A dragon’s toast!

And now, my friends, a dragon’s toast! Here’s to life’s little blessings: war, plagues, and all forms of evil. Their presence keeps us alert— and their absence keeps us grateful.

T.A. Barron

Nil by Mouth

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

WHEN I WAS 13, I was a skinny girl: a brittle frame of seagull bones, all bluff and bluster, cliffs and cartilage, and thin skin woven tight as a fisherman’s net. I was a skinny girl. I took small bites.

This is what I told the school nurse who pulled me into her office and questioned me about my bones. I take small bites, I told her.

I take small bites of the world, so it won’t notice that I have teeth. When I was a little girl, I would bite myself on the arm, when I was bathing, just to see the half-moon indents of my molars. To bite — to leave my own mark upon my own skin — was to know I was real.

But I did not tell her this. I knew nobody wanted to hear that. Just like nobody wants to see bones.

You need to eat, she said.

But I do, I said.

You are an anorexic, she stated.

But I’m not. I wasn’t.

Oh yes, you are.

And that was the end of that.

¤

The psychiatrist asked me if I ate. Yes, yes, I said. I eat all the time.

Do you, she asked. It was not a question.

Yes, I said. I put food in my mouth, and I chew and chew and swallow it all down. Good girl that I am.

Do you, she asked.

Yes, I do, I told her. I can prove it if you like.

She raised an eyebrow in challenge. So, I opened my mouth and bared my hidden teeth.

Do you like chocolate? she asked me.

No, I don’t like sweet things, I replied.

Hmmm, she said, and made a note of it in her little black book.

. . . .

I was sent an appointment for surgery as if it were an invitation to a sleepover. I packed a small bag with my toothbrush and my department store makeup. I packed a new pair of pajamas and some fashion magazines.

The ward was suffocating in its ordinariness. Hospital-issued beds of iron with flaky paint. Above my head, a sign: NIL BY MOUTH. But when they wheeled me into the theater, the taste of garlic was in my mouth.

¤

After they sliced me open, I was not just a skinny girl without a period anymore.

I was a rare skinny girl with no womb, a living sympathy card, there to be studied. The fresh-faced medical students filed into my room with their sturdy clipboards and fish-like smiles. They looked at me as if I were a bug in a jar. The aroma of grief was leaking from my every pore, and they leaned in closer to get the scent of me.

But I would not let them near.

No, I said. You cannot examine me. I am not a curiosity. I am not yours to see.

The students were disappointed. Their fat cheeks expelled their heavy breath as they filed out of my room. I did not care. I have a hole inside where everything maternal should be, I thought. Don’t come looking for comfort here. I am nobody’s mother.

I never will be, so don’t ask me for understanding. I am too busy devouring my own pain.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Amanda Gorman’s books are topping best seller lists and they haven’t even been released yet

From CNN:

Amanda Gorman is fast becoming a household name after she delivered a powerful inauguration poem at the US Capitol on Wednesday, challenging Americans to unify and “leave behind a country better than the one we were left.”

And if her words to the country weren’t incredible enough, the nation’s first-ever youth poet laureate has two books topping best seller lists — and they aren’t even expected to release until September 21.

. . . .

Gorman, 22, is the writer of “The Hill We Climb: Poems,” and “Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem.” The titles are currently topping both Barnes & Noble and Amazon’s best sellers lists. The poem Gorman No. 1 on Amazon’s list.

. . . .

Born and raised in Los Angeles by a single-mother and sixth-grade English teacher, Gorman started writing poems when she was a child, but found performing terrifying due to a speech impediment.
She overcame that fear by drawing confidence from former President Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr., and practicing songs from the Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

From celebrities to politicians, Gorman’s words resonated with many and praise on social media was not in short supply.

Link to the rest at CNN

For those outside of the United States, Ms. Gorman’s performance delivering her poem during the inauguration of the recently-elected president yesterday was a perfect antidote to Covid gloom and doom.

Sour English professors may make snide remarks about prosody in the faculty lounge, but the combination of the poem and Ms. Gorman’s presentation of it was wonderful, far better than any speech given by a politician yesterday.

Unfortunately, Ms. Gorman’s first books, published by Viking, are evidently stuck in Publisher Production Hell:

The Hill We Climb, her debut poetry collection (currently #1 bestseller in Books on Amazon US) and is scheduled to be released on September 21 (currently only in 80-page hardcover for $19.99).

A special 32-page quickie edition of her Inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb, (no Sales Rank when PG checked) is scheduled to be released on April 27 ($15.99 for a 32-page hardcover).

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem, an illustrated children’s book (currently #1 bestseller in Children’s Poetry on Amazon US) is also scheduled to be released on September 21 in Kindle for $10.99 (no Look Inside available) and hardcover for $16.95. It is also 32 pages.

PG notes that, while the children’s book has an enjoyable cover, The Hill We Climb in both the published in September and the quickie 32-page version each have cheapo-looking covers that PG could have turned out with his mediocre artistic skills in about 10 minutes or less.

Perhaps, Viking is trying to speed up its creaking production process up just a tiny bit and has forgotten to notify the largest bookstore in the country, but any sentient organization, hearing that one of its authors would be featured on nationwide television event watched by a much larger than normal audience, would have whipped the peasants with extra vigor and had at least an ebook and POD edition available for sale before most people had put Ms. Gorman into the mental “Oh, I think I remember her” category of their Covid-impaired memories.

Big Publishing idiocy at its shining best.

6 Outside-the-Box Book Marketing Ideas

From BookBub Partners:

1. Make part of the book’s cover wearable

Some authors and publishers have created fashionable swag from the cover’s design elements or the novel’s plot. Book bloggers, influencers, and readers are often excited to show off these items on social media, creating a unique opportunity for word-of-mouth buzz.`

The cover design for Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson — featuring art by Rachelle Baker and designed by Erin Fitzsimmons — positions its title in an earring worn by the protagonist.

