chamber on her arrival. Max Jacob never knew what became of her.

. . . .

When he wasn’t writing letters to save his sister, Jacob was reading Gongora. Better than Mallarmé, he told Marcel Béalu. On the freezing Sunday morning of February 20, Dr. Castelbon, one of the Montargis doctors, drove the Béalus to Saint-Benoît to visit Jacob. They clustered in his room at Madame Persillard’s house, warming themselves at his stove, and admired the drawings he was working on. They had lunch together in the restaurant of the little hotel. “At least they can’t take this away from me: I’ve loved,” said Jacob. He confessed to Dr. Castelbon: “You know, you can’t always believe me: I make things up. I know it’s wicked and I confess it every morning to the priest—and then start up again.” They visited the basilica as they had done so many times before. Jacob, who hadn’t signed his name in the visitors’ book for years, added his signature, and the dates 1921–1944.

The next morning Jacob rose early in the brutal cold to help the vicar, the Abbé Hatton, serve Mass in the chapel in the Hospice; then he returned to his room, lit his fire, and wrote his daily meditation. When he rejoined his friends, he was in a jolly mood, trilling a verse. After lunch, the doctor drove them to Sully—still half in ruins from German bombs—where the Béalus would catch the bus to Montargis. They planned a visit for the following Sunday. “Au revoir, les enfants!” called Max, waving at them as the bus pulled out.

On Tuesday, Jacob dined with his friends, Dr. Georges Durand and his wife, in the village; he left early to attend a parish meeting. The next day was Ash Wednesday: Jacob received the mark of death on his forehead that morning at the rite in the crypt of the basilica. On Thursday, February 24, he rose at dawn to write his meditation and to help the Abbé Hatton serve Mass. He was back in his room, writing letters, when a gray car from Orléans drove up and three Germans in trench coats got out. They rang the bell, climbed the stairs to his room, and arrested him. Madame Persillard dashed over to the parsonage to rally the priest and the vicar, but they were busy. (“They could have come!” she protested later. “It was a little funeral of no importance whatsoever!”) One of the monks from the basilica hurried to the scene, as did Dr. Castelbon, still at the hotel: he had time to thrust a flask of alcohol and a pair of his own woolen long johns into Jacob’s hands. “Keep his things here for when he returns,” ordered the Germans. Madame Persillard made him take a quilt: “A shame,” said Jacob. “You’ll never get it back.” She erupted, “You see! Fat lot of good it did you to pray so much!” Jacob stayed calm; before stepping into the car, he shook hands with the small group of villagers who had gathered. At the bistro next door, when the car had driven off, Dr. Castelbon heard a neighbor say, “That man, he couldn’t do no harm: he wasn’t writing anymore.” “He wrote with his paintings,” said his companion.

In Orléans, Jacob was incarcerated with sixty-five other Jews, men, women, and children, in a filthy, freezing military cell, ten by ten meters large. They had straw mats to sleep on, already soaked in urine. They were given soup at noon, a little Camembert at night. Jacob managed to dispatch a message to Jean Rousselot, the poet and police commissioner: “Perhaps your title will permit you to bring me some tobacco and matches. Let Cocteau know. In friendship, Max Jacob. Man of Letters, Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur.” But Rousselot didn’t receive the message in time.

In the prison in Orléans, Jacob exercised his famous gifts: perhaps they had never been so useful. He told jokes, sang, recited verses, cast horoscopes; he tended the sick, applying cupping glasses (from two jars) on a woman suffering from pneumonia; he soothed the desperate. On February 26 the wretched group was trucked to the station, packed into a train, and hauled to the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris. From the train, Jacob was able to send a few appeals for help. To Cocteau he wrote, “Dear Jean. I write you in a train car, courtesy of the gendarmes who guard us. We’ll soon be at Drancy. That’s all I have to say. Sacha [Guitry], when asked to help my sister, said, ‘If it was Max, I could do something.’ Well, it’s me. Kisses, Max.” To the Chanoine Fleureau at Saint-Benoît he wrote, “Dear M. the curé, Please excuse this letter from a drowning man, written courtesy of the gendarmes. I would like to tell you that I’ll soon be at Drancy. I have some conversions in progress. I trust in God and in my friends. I thank Him for the martyrdom that has begun. Max Jacob. I forget no one in my continual prayers.”

. . . .

Outside of Drancy, Jacob’s friends bestirred themselves. Cocteau pulled every string he could reach, scheming with Georges Prade, a wealthy businessman who ran the collaborationist newspaper Les Nouveaux Temps: Prade owned a gouache of Jacob’s and had already been called on to help Mirté-Léa. Cocteau composed a letter of appeal for Jacob’s release, which Prade took to the counselor Hans-Henning von Bose at the German embassy.

By some mystic coincidence, Jacob’s old friend the composer Henri Sauguet had begun to tinker with some poems from Jacob’s Pénitents en maillots roses in February when Pierre Colle called with news of the poet’s arrest. He and Colle went to find Picasso at lunch at his customary bistro, Le Catalan, near his studio on the rue des Grands Augustins. Picasso was in a lousy mood, Sauguet recalled. Whether or not he already knew of Jacob’s arrest was unclear. He did say, “Max is an angel. He can fly over the wall by himself.”

This incident is perhaps the most widely known story about Max Jacob, and is the one thing many people think they know about him. It provides several satisfactions: that of showing a famous artist to be a monster, and his lost friend as a victim. But the situation was far more complex. Picasso, it’s true, was no hero; he betrayed Apollinaire back in 1911 when they were interrogated about the theft of the Mona Lisa. But though German authorities did visit Picasso’s studio during the Occupation, the painter was vulnerable: he was a resident alien in Vichy France, and to be deported to Franco’s Spain would have been catastrophic. When he heard about Cocteau’s appeal, Picasso went to Prade and offered to sign it. Prade dissuaded him, arguing that the signature would carry no weight with the gestapo and would only make Picasso’s position in Paris more delicate than ever. The wisecrack itself was in the cruel lingua franca of the Bateau-Lavoir.

. . . .

Jacob hallucinated, he cried out. He saw trees marching and tried to seize them. The cold was crawling up his legs, he groaned. But his last words seem to have been peaceful: “You have the face of an angel,” he told the doctor leaning over him. He died at 9 P.M., March 5. 

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Max Jacob, photographed by Carl van Vechten, Library of Congress via Wikipedia
Portrait of Max Jacob by Amedeo Modigliani, 1911/1922, Cincinnati Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons
L’église De Locmaria [à Quimper, Max Jacob, 1927, via WikiArt, Public Domain
La Visitation, Max Jacob, 1938, via WikiArt, Public Domain

Eric Satie composed Furniture Music, or in French musique d’ameublement (sometimes more literally translated as furnishing music) in 1917. The piece premiered premiered in Paris the year it was composed, as intermission music to a lost comedy by Max Jacob. Source: Wikipedia

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The following is not in France, but is a photo of The Holocaust Memorial in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. PG found it affecting.

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The Holocaust Memorial, Bratislava’s Old Town, on the site of the former Neolog Synagogue demolished in 1969 original photo by Daniel Dimitrov / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) via Wikimedia Commons/ Small modifications for clarity and appearance

China’s Good War

From The Wall Street Journal:

When I arrived in Tokyo in the late 1990s for a five-year stint as a correspondent, one of my biggest surprises was the near total absence in Northeast Asia of international organizations that could foster and channel cooperation in the area.

I had come to Japan from West Africa, a region then widely known for political instability and poverty. Northeast Asia, by contrast, boasted some of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies. When I mentioned to Asian politicians and scholars how, for all of its weakness, West Africa had a dense network of cooperative bodies that mostly functioned well, and I asked them why their region remained so divided and mutually distrustful, I drew uncomprehending stares and even anger. Didn’t I know that Japan had sought to colonize China and Korea in living memory and had committed countless atrocities in the process?

This sort of response would follow me when I took a later assignment in China, leading me to point out that, in Europe, former Axis powers were now joined in a tight-knit community with their erstwhile Allied enemies. What was it about Northeast Asia that prevented it from coming together more closely and overcoming its bitter recent past?

This question runs as a major subtext throughout Rana Mitter’s “China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism.” Mr. Mitter, one of Britain’s foremost historians of modern China, examines how Beijing has exploited memories of World War II and explores its recent efforts to win global recognition for itself as a principal architect and leading upholder of the international order. The results are probing, but covering so much ground in one slim volume probably makes the text somewhat inaccessible for a general audience, especially for those unfamiliar with Chinese politics and Communist Party historiography. Mr. Mitter notes how the country’s civil war between 1945 and 1949, which followed Japan’s defeat in World War II and ended in victory for Mao Zedong’s Communists over Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists, coincided with the period when most of the postwar arrangements were made.

In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. had expected a Nationalist-led China to emerge as Asia’s leading power and even helped usher it onto the United Nations Security Council. But the civil war and Mao’s victory in 1949, and Beijing’s support for North Korea’s invasion of American-allied South Korea, led to a rupture in relations with the U.S. that would last into the 1970s. It also meant that the dismantlement of the Japanese empire took place without Chinese participation. Today, with Japan and South Korea firmly allied with Washington, and North Korea a client of Beijing, there has been little opportunity for unifying narratives to emerge, as happened in Western Europe.