Tiffany and her publisher, Katherine Tegen (an imprint of HarperCollins), created a bamboo version of these earrings as a giveaway item in their preorder campaign. She posted pictures of herself wearing the earrings on social media, effectively generating hype and preorders — Grown launched as a New York Times bestseller!

Some book bloggers and bookstagrammers received these earrings early, and many of them shared pictures of themselves wearing these earrings or using them as bookstagram props. Tiffany compiled some of these images on Instagram, reminding readers that these earrings were part of her preorder campaign and expressing gratitude for bloggers’ early coverage.

2. Self-publish a prequel to a traditionally published book or series to run price promotions

Since authors don’t have control over pricing for their traditionally published titles and therefore can’t discount them whenever they like, some authors self-publish prequels or connected standalones so they can discount those and use them to promote their traditionally published books.

Brenda Novak used this strategy as part of her marketing campaign promoting Face Off, book 3 in her traditionally published Evelyn Talbot thriller series, and this book was an instant USA Today bestseller! Before Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press published book 1 in the series, Brenda self-published Hanover House, a 200-page prequel, and priced it at $3.99. Within the prequel, she encouraged readers to buy the subsequent books via a letter in the front matter and an excerpt of book 1 in the back matter. After the excerpt, she included links to the retailer product page to make it as easy as possible for readers to buy.

Since Brenda had control over pricing for this self-published prequel, she could discount it whenever she liked. For example, about a month before the launch of book 3 in the series, she discounted the prequel to $0.99. She figured that would be the right timing for new readers to buy this prequel, make their way through books 1 and 2, and be eager for book 3 upon launch.

In order to drive as many unit sales as possible, Brenda ran a BookBub Featured Deal to the Psychological Thrillers category. Featured Deals can generate a high volume of exposure and often result in subsequent sales of an author’s other titles — 70% of authors report an increase in sales of their other books (including full-priced books!) after running the promotion. The Featured Deal for Hanover House generated over 6K clicks and 1.5K sales.

. . . .

Note: Brenda cleared this idea with her publisher before writing Hanover House. If you’re under contract with a traditional publisher, communicate your plans to publish connected content early to ensure you have their approval!

Link to the rest at BookBub Partners

PG notes that Mrs. PG has used Zazzle to produce merchandise to help promote her books.

Long Black Veil

Blame it on Covid. Blame it on the crazy US election season that finally ended today.

The song titled, “Long Black Veil” has been running through PG’s mind on repeat since last night.

From Wikipedia:

“Long Black Veil” is a 1959 country ballad, written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin and originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell.

It is told from the point of view of a man falsely accused of murder and executed. He refuses to provide an alibi, since on the night of the murder he was having an extramarital affair with his best friend’s wife, and would rather die and take their secret to his grave than admit the truth. The chorus describes the woman’s mourning visits to his gravesite, wearing a long black veil and enduring a wailing wind.

In 2019, Frizzell’s version of “Long Black Veil” was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

. . . .

The writers later stated that they drew on three sources for their inspiration: Red Foley’s recording of “God Walks These Hills With Me”, a contemporary newspaper report about the unsolved murder of a priest, and the legend of a mysterious veiled woman who regularly visited Rudolph Valentino’s grave. Dill himself called it an “instant folksong.”

Wilkin played piano on the original recording by Frizzell. The song was a departure from Frizzell’s previous honky tonk style and was a deliberate move toward the then current popularity of folk-styled material and the burgeoning Nashville sound.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

While the song has been performed and recorded by a great many talented performers, PG considers the Johnny Cash performance as the ultimate. That’s the version that has been running through PG’s head.

Here are the lyrics of the first two verses of original Lefty Frizzel song.

Ten years ago, on a cold, dark night
There was someone killed ‘neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene, but they all agreed
That the slayer who ran looked a lot like me

The judge said, “Son what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else, then you won’t have to die”
I spoke not a word, though it meant my life
For I had been in the arms of my best friend’s wife

The following video features Johnny Cash and Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell and PG likes it a lot.

x

A Semi-Colon Moment

From Writer Unboxed:

I was asked to write something to mark the day—something to encourage a re-set as we turn the proverbial page on a difficult and divisive chapter in American history. But the truth is that I don’t know with certainty what this day will bring. I’m not writing this piece on January 20th, and at this point several outcomes seem possible, ranging from peaceful ideal to horrific.

What can be said of such a day, when so many different outcomes are imaginable?

It struck me that we give our protagonist a moment like this toward the end of a story—following a dark moment, there is resolution or there is an even darker moment.

It struck me that no matter what our protagonist experiences, there is an after, whether it’s happily-ever or not.

It struck me that we are—collectively—the protagonist of this moment in history.

Some believe something will end today. Period. But I think it’s safer to say something will change today; it will shift, marking the start of a new phase or chapter [semi-colon].

The semi-colon is a powerful marker of connection. Two ideas are so intrinsically bound that to exist as sentences beside one another without the marker is to weaken the idea. Whatever comes next, whatever happens today, it will be the cause of an effect we won’t know for a while. But make no mistake that our future—at least our most immediate future—will be tied to our now in a way we won’t be able to shake.

This is a semi-colon moment.

What do we do with the rubble of our time? How do we rebuild? What can be salvaged? What do we take from this moment and pull into our future? What’s on the other side of that semi-colon? What do we want to be on the other side of that semi-colon? To undo it all, to go back to “normal”? How wide is that gap, between reality and some impossible dream?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

A Frolic of His Own

American law is based upon English law due the United States being comprised of 13 British colonies prior to the The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).