China has cycled through political radicalism and economic autarky under Mao, canny and opportunistic cooperation with the U.S. guided by Deng Xiaoping, and increasingly ambitious international activism, beginning in Africa in the 1990s and, more recently, throughout the world via its Belt and Road Initiative. The one constant has been a desire to return to regional leadership and indeed global pre-eminence. Mr. Mitter’s book offers a detailed and fascinating account of how the Chinese leadership’s strategy has evolved across eras—and how its recent overtures to regional and international audiences have corresponded to shifts in domestic education and internal propaganda about World War II.

From the Communist victory in 1949 until the 1980s, war narratives in China heavily exaggerated the role of Mao’s forces in defeating the Japanese, thereby playing down the efforts of the Nationalists, whose armies in fact accounted for the brunt of the fighting, including almost all of the major battles in China’s resistance to the invaders.

China’s goal of gaining broader acceptance of its leadership in the world has come to involve recasting World War II altogether. The priority of lionizing Mao and his comrades in founding Communist China has given way to a desire for international legitimacy and admiration. Mr. Mitter shows how this has meant repurposing World War II as China’s “good war,” a conflict in which the enormous sacrifices made resisting the Japanese after the 1931 invasion of Manchuria bought crucial time for Western powers to gather their strength to confront and defeat Japan in the Pacific. Making such arguments has required China to gradually rehabilitate the long-reviled Nationalists, if not as a political movement at least as combatants.

This Chinese revisionism, expressed not just in textbooks, but increasingly in film and television and proliferating museums, now posits China as the most important Asian battleground of World War II and accords China a decisive role in defeating the Japanese. China, in other words, was “present at the creation” of the current international order and so deserves greater recognition for its past sacrifices and acceptance of its future leadership.

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

PG notes that Marxist regimes in the 20th century and moving into the 21st have always included an evil enemy. It’s a requirement for distracting the citizens from the disagreeable parts of their lives and their thuggish leaders.

Much of the fighting in many parts of China, particularly early in WWII, was between the armed forces loyal to Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist insurgents following Mao. Regardless of one’s opinion concerning which side of that fight was worse, there is no doubt that the Chinese-on-Chinese fighting weakened both sides and reduced China’s ability to repulse or eject the Japanese invaders.

Further on Barnes & Noble’s Secret Computer Crash

Yesterday, PG posted about a severe computer outage at Barnes & Noble that reportedly took down the system Barnes & Noble’s physical stores use for orders, inventory control, etc., as well as the Nook store and the ability of Nook users to synchronize their devices, access ebooks not already stored on their Nooks, etc.

This problem took Barnes & Noble about three days from the first report PG read to fix the problem.

To the best of PG’s current knowledge, only two websites, GoodEreader (October 10) and The Digital Reader (October 13), reported on the outage.

Ergo, the entire Nook system went down and nobody noticed.

PG suspects if Amazon’s ebook store went offline went offline for an hour or two, let alone for three days, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and major US television networks would all cover the story.

PG suggests that this is perhaps the best evidence yet that the Nook ereader and Nook’s ebookstore don’t matter any more. Perhaps they’re not dead (at least today), but are semi-comatose.

At least in North America, it appears that Kobo may be #2 behind the Zon.

Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt, the hope for traditional publishing’s future in the US, has, to the best of PG’s knowledge, had nothing to say about the ebook disaster (and physical bookstore ordering, etc., disaster) that appears to have been occurring in the US company for which he is the CEO.

If PG has missed something that Daunt or Barnes & Noble PR department has said about this matter, he would be happy to hear about it via the Contact link for The Passive Voice.

Publishers worry as ebooks fly off libraries’ virtual shelves

From Ars Technica:

Before Sarah Adler moved to Maryland last week, she used library cards from her Washington, DC, home and neighboring counties in Virginia and Maryland to read books online. The Libby app, a slick and easy-to-use service from the company OverDrive, gave her access to millions of titles. When she moved, she picked up another card, and access to another library’s e-collection, as well as a larger consortium that the library belongs to. She does almost all of her reading on her phone, through the app, catching a page or two between working on her novels and caring for her 2-year-old. With her husband also at home, she’s been reading more books, mostly historical romance and literature, during the pandemic. In 2020, she estimates, she has read 150 books.

Adler buys books “rarely,” she says, “which I feel bad about. As someone who hopes to be published one day, I feel bad not giving money to authors.”