In all state constitutions except for Louisiana’s, there is provision sometimes described as a “reception statute” which provides something to the effect that the common law of England is the law of the state to the extent that it does not conflict with provisions of the state constitution or with state laws. There is an understanding, either explicit or implicit, that the reception of the common law of England refers to the judge-made decisions as kept and recorded for centuries, not including Acts of Parliament.

In PG’s experience, after well over 200 years of independence, citing a judgement made under English common law to an American judge would almost always be a poor idea, regarded as a desperation move. This is because, in one state or another, English common law principles have been included in a bunch of American court opinions.

That direct and indirect inclusion process has included some delightful British court language.

One of PG’s favorite terms describing a legal principle is “a frolic of his own.”

Under US and English common law, if an employee causes damage to someone else while the employee is doing his/her job, the employer and the employee are both liable for the damages caused.

If a semi-tractor/trailer runs a red light and collides with your car, both Jane Jones, the driver, and Super-Fast Deliveries, the trucking company that owns or leases the truck and pays Jane to drive it are obligated to pay any damages that result to you and your car.

From a practical standpoint, this is useful for an injured person because, while Jane may not have any assets or personal liability insurance, Super-Fast Deliveries will have liability insurance (and may be required by law to maintain such insurance in force up to a legally specified minimum level).

“A frolic of his own” is a rare and seldom-seen exception to the general employer pays liability rule, called, in Latin, respondeat superior, meaning in translation, something like, Let the Master Answer.

So, back to frolicking, if Jane delivers her load for Super-Fast Deliveries and, instead of returning the tractor portion of the truck to the closest Super-Fast depot as she is supposed to do, Jane decides to “borrow” it for a weekend getaway out by the lake, and, on her way to the lake, runs a red light and smashes into into a loaded bus filled with wealthy investment bankers, causing a huge amount of damage, well beyond the limits of Super-Fast’s liability insurance, Super-Fast might contend that Jane had the accident not while she was doing the job for which she was hired, but rather, “on a frolic of her own” or an updated term that means the same thing.

(Yes, PG acknowledges that was a run-on sentence and Mrs. Lascelles would be upset with him even if he were still only in the third grade.)

If successful, this frolic argument would get Super-Fast off the hook for a bazillion dollars in investment-banker damages caused by Jane’s negligence while driving its truck.

So, after that first-year law school explanation, here’ the opinion of the English case that first created the judge-made exception to respondeat superior rule that says the employer is liable for an employee’s negligence.

From Joel v. Morison:

England and Wales High Court (King’s Bench Division) Decisions

IN THE COURT OF EXCHEQUER

03 July 1834


Between:
JOEL
v
MORISON

  1. The declaration stated, that, on the 18th of April, 1833, the plaintiff was proceeding on foot across a certain public and common highway, and that the defendant was possessed of a cart and horse, which were under the care, government, and direction of a servant of his, who was driving the same along the said highway, and that the defendant by his said servant so carelessly, negligently, and improperly drove, governed, and directed the said horse and cart, that, by the carelessness, negligence, and improper conduct of the defendant by his servant, the cart and horse were driven against the plaintiff, and struck him, whereby he was thrown down and the bone of one of his legs was fractured, and he was ill in consequence, and prevented from transacting his business, and obliged to incur a great expense in and about the setting the said bone, etc., and a further great expense in retaining and employing divers persons to superintend and look after his business for six calendar months. Plea: Not guilty.
  1. From the evidence on the part of the plaintiff it appeared that he was in Bishopsgate street, when he was knocked down by a cart and horse coming in the direction from Shoreditch, which were sworn to have been driven at the time by a person who was the servant of the defendant, another of his servants being in the cart with him. The injury was a fracture of the fibula.
  1. On the part of the defendant witnesses were called, who swore that his cart was for weeks before and after the time sworn to by the plaintiff’s witnesses only in the habit of being driven between Burton Crescent Mews and Finchley, and did not go into the City at all. Thesiger, for the plaintiff, in reply, suggested that either the defendant’s servants might in coming from Finchley have gone out of their way for their own purposes, or might have taken the cart at a time when it was not wanted for the purpose of business, and have gone to pay a visit to some friend. He was observing that, under these circumstances, the defendant was liable for the acts of his servants.
  1. Parke, B: He is not liable if, as you suggest, these young men took the cart without leave; he is liable if they were going extra viam in going from Burton Crescent Mews to Finchley; but if they chose to go of their own accord to see a friend, when they were not on their master’s business, he is not liable.
  1. His Lordship afterwards, in summing up, said: This is an action to recover damages for an injury sustained by the plaintiff, in consequence of the negligence of the defendant’s servant. There is no doubt that the plaintiff has suffered the injury, and there is no doubt that the driver of the cart was guilty of negligence, and there is no doubt also that the master, if that person was driving the cart on his master’s business, is responsible. If the servants, being on their master’s business, took a detour to call upon a friend, the master will be responsible. If you think the servants lent the cart to a person who was driving without the defendant’s knowledge, he will not be responsible. Or, if you think that the young man who was driving took the cart surreptitiously, and was not at the time employed on his master’s business, the defendant will not be liable. The master is only liable where the servant is acting in the course of his employment. If he was going out of his way, against his master’s implied commands, when driving on his master’s business, he will make his master liable; but if he was going on a frolic of his own, without being at all on his master’s business, the master will not be liable. As to the damages, the master is not guilty of any offence, he is only responsible in law, therefore the amount should be reasonable.

Verdict for the plaintiff: damages, £30.

Thesiger and S. Martin, for the plaintiff.
Platt, for the defendant.

Link to the original at Joel v. Morrison

Comments Status Update

Dateline: Latish on Tuesday afternoon, PG time zone

PG had to be out of the office for awhile this afternoon, but he hasn’t perceived any significant problem with comments being held for moderation when they shouldn’t be.

He tweaked the WordPress settings on TPV to email a copy of every published comment to him and his inbox unread emails have been increasing quite rapidly to the point that he’s going to need to modify blog settings so he can identify emails from other sources more readily.

His present plan is to leave comment settings as they are (with the exception of emailing a copy of every comment to PG) at least overnight and, maybe, on a permanent basis.

If anybody is having any problems with comments or if one of PG’s junkyard comment guard dogs that he’s chained up for the last couple of days needs to be set loose again, please feel free to drop a comment in this post or send PG an email via the Contact link toward the top of the blog.

Status

PG is going to leave the commenting settings as-is for today unless something strange occurs.

So far, he hasn’t seen any terrible consequences with his current settings.

He’s still seeing a few comments requiring his approval from people who shouldn’t need it, but there is a general improvement. He’ll plan to pay a bit more attention to comments than usual to comments that haven’t made it through then reevaluate tomorrow morning.

PG appreciates the patience of many commenters. He has used his current commenting setup for several years and this is the first time it has begun to act erratically .

The Continuing Saga

Comments are still acting a little wonky.

PG just approved several comments that were held for moderation, so some of you should be able to get in to comment now.

Comments – Interim Update

PG has been cleaning up behind the scenes at TPVx, but needs to be away from his desk for a couple of hours.

If you haven’t already made a comment under the new blog settings since this morning, feel free to do so. See the post immediately before this one (chronologically) for more info.

PG will likely turn back on the WordPress setting that may be misbehaving after he returns. He’ll post a notice when he does that.

Thanks for all the help from the visitors to TPV today.

The Offspring of Comment Problems

In attempting to discover the problem that is keeping perfectly respectable visitors to TPV from making comments, PG has changed a WordPress setting for the blog that requires all commenters to be registered and logged in in order to make a comment.

Since he started the blog, PG has required that a visitor register prior to commenting to help avoid runaway spam and other nastiness in the comments. It’s not a perfect solution, but it certainly helps.

So, while he has turned that off, PG requests that anyone who wants to test their ability to comment to leave one to this post. After he collects enough comments on this post for research purposes, PG will turn the registration requirement back on so only registered users can comment and invite another test to see if the simple disabling/re-enabling move did anything to help fix the issue.

As usual, PG requests no obscenity, nastiness, etc., in the comments, even in the cause of serving PG’s comment problem research.

Comment Problems

PG apologizes for the comment problems some visitors to TPV have been experiencing.

He thought the problems were limited to just a couple of visitors, but has learned that it is more widespread.

Earlier today, WordPress sent out an email saying that Contact Form 7, a widely-used WP contact form, was experiencing serious problems and PG was over on Mrs. PG’s blog replacing Contact Form 7 with an alternative solution.

So, if anyone is having problems with making comments to any posts on TPV, please let PG know via the Contact link for the blog. It’s up at the top menu bar if you don’t want to use the link in the prior sentence.

Blacklists Are the Rage in Publishing

From The Wall Street Journal:

I am an independent book publisher, and in recent days I have been taking calls from journalists asking which authors I would refuse to publish. That’s an odd question to ask an American publisher, but suddenly it seems to be on everyone’s mind in our industry. Some 250 self-described “publishing professionals”—mostly junior employees of major houses—have issued a statement titled “No Book Deals for Traitors,” a category in which they include any “participant” in the Trump administration.

Readiness to silence someone because of who he is or whom he associates with is often called the “cancel culture,” but I prefer an older term—blacklisting—whose historical associations expose the ugliness of what is going on. Not so long ago, publishing professionals would have been horrified to be accused of it. Today they compete to see who can proclaim his blacklist with the fiercest invective.

On Jan. 6, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri invoked his legal right to object to Congress’s certification of electoral votes. Reasonable people can disagree whether his act was noble or cynical, courageous or rash, but no one can reasonably argue that he intended to incite that afternoon’s invasion of the Capitol by a lawless mob. He immediately and forcefully condemned the attack. But the next day Simon & Schuster canceled his forthcoming book, “The Tyranny of Big Tech,” citing the senator’s “role in what became a dangerous threat.”

I started getting calls from reporters in effect daring me not to join the blacklisters and from publishers, editors and agents who wondered when and how the mob would come for them.

The founder of my publishing house, Henry Regnery, proudly called himself a “dissident publisher.” The conservative books to which he devoted his fortune and career were no more in favor in 1951, when he published William F. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale,” than they have been during my own 25 years in this business. But blacklisting then, though real, was discreet. Everyone knew it was un-American. No one was proud of it.

An independent publisher is vulnerable to today’s Jacobins in many ways, for it relies on large partners to print, distribute and sell its books. Now that dissent from the latest version of progressive orthodoxy is equated with violence and treason, my colleagues and I know we could be next. But we choose to fight back.

We’re proud to publish Mr. Hawley’s book, which his original publisher has made more important than ever. We don’t have to agree with everything—or anything—Mr. Hawley does. We ask only if his book is well-crafted and has something true and worthwhile to say. The answer is yes.

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 those who would censor or silence political speech with which they disagree are employing a strategy that has been and is currently being used by the most brutal and intolerant dictatorships in the world’s history. Hitler censored. Stalin censored. Mao Zedong (Mao Tsê-tung) censored. Many who were subject to such censorship were also tortured and killed if they did not first commit suicide.