Borrowers like Adler are driving publishers crazy. After the pandemic closed many libraries’ physical branches this spring, checkouts of ebooks are up 52 percent from the same period last year, according to OverDrive, which partners with 50,000 libraries worldwide. Hoopla, another service that connects libraries to publishers, says 439 library systems in the US and Canada have joined since March, boosting its membership by 20 percent.

Some public libraries, new to digital collections, delight in exposing their readers to a new kind of reading. The library in Archer City, Texas, population 9,000, received a grant to join OverDrive this summer. The new ebook collection “has really been wonderful,” says library director Gretchen Abernathy-Kuck. “So much of the last few months has been stressful and negative.” The ebooks are “something positive. It was something new.”

. . . .

But the surging popularity of library ebooks also has heightened longstanding tensions between publishers, who fear that digital borrowing eats into their sales, and public librarians, who are trying to serve their communities during a once-in-a-generation crisis. Since 2011, the industry’s big-five publishers—Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan—have limited library lending of ebooks, either by time—two years, for example—or number of checkouts—most often, 26 or 52 times. Readers can browse, download, join waiting lists for, and return digital library books from the comfort of their home, and the books are automatically removed from their devices at the end of the lending period.

The result: Libraries typically pay between $20 and $65 per copy—an industry average of $40, according to one recent survey—compared with the $15 an individual might pay to buy the same ebook online. Instead of owning an ebook copy forever, librarians must decide at the end of the licensing term whether to renew.

. . . .

Last year, Macmillan took an additional step, limiting each library system to only a single digital copy of a new title—at half its usual price—until it had been on the market for two months. Macmillan CEO John Sargent said he worried there was too little friction in library ebook lending. “To borrow a book in [the pre-digital days] days required transportation, returning the book, and paying those pesky fines when you forgot to get them back on time,” he wrote in a letter announcing the policy. “In today’s digital world there is no such friction in the market.” Many librarians, arguing the Macmillan policy hurt large urban systems that already struggle to keep up with demand for new and noteworthy books, organized to boycott the publisher.

. . . .

The House Antitrust Subcommittee last year launched an investigation of competition in the digital marketplace, and subcommittee chair Representative David Cicilline (D–Rhode Island) has met with library advocates. “The whole issue of this negotiation [between libraries and publishers] over the last decade derives from a place where libraries have almost no rights in the digital age,” says Alan Inouye, the senior director of public policy and government relations at the American Library Association. “In the longer run, there needs to be a change in the environment or in the game. That means legislation or regulation.”

Link to the rest at Ars Technica

PG thought the question of whether libraries were good or bad for publishers had been resolved a long time ago.

The resolution goes something like this:

  1. Libraries allow people to read books at no cost.
  2. A meaningful portion of people who read books they check out from libraries will find they enjoy reading and will continue to read books on a regular basis.
  3. Once a person becomes an avid reader, they are quite likely to continue this habit for a long time.
  4. Some avid readers will become wealthy enough so they’ll just buy a copy of a book they think they will like rather than wait until the library has a copy available to loan.
  5. Some avid readers will always be willing to wait to read a book they think they will really like until it becomes available at their library.
  6. Some avid readers won’t want to wait for several weeks until a book is available at the library and will decide to buy it instead, even if they’re not particularly wealthy.
  7. Avid readers are among the most effective advocates for books and authors they like. Unlike advertising and promotion activities, avid readers don’t cost publishers a cent.
  8. At least some avid readers will flock together in what are called book clubs.
  9. When a book club decides to read a book, it is likely that all copies available at the local library that aren’t already checked out will quickly disappear from the library shelves.
  10. Avid readers in book clubs, avid readers who are friends of other avid readers, etc., etc., tend to buy many more books than people who never caught the reading bug at no cost via their local library.

Ergo, libraries promote more reading, which creates more readers, which creates more book purchasers, which means publishers make more money.

People borrowing books from libraries in any form are likely the best way that publishers can ensure the creation of more and more long-term customers.

But acting on that understanding would require long-term thinking on the part of traditional publishers.

Among many other things that traditional publishers are not good at doing, engaging in long-term thinking may be the most damaging. In the long run.

All of Barnes & Noble’s Computer Systems Are Down, and I do Mean All of Them

From The Digital Reader:

Barnes & Noble is going through the mother of all system crashes right now.

Some time late Friday night or early Saturday morning the retailer’s entire IT backbone crashed, and it took almost all of the company’s functionality with it. Everything from the cash registers to the catalog lookup is down. Even the Nook platform is down.

What’s even worse is that it’s Tuesday morning, and everything is still borked. I just checked the B&N website, and while I can see the site I cannot log in, much less buy anything. I also cannot access any of the Nook features.