Such regimes often included censorship in a program that rendered an individual into a nonperson, someone who was banished into non-existence by the dictatorship.

The Nazi term for this was Nacht und Nebel (Night & Fog) under which process a person simply disappeared, never to be heard from again. Family, friends and the populace in general never knew what happened to an individual who received Nacht und Nebel treatment.

Fortunately, traditional publishers lack the power the fascists and Stalin held but the impulse to silence the opinions of or “deplatform” others has experienced a troubling resurgence of late, at least in some myopic intellectual bubbles in the United States.

Regardless of current intellectual fashion, silencing someone with opinions one regards as offensive rather than ignoring them or arguing against their opinions and demonstrating why they are wrong originates in the very dark portions of human nature.

Although PG regards traditional publishing as a business like any other, those who would raise publishing to a more exalted sphere as a “curator of culture” or exemplar of virtuous and enlightened values or even an influential taste-maker (like Kim Kardashian or other any number of other social media superstars) should, in PG’s blue-collar and humble opinion, engage in some serious self-doubt and extended introversion, preferably while engaging in manual labor to help clear their heads.

PG feels much better now, but is going to check the grounds of Casa PG to see if there isn’t some snow-shoveling or tree-trimming or preparing the soil for spring planting to do.

Typos

PG was checking several older posts on his iPad and noticed a few with niggling typos in them.

He realized that, during some wanderings through the cellars of TPV, he had managed to turn off Grammarly which, among other things, checks for misspellings in PG’s posts.

PG apologizes for his sloppiness and is assured by the little green G on his screen that Grammarly is on the job once again.

Melinda Gates Donates US$250,000 to New Carol Shields Prize for Fiction by Women

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Carol Shields Prize for Fiction may not be a literary or publishing award you know, and that’s because it has yet to be awarded.

Today (January 15), however, the program has announced a donation from Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures investment and incubation firm, a handsome US$250,000, which is sure to help make this specialized awards program make a viable start on its mission to recognize the work of women and nonbinary writers in Canada and the United States.

When the new award was announced in February 2020, Marsha Lederman wrote for The Globe and Mail in Toronto this anecdote about the late American-born Canadian novelist and short-story writer (1935 to 2003):

“Carol Shields earned Hanover College’s top writing prize when she graduated from the Indiana school in 1957. She did not, however, receive it. The committee gave the prize to the second-place student instead. Because he was a he. He would need to make a living, the thinking went, and the prize would help.”

And the co-founders of the Shields Prize—Susan Swann and Janice Zawerbny—created the award as one that not only would recognize women’s work but do so handsomely, with a winner’s purse of 150,000 Canadian dollars (US$118,000) and four nominees’ payouts of 12,500 Canadian dollars each (US$9,821).

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

How ‘Orwellian’ Became an All-Purpose Insult

From The New York Times:

After the events of last week, one has to wonder whether Josh Hawley — for all of his prep school polish and Ivy League degrees — was fully cognizant of what he was doing. The Republican Senator from Missouri apparently assumed he could have it all: Hitch his star to Donald Trump’s, attempt to overturn November’s presidential election, and prove his down-home bona fides by giving the mob that later invaded the Capitol a raised-fist salute — while also presenting himself as a Very Serious Thinker who had written a book about the wisdom of Teddy Roosevelt and was about to publish another titled “The Tyranny of Big Tech.” What he got instead was mostly revulsion from his congressional peers and a canceled book contract.

An irate and incredulous Hawley took to Twitter, calling the publisher’s actions “a direct assault on the First Amendment.” In peddling specious claims of voter fraud, he said he had merely been doing his duty, “leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity.” He insisted that his publisher was taking its cues from “the Left” and trying to silence him: “This could not be more Orwellian.”

One might come up with things that are in fact “more Orwellian” — including the bland euphemism “voter integrity,” which typically serves the cause of disenfranchisement and not voting rights. (Just as one might question whether a single publisher scrapping a single book contract amounts to what George Orwell’s novel “1984” describes as “a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”) But Hawley was taking part in the long tradition of invoking Orwell’s name as a cudgel for settling scores and scoring points. The next day, after Twitter permanently suspended the president’s account, his son Donald Trump Jr. announced (on Twitter) that “free speech no longer exists in America” and “we are living in Orwell’s 1984.”

In the meantime, the novel “1984” — in which a totalitarian regime crushes dissent through violence and the perversion of language — shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list. Hawley may have bungled the rollout of his own book, but it looked like he helped buoy the sales of someone else’s.

It’s an irony that Orwell, ever alert to the stubborn discrepancy between reality and high-flown fantasies, might have appreciated. Or perhaps he would have despaired that his last novel, published in 1949, less than a year before he died, had been pressed into service as an impulse purchase (by anxious book buyers) and a weapon (by cynical politicians). Sales of “1984” are a barometer of national worry — they surged in 2013, after Edward Snowden revealed the vast scope of the surveillance state; and again in early 2017, after Kellyanne Conway, then serving as an aide to President Trump, defended demonstrable lies by calling them “alternative facts.” Even if Hawley’s critics have argued that his use of “Orwellian” is itself Orwellian, there’s a reason it’s become an all-purpose epithet, a go-to accusation. Americans in 2021 might not agree on much, but everyone can agree that the world depicted in “1984” is a dystopia — which is to say, it’s obviously and indisputably bad.

. . . .

Throughout his writing life, Orwell had been preoccupied with consensus reality — its necessity and vulnerability. In “Homage to Catalonia,” he chronicled his experience as a volunteer for anti-Franco forces during the Spanish Civil War, watching as the Republicans devoured their own. Once their shared understanding of the world began to break down, they started denouncing one another as liars and traitors to the cause. “In such circumstances there can be no argument,” Orwell wrote. “The necessary minimum of agreement cannot be reached.”

. . . .

Dictionary, the term “Orwellian” started as a literary critic’s playful shorthand, when the writer Mary McCarthy used it in a 1950 essay to describe a fashion magazine that had no “point of view beyond its proclamation of itself.” The word has since been used to describe such varied phenomena as the euphemistic jargon of the nuclear industry, the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam and a ’60s-era kitchen appliance that turned powdered mixes into coffee and soup.

You don’t need to have read “1984” to grasp why someone is calling something Orwellian, even if you disagree with the assessment. But someone who hasn’t read the book may be more susceptible to the manipulation of the term. Hawley, Trump Jr. and others on the right deploy the word to complain about “cancel culture,” but the novel itself isn’t so much a treatise on free speech absolutism as it is a warning about the degradation of language and the potency of lethal propaganda.

. . . .

Still, even that is a flattened description of a novel that is more sophisticated than the leaden morality tale it’s often made out to be. In his illuminating book “The Ministry of Truth,” a biography of “1984” and its influence, Dorian Lynskey makes a persuasive case that the novel is structured in a way that heightens its ambiguity. Yes, the brute force of totalitarianism is an inextricable theme, but the novel’s narration — with its texts within texts — also enacts its own phantasmagoria, a world where both everything is true and nothing is true. Lynskey credits Orwell with anticipating what Hannah Arendt would describe in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” published a year after Orwell died: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

But the periodic invocations of “Orwellian” generally have less to do with the specifics of the text than with the writer’s noble sheen — Orwell as a stalwart man of the left who was never seduced by the extremes of either side. As Lynskey puts it, “To quote Orwell was to assume, deservingly or not, some of his moral prestige.” In 2002, Christopher Hitchens wrote a short book titled “Why Orwell Matters” that extolled Orwell’s independence of thought, implying that Hitchens himself was Orwell’s rightful heir. A year later, Hitchens was part of the chorus in favor of invading Iraq — a cause he would unwaveringly support until his death in 2011, even after the stated pretext for the war turned out to be a sham.

In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell discussed the blight of “dying metaphors” — those well-worn phrases that allow us to mouth off without paying much heed. The examples he gave included “Achilles’ heel,” “swan song” and “hotbed.” Had he lived long enough, he may well have added “Orwellian” to the list.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Perhaps, PG missed something in the OP, but, while the author criticizes others for misusing “Orwellian”, PG didn’t note any clear definition of the term the author did provide.

Perhaps nobody really knows what Orwellian means any more. It may have fallen into the category of fascist or communist as a general insult directed toward someone with whom a speaker or author disagrees.

PG can easily think of self-described communist governments today that operate in the same manner that governments that formerly defined themselves as fascist did with someone acting as supreme leader for life, rubber-stamp party faithful, etc.

Certainly, at least in the United States, fascism has become less popular than communism in that there are a handful of people willing to call themselves communists and support a Communist Party, but no one of which PG is aware who belongs to a Fascist Party (although it’s possible the Communist Party or parties are better at PR than fascists are.)

One of the regular visitors to TPV who has performed serious scholarly research on Orwell and hi writings sent PG an email saying that most people misuse the term, Orwellian and PG can’t disagree.

PG doubts that very few could read 1984 and think Big Brother was a cool guy and they would like to live in a place like Oceania. As for himself, PG thinks he’ll pub Orwellian up in his mental attic where it can collect some mental dust (which is proliferating in PG’s brain at a rapid pace – he blames Covid).

Stories, Short and Not

From WriterUnboxed:

Desperate Literature

It’s always been interesting to me that late and early in each year, several news items we touch on at Publishing Perspectives have to do with short stories.

This normally is sustained no longer than the stories themselves are.

Within a week or two, this little confluence of storytelling and issues of brevity is swept into the rest of the new year’s avalanche of news.

But it’s quite distinctive.

  • In France, for example, an independent publisher called L’Ourse brune (The Brown Bear) has been set up to produce “the promotion of short stories by prospective authors.” Martine Paulais, based in Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly in Normandy, says that too many French editors neglect the form.
  • Then in London, there’s a shortlist of short stories–or a short-story shortlist, which is harder to say three times fast. The Costa Book Awards in January name the writers behind a shortlist of three short stories. (The authors’ names are not known until public voting on the stories is finished, so that the vote is “blind” and not swayed by issues of possible familiarity with one of the shortlisted writers.)
  • Also in the United Kingdom (land of literary awards, as you might remember me pointing out in the past), the BBC National Short Story Award program has opened and will, in early October, enrich a fortunate author by £15,000 (US$20,438), and four shortlisted authors by £600 (US$817) each.
  • Then in Madrid, there’s perhaps the most aptly named event, the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize will not only pay a writer €1,500 (US$1,821), but also will send that writer to a seven-day artist’s residency at Umbria’s Civitella Ranieri retreat and provide the writer with a consultation with an agent in London. It’s named, by the way, for the Desperate Literature bookshop that produces the award.

There probably is no real rhyme or reason to the way short-story news gathers in little corners of coverage near the end and beginning of a year, although this year we could be forgiven for speculating that it might have something to do with “the times.” More than once since January 6, I’ve misheard a news anchor or a correspondent and thought she or he had said that more than 100 “writers” had been arrested in connection with the rampage at the US Capitol. Can Rioters Unboxed be far behind?

Link to the rest at WriterUnboxed

15 Books About Family Secrets

From Book Riot:

As a reader, few things are more intriguing or emotionally satisfying than uncovering a family secret. First, they make our own family secrets not seem so strange—after all, everyone has them. And the more astounding they are, the easier it is to get hooked in the story. I’ve collected 15 of the best books about family secrets—fiction and nonfiction, classics and recent debuts.