UPDATE: B&N’s systems are mostly back up around 3 pm eastern.

There are unconfirmed reports on Reddit that B&N has been attacked by a virus or other malware. Given that we are now on day four of this situation, it is more than likely that they are correct.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

When PG just checked the Barnes & Noble website, he found the following at the B&N Help Center:

We apologize for a system failure which is interrupting access to NOOK content for some users. We are working urgently now to get all NOOK Services back to full operation as soon as possible. We apologize once again and will post an update once systems are restored.

PG couldn’t find any reference to the systems problem on the BN home page.

PG first saw a mention of a huge Barnes & Noble system failure on October 10 on Good EReader. He held up on any post because he couldn’t find anything on the Barnes & Noble website or elsewhere online via Google search about any problems.

PG would love to know if Barnes & Noble sent out a notice to its Nook customers or otherwise notified readers about the problem.

For those unfamiliar with US business computing standards, a three-day outage of a company’s entire computer system (including the one used at all US Barnes & Noble retail stores) almost certainly qualifies as technology malpractice of a high order.

If it failed to do so, then, in PG’s electronically-humble opinion, Barnes & Noble has displayed total and complete ham-handedness, not only in failing to protect its entire IT infrastructure from a single-point-of-failure disaster, but also failing to take the most fundamental step toward handling an outage that interfered with the end-user experience of its Nook users.

Where was super-hero Barnes & Noble British CEO during all of this? PG searched for James Daunt’s name on Google for the last week and found lots of mentions, but nothing that Daunt had said about the Barnes & Noble disaster.

Not exactly an example of good crisis management.

During the process of looking for evidence Daunt had any idea what to do (or even knew) about the Barnes & Noble systems failure, PG learned that Barnes & Noble closed down a large bookstore in Evanston, Illinois, a few months ago.

PG has a lot of knowledge about Evanston, having lived there for several years, and he was more than a little surprised at this closure.

A few details:

  • Evanston is an upscale suburb north of Chicago that is full of wealthy people, many of which are well-educated and who have plenty of money to spend on books and other consumer goods.
  • Evanston is the home of Northwestern University, a highly-rated educational institution where a lot of wealthy people from all over the world send their children to be educated. Many of these students might be expected to have both the time and inclination to buy books.
  • Northwestern faculty are more highly-paid than your typical college professors and teachers and one would expect that they would also be regular patrons of a local bookstore.

In sort, if Barnes & Noble isn’t able to succeed in Evanston, PG doesn’t know exactly where in the United States very many Barnes & Noble stores will be able to succeed.

Barnes & Noble’s former landlord was Northwestern Medicine, a large medical services provider that is associated with the Northwestern University Medical School.

PG couldn’t find any indication that the landlord was trying to push Barnes & Noble out, but the space formerly occupied by Barnes & Noble was reportedly going to be used for additional Northwestern Medicine facilities.

PG wonders if Barnes & Noble is able to afford to have bookstores closed to its best customers any more.

Nuance matters

From The Bookseller:

It’s not often that a book is simultaneously described as a ‘madcap adventure’ and an exploration of race in the countryside, but Wanderland: A Search for Magic in the Landscape, my first non-fiction narrative published in April managed the feat. I don’t think either description is accurate but what do I know? I’m just the author. ‘Cross-genre’, and ‘cross-cultural anomaly’ – these are phrases that have begun to trip off my tongue. The book straddles nature writing, memoir, travel and spirituality, and I was born in London, raised in Montreal, Canada to Indian parents who themselves were born and grew up in South Africa. Neither I nor my book fit into any neat boxes.

This has proved to be both a blessing and, if not a curse, then at times, a cause of frustration. In the months before publication I worked with my tireless book publicist at Bloomsbury on the campaign. I was keen to reach readers who might be a fan of any one of the above genres, and equally those who, like myself, come from multi-cultural backgrounds, and are Black, Asian or from another under-represented group, and who have rarely seen themselves mirrored in this kind of literature (or been marketed to.) It’s been a rocky road, but since the book launched at the end of April, at the height of the Covid crisis, I think we fared brilliantly.

My launch day, happened on Twitter: an outpouring of support which I hadn’t anticipated but which kept me buoyant, and washed away the disappointment of a cancelled launch party, and the closure of bookshops. The press reviews and features generated were plentiful and generous. That a book not easy to pin down was reviewed at all felt nothing short of miraculous. In lockdown, a number of independent booksellers across the country helped to spread the word. I found their kindness and thoughtfulness at such a difficult time touching.