. . . .

Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger

When 17-year-old Jesse Matson embarks on a deer hunting trip with his dad, he never imagined only one of them would make it home alive. Everyone, even the doctors, believe the death to be a suicide. But the ghost of his father still haunts Jesse, and he’s restless with grief and the need to set things right. In this contemporary Hamlet retelling, Jesse must unravel the family secrets behind his father’s death before they consume him.

. . . .

The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznik

While helping her mother move after her father’s death, Jasmin Darznik discovers a perplexing photograph of her mother. In it, she is wearing a wedding veil—but the man standing next to her is not Jasmin’s father. At first, her mother refuses to discuss the photo or how it relates to her past. But then, her mother sends a series of ten cassette tapes that reveal her troubled and abusive first marriage, as well as a sister Jasmin.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

The Death of Camus

From The Wall Street Journal:

On Jan. 4, 1960, the world lost one of the most profound voices of the 20th century. Albert Camus, the 46-year-old author of “The Stranger” and “The Plague” and a recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was riding in the passenger seat of a Facel Vega en route to Paris when the car swerved off the road and crashed into a tree. Camus died instantly, while the driver—Camus’s publisher, Michel Gallimard —would die from his injuries a few days later. The man who taught us how to face an absurd world had died an absurd death.

The Italian writer Giovanni Catelli contends that this was no accident. In his book “The Death of Camus,” first published in 2013 and translated into English by Andrew Tanzi, Mr. Catelli lays out the theory that Camus’s car crash was a political killing engineered by the KGB. Camus, Mr. Catelli notes, had issued various broadsides against the Soviet Union in the wake of its 1956 invasion of Hungary. Greatly charismatic and internationally revered, Camus posed a serious challenge to Moscow. He was, the author writes, “a free, indomitable and dangerous man.”

In short, staccato chapters, Mr. Catelli recounts his investigation into the circumstances surrounding Camus’s car crash. He also revisits the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Camus’s connection to a pair of literary figures: the Czech writer Jan Zábrana and the Russian writer Boris Pasternak. Mr. Catelli’s case is compelling but far from ironclad, and some readers will be more convinced than others. But his book provides a clear and useful window into the currents that political writers were forced to navigate during the Cold War.

Zábrana (1931-1984) is central to Mr. Catelli’s narrative. A poet and translator whose parents were persecuted by Czechoslovakia’s communist regime, he rendered Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago” into Czech. Mr. Catelli chances one day upon Zábrana’s posthumously published diaries in a Prague bookshop and alights on a passage from 1980, which reads: “I heard something very strange from a knowledgeable and well-connected man. He says the car crash that cost Camus his life in 1960 was set up by Soviet intelligence. They rigged the tyre with a tool that eventually pierced it when the car was travelling at high speed.”

Zábrana’s man (who wouldn’t reveal his source) told him that the order was issued by Soviet minister Dmitri Shepilov, in response to an article Camus wrote in March 1957 that attacked Shepilov over the events in Hungary. Mr. Catelli writes that Camus “let loose with all the indignation of a libertarian who refused to bow to tyranny.” He first attacked Shepilov in a speech delivered on Oct. 30, 1956, during a meeting of the exiled Spanish Republican government. He continued to denounce Moscow over the next few years; in 1958, he wrote the preface to “The Truth About the Nagy Affair,” a book published by the anticommunist Congress for Cultural Freedom refuting the charges brought against Imre Nagy, Hungary’s revolutionary prime minister, whom the Soviets executed for treason.

. . . .

One of the book’s longer digressions concerns the fraught publication of Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago.” Zábrana wouldn’t live to see his translation published—the Czech edition wasn’t released until 1990, after Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution. “Doctor Zhivago,” due to Soviet censorship, was first published in an Italian version in 1957, and the CIA helped produce and distribute Russian-language copies at the Brussels Expo a year later. Camus was in touch with Pasternak during this time. Mr. Catelli notes admiring letters between the two, and reports that Camus sought to influence the jury to give Pasternak the Nobel Prize in Literature. Pasternak indeed won the Nobel in 1958—one year after Camus won his—to the great embarrassment of the Soviets, who forced him to decline it. Camus had poked his thumb once more in the eye of the Kremlin, which, if Mr. Catelli is to be believed, would soon orchestrate his demise.

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

PG is a sucker for Cold War intrigues, particularly in the communist nations in a geography formerly referred to as Eastern Europe (now Central Europe). Communists there sometimes tried to outdo their Soviet overlords.

Union Songs

Although the difference between the ideal of a worker’s union and its current instantiation, at least in the US, is substantial, the problems of downtrodden workers and their feelings about their lives has generated more than one song that PG enjoys.

Following are a few examples:

Joe Hill, an early 20th century Swedish-American union activist and martyr, wrote a song titled, There is Power in a Union in 1913.

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American singer, Johnny Paycheck, part of the 1970’s “Outlaw Movement” in country-western music, performed a song about a poorly-paid laborer who has finally had enough, Take This Job and Shove It, written by David Allan Coe, who, per Wikipedia, spent much of his early life (starting at age 9) in reform schools and prisons.

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Woody Guthrie, an American singer/songwriter who grew up in Oklahoma and Texas during the Great Depression, known as the “Dust Bowl Troubadour”, wrote Union Burying Ground in 1941.

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Most union songs were originated and written by men, but Bread and Roses is an exception.

The term is associated with the strike by mostly female textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, between January and March 1912, now often referred to as the “Bread and Roses strike”. The slogan pairing bread and roses referenced an appeal for both fair wages and dignified conditions for women.