Like every other author, I’ve learned hard and fast that when a book leaves you and goes into the world, it becomes the property of others. How any one person might perceive my book would depend on their filter. Some authors of more traditional nature writing were keen to dispel the notion that I might be a nature writer at all. Others called it ‘new’ nature writing. Some saw it as a quirky UK travel memoir, while the more spiritually inclined seemed to enjoy the fact that such a theme had even made it into the mainstream.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG suspects that he is not alone in having experienced a substantial lack of nuance over the past months.

Three cheers for Nuance! May it survive 2020!

Crazy Time

PG had his day consumed by the routine and the crazy and the enjoyable today.

He’ll make some posts a bit later this evening.

Norway’s authors fight to be on more unlimited subscription platforms

From The New Publishing Standard:

Author Jørn Lier Horst moved to Strawberry publishing house Capitana, and went from having titles on one platform to being widely available. He experienced a huge economic upswing. ”It was like a revelation when I saw how much larger market share Storytel had, and what it meant to me.”

Rather undermining the popular myth that authors cannot make money with unlimited subscription services, seven high-profile Norwegian authors have hired a lawyer to ensure their books are on more unlimited subscription platforms to raise their earnings.

The debate strikes at the heart of the faux narrative in the Anglophone publishing arena – and especially among self-publishers – that unlimited subscription means earning less.

. . . .

[I]ndie authors [who sign} up to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and then [complain] about low returns had only themselves to blame. Put simply, by signing up to KDP Select to be in Kindle Unlimited indie authors forego income everywhere else due to Amazon’s insistence on exclusivity. (And that’s before we even begin to think about the need to pay Amazon for visibility using Amazon Ads.)

In Norway it’s not so much a demand for exclusivity as that audiobook publishers are keeping content to their own platforms to attract consumers. For publishers the compromise is that they forego sales/downloads on other platforms, but the sheer volume of titles they field makes that worthwhile. For authors, not so much.

. . . .

Norway is in the unusual position of publishers owning unlimited distribution platforms. Authors with Aschehoug and Gyldendal which owns Cappelen Damm that runs the subscription service Fabel) are having their titles excluded from rival Storytel Norway, jointly owned by Cappelen Damm and Sweden’s Storytel. A third and much smaller player in Norway is Ebok Plus, owned by Vigmostad & Bjørke.

Author Tom Kristensen told Norway’s VG:

Here, there are two major players owned by the largest publishers, and which exclude each other’s authors. They have used us in a competition game. We lose millions of kroner on that. Now that’s enough.

While Unni Lindell said:

Publishers hold back for their authors how much they actually lose by not being on both platforms. They also hold back that they actually have a duty to deliver to all platforms – in the same way as they have a duty to deliver to all bookstores.

This a reference to the Norwegian Book Act that says a book must be available in all bookstores, regardless of ownership of the store.

But according to the Norwegian Writers’ Association only 20 titles have been exchanged between Storytel and Fabel in 2020.

. . . .

[S]everal authors have decided to call in their contracts, if of five years or older. They have had their titles re-narrated and have put them out on all platforms. Jørn Lier Horst, for example, has had 21 old book titles re-recorded.

But the original publishers are not best pleased, are disputing the contract annulations, and arguing they still have audio rights, putting Storytel Norway in an impossible situation. Now the newly re-recorded titles are in limbo.

Storytel Norway Country Manager Håkon Havik told VG that the company was not taking sides, but needed legal clarification to allow the titles on the Storytel platform.

Storytel initially wanted to include these titles – but after receiving information from the Publishers’ Association and their lawyer that this is not legitimate, we chose to wait. Storytel is not a party to the case, but perceives it as a serious dispute over publishing rights.

And in a statement to the Norwegian Publishers Association Storytel has said:

Storytel does not want to get into a situation where we are potentially left with compensation claims for having included intellectual property to which the publisher has no rights, and has chosen this line vis-à-vis both parties in this case. In other words, we do not include the titles in question from any of the affected parties until it has been clarified who the actual publisher is.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

UPDATE: PG was working fast when he wrote the following and relied on outdated information enhanced by a brain freeze. Membership in KDP Select is no longer required in order to receive 70% royalties.

Check the comments for more detail.

PG apologizes for the error.

Begin original post FWIW:

PG was puzzled about the remark concerning indie authors and Kindle Unlimited in an article that otherwise focuses on two Norwegian publishers that apparently have something like a shared monopoly on Norwegian-language audiobooks.

Kindle Unlimited is an optional program. Some indies elect to participate with some or all of their ebooks and others elect not to participate.

KDP Select is the umbrella program that determines whether a book is in Kindle Unlimited or not.

If an author enrolls a book in KDP Select, the book is automatically also included in the Kindle Unlimited program. KU is a part of the KDP Select program. If you’re not enrolled in KDP Select, you can’t participate in KU.

Looking at KU on its own merits apart from other benefits of KDP Select is not useful for indie authors. KU is part of the KDP Select bundle of services.

The principal benefit of KDP Select for most authors is ebook royalty rates that are twice as high.

(The author is dinged for delivery fees for ebooks, which strikes PG as an artifact of a much earlier age. Those will be deducted from royalties resulting in what is effectively a slightly lower actual royalty rate.)

In order for an ebook to be included in KDP Select, an author must set a price for the ebook within a pricing range determined by Amazon – currently $2.99-$9.99 in the US.

KDP Select also requires that an ebook enrolled in the program be offered exclusively on Amazon during the time period of enrollment. For competing ebook vendors, this requirement means they are not able to sell any books an author includes in KDP Select, hence at least some of the dire warnings about the dangers of KDP select that sometimes circulate online.

(PG remembers reading somewhere more than a couple of years ago that this pricing range was determined by Amazon to be the optimal range of prices for ebooks considering how many ebooks readers were likely to purchase at a given price point and the profits generated from each sale for Amazon and, presumably the author as well. But PG’s memory may be faulty about this matter.)

KDP Select enrollment for a book includes a book in the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) program which applies to Amazon Prime members only (PG has read that Prime customers generate significantly more money for Amazon than non-Prime customers.) KOLL pays royalties to the author based upon how many pages of an author’s ebook that Prime borrowers read. No pages read=no royalties. Some pages read=some royalties, calculated on a per-page-read royalty rate.

As mentioned, KDP Select is an optional program. An indie author can use it or not at the author’s discretion.

When an author includes a book in KDP Select, the book must remain in the KDP Select program for 90 days. At the end of the 90 day period, the book is out of KDP Select, exclusivity requirements no long apply, higher royalty rates no longer apply, KOLL inclusion ends, etc.

It is possible for an author to set KDP Select to auto-renew at the end of 90 days, thus continuing to receive the benefits from the program for consecutive 90-day periods until the author turns off auto-renew. When the author turns off auto-renew, KDP benefits and limitations continue until the end of the 90-day period applicable to the books, then stop.

Some authors have suggested that KDP Select can be gamed and the author receive more royalties if, instead of writing a single 60,000 word novel, the author break up the novel into six 10,000 page segments because KU royalties are based on pages read and, if a reader bails on a 60,000 word novel because of a slow part of the story at the 20,000 page point, the opportunity to earn money for pages beyond that is permanently lost. Writing 60,000 words in 10,000 page segments allows an author to end each segment with a cliff-hanger or some other material that will likely to propel an author to the next segment. Hugh Howey wrote a blog post about this strategy in 2015.

PG warns that he’s not certain whether Amazon has changed anything about KU or its rules since 2015 that makes Hugh’s strategy unsuccessful or unprofitable. He suggests anyone planning to use the strategy do some online research on Hugh’s blog and elsewhere to see if the strategy still works.

In PG’s grotesquely-humble opinion, the bottom line for most indie authors is that Amazon is the big dog in all the major English-speaking ebook markets and maybe in other ebook markets as well. Thus most indie authors will likely sell more ebooks on Amazon than anywhere else and maximizing their income from Amazon ebook sales by using all the bells and whistles Amazon offers is the easiest and best way to do so.

Giving up on KDP Select (which includes Kindle Unlimited) means at a most fundamental level, the indie author’s royalty rate on ebooks sold will be cut in half. And any additional income from KU, KOLL, etc., will disappear entirely.

Non-Amazon ebook vendors have their own royalty rates which authors will want to consider, but, if we’re looking at royalties at or near Amazon’s non-KDP levels (35%), an author will have to sell about as many ebooks elsewhere as the author sells on Amazon in order to break even.

PG is happy to have any errors in his perceptions explained by anyone with more knowledge of the Norwegian publishing industry than he has. He would be especially interested in any information about data-hungry authors or publishers who have figured out a way to make their Amazon activities more profitable.

Lawyer Note: PG uses the term “sold” with respect to ebooks in a generic fashion. Technically, ebook vendors license ebooks to readers under varying terms and conditions (don’t make copies and try to sell them or give them away, etc., etc.) and do not sell ebooks to readers.

They were now both ready

They were now both ready, not to begin from scratch, but to continue with a love that had survived for thirteen years in hibernation. They were no longer travellers without baggage. They were no longer twenty. They’d both been around the block a bit and had suffered without the other. They’d both lost their way without the other.
Each had tried to find love with other people.
But all that was now finished.

Guillaume Musso, Que serais-je sans toi?

Que serais-je sans toi? translates to Where Would I Be Without You?

PG admits to no prior knowledge of Guillaume Musso.

However, according to his English-language website:

From one novel to the next, Guillaume Musso has formed a unique bond with his readers. Born in 1974 in Antibes on the French Riviera, he fell in love with literature at an early age, spending all his free time devouring books at the public library where his mother worked. A short story competition organized by his French teacher led him to discover the joys of writing, and he has never stopped since then.

His studies, his extended trips to the United States, his encounters… All have contributed to enriching his imagination and his writing projects. A graduate in social economics, he became a teacher in the East and then the South of France. He published his first novel, Skidamarink, in 2001, but his next book Et Après…, is the one that truly won the public over. This story of love and suspense with supernatural undertones marked the beginning of a dazzling and unwavering success.

Translated into forty languages and adapted many times for film, each book of his is as hugely successful as the next in both France and around the world. The release of a new novel by Guillaume Musso has become, for his readers, an eagerly awaited rendezvous.

Link to the rest at Guillaum Musso

Amazon Author Insights

Some visitors to TPV will already know about this site, but for those who do not, PG thinks it may provide some useful tools for indie authors.

Amazon Author Insights includes three major sections:

  • Write
  • Publish
  • Market

The adjacent post (below this one for most of you) is an example of what PG find in Write.

Publish included articles like these when PG checked it:

  • 3 First-Time Self-Publishing Mistakes to Avoid
  • Understanding Your Audiobook Partner

Market included articles titled as follows:

  • Five Tips for Your Goodreads Giveaways
  • Five ways authors can use Facebook advertising

Amazon Author Insights is marked as Beta. PG couldn’t find any dates to give him an idea about how long Author Insights has been around, but he doesn’t recall hearing about it before. (Of course, on some days, PG can’t recall hearing something Mrs. PG said to him 30 minutes before, so this is not a polished indicator of anything.)

The content isn’t very deep yet. However, you can take a survey to tell the Author Insights team about yourself and help them understand what you might like to see in the future.

Here’s a link to Amazon Author Insights

Murders in Oxford – Making Amends

PG mentioned Mrs. PG’s latest book release about a month ago, but didn’t really carry out his obligations as the husband of an author by doing a proper job introducing it.

His earlier post celebrated the fact that the first book in Mrs. PG’s latest series of murder mysteries was ranked #1 for sales among all Kindle ebooks, at least for a few hours before dropping back to #1 in Historical Mysteries. As those authors who self-publish via KDP know, the rankings of top-selling ebooks can be quite volatile.

Since Mrs. PG has just started a one-day 99-cent ebook price promotion on her latest book today, PG is going to (finally) do his spousal duty with respect to a book about yet another murder involving usually non-violent Oxonians during the 1930’s Jazz Age.

The book is titled, Murder at Tregowyn Manor: A Golden Age Mystery.

It is the third in a series of mysteries set primarily in Oxford.

(Oxford, England, not Oxford, Mississippi, although PG has nothing against Mississippi or the University of Mississippi which is located in Oxford. Local accents do differ between the two Oxfords, however.)

Once again, the book features Miss Catherine Tregowyn, a poet who teaches at Somerville College, and Dr. Harry Bascombe, her beau, who does the same thing at Christ Church College.

Tregowyn Manor is the home place of Catherine’s family in Cornwall. As English parents were wont to do in the 1930’s, Catherine’s parents think she should get married. Catherine is not quite ready to do so and is not the sort of woman to be pressured by anyone to do anything she’s not completely ready to do.

Catherine has mixed feelings about Tregowyn Manor. Her older brother, the golden child of the family, died when he was young and her parents never invested their emotions in either Catherine or her younger brother. The financial assets of the family were greatly diminished during the Great Depression.

Usually calm and a little boring, the atmosphere around Tregowyn Manor changes when an architectural dig on the property locates a Roman settlement, earlier than any other in this part of England. Plus are some priceless Roman artifacts and the possibility of more. An international collection of archeologists are digging up the grounds and some are temporarily residing in the Manor house.

Catherine, her friend, Dot, and Harry arrive in an effort to clear Dot’s cousin, an Oxford student working at the dig, from criminal charges alleging he has stolen one of the artifacts

Of course, somebody gets murdered. Then, Catherine’s father has his first experience with the inside of a local jail cell.

As mentioned, Mrs. PG is running a one-day 99 cent promotion today on the ebook edition of her book.

UPDATE:

PG apologizes for not being more clear about the end-time of Mrs. PG’s promotion. It was one day – yesterday, October 7, and ended at midnight. He’ll be clearer about when Mrs. PG’s price drops end in the future.