Per Wikipedia, the “bread and roses” term originated in a 1910 magazine article written by Helen Todd describing an Illinois campaign for women’s rights to vote.

Woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life’s Bread, which is home, shelter and security, and the Roses of life, music, education, nature and books, shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country, in the government of which she has a voice.

The phrase was applied to the right to unionize in 1912 by Polish-born union activist Rose Schneiderman of the Women’s Trade Union League of New York

What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist – the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.

The lyrics of the song originated in a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim. The first stanza reads:

As we come marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill-lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing, “Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses.”

Per Wikipedia, the song has been sung by graduating seniors at Mount Holyoke College each year since 1932.

Mimi Farnia wrote the following version of Bread and Roses.

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Finally, back to Joe Hill.

The performer in the following video, Paul Robeson, became the third African-American student ever enrolled at Rutgers College in 1915 and graduated as the valedictorian of his class. Robeson was also a star football player in college and during the early years of the National Football League.

Robeson was the son of a mother who was an African-American school teacher from a prominent Quaker family and a father who who had escaped from slavery in the American south while in his teens and became a Presbyterian minister in Princeton, New Jersey.

While playing professional football, Robeson also attended Columbia Law School and quit football a month before he graduated in 1923. He started his long and successful professional performing career in 1924 as the lead in a Eugene O’Neil play in New York City.

In 1934, Robeson traveled to the Soviet Union at the invitation of famous Russian film-maker Sergei Eisenstein, stopping in Nazi-dominated Berlin on his outbound trip. During the Spanish Civil War, Robeson was an active and open supporter of the Republicans in opposition to the Fascists. During and after World War II, he was labeled a Communist by the FBI which ultimately lead him to be prohibited from traveling overseas during the McCarthy era of the 1950’s and seriously harmed his performing career.

Ultimately, a landmark US Supreme Court decision in 1958, Kent v. Dulles, holding that the right to travel is a part of the “liberty” of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law, permitted Robeson to travel and resume his performing career outside of the United States.

In 1961, Robeson’s health began a severe decline, including a suicide attempt in Moscow followed by extended in-patient psychiatric treatment, including electroshock therapy, in Moscow and East Germany. After returning to the United States in 1963, Robeson’s remaining years were spent in seclusion until he died in 1976.

Foretelling the End of Capitalism

From The Wall Street Journal:

Never judge a book by its cover. And never, probably, begin a review by quoting that line. But I think it’s appropriate here. For as I gazed at the cover of Francesco Boldizzoni’s “Foretelling the End of Capitalism: Intellectual Misadventures Since Karl Marx ” and noticed the presence of the Grim Reaper, I prepared myself for a detailed discussion of the millenarianism that has characterized leftist thinking, not only since Marx but indeed long before him.

Such a study would involve an investigation into the religious or quasireligious reasons that have underpinned belief in capitalism’s impending downfall. Their origins stretch back to antiquity, stemming from a desire to overturn the existing order—whatever that might be—and replace it with a heaven on earth. Mr. Boldizzoni offers a glimpse of this: “Fantasies about . . . the second coming of Christ, and speculation about the advent of a classless society, were not different in function. In both cases, at stake were the restoration of justice and the just rewards of the deserving at the end of the turbulent process of contemporary life.”

Despite some backward glances, however, Mr. Boldizzoni’s narrative focuses mainly on the mid-19th century and later, when the rise of capitalism was quickly accompanied by the first forecasts of its replacement. Drastic social change raised questions of whether it was the right social change. As Mr. Boldizzoni demonstrates, those expecting capitalism’s eclipse went beyond the usual suspects: John Stuart Mill turns up, as does John Maynard Keynes. Both looked forward to a time when humanity would be prosperous enough to rise above grubby, sharp-elbowed capitalism, a vision that perhaps reflected their own privileged backgrounds more than anything else.

. . . .

That said, the predictions of capitalism’s extinction made in the past 200 years or so are of considerable interest. There were, for example, Depression-era writers who thought, with more than a nod to Marx, that underconsumption would bring capitalism down. Such doomsayers have (so far) been proved wrong, but their analyses can be well worth the effort Mr. Boldizzoni puts into examining them, even if some are treated with more seriousness than they deserve—out of a deference maybe to the author’s own political inclinations. On the other hand, his adherence to, roughly speaking, midcentury social democracy—an “arguably . . . mild variety of capitalism” with its strong unions, mixed economy and generous welfare state—also gives him valuable distance from his subjects.

Mr. Boldizzoni attributes the failure of predictions of capitalism’s fall to factors that range from overly crude analysis to wishful thinking to mistaken trust in “progress.” The last is usually dated back to the Enlightenment but, I’d argue, is in no small part a relic of centuries of religious thinking. Mr. Boldizzoni writes that “the entire history of social forecasting and its mistakes is intertwined with faith in progress.” His use of the word “faith” is telling—and faith is an unreliable guide to the future.

. . . .

Even soundly based arguments have underestimated the resilience of capitalism or, perhaps, capitalisms—it can take many forms, whether the laissez-faire version of the early 19th century, the more tightly regulated varieties that followed or today’s information economy, and there are plenty more to choose from. Nevertheless, rather than look to capitalism’s adaptability or effectiveness, the author prefers a more complex and not altogether convincing explanation of capitalism’s durability, one resting on the way it is maintained by the combination of a “highly hierarchical social structure” and an “individualistic orientation” of those at the top.

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 capitalism has been practiced on a small scale for centuries, sometimes even in the midst of socialist or communist societies. Neighbors have sold or swapped. Government officials in socialist societies have accepted bribes for additional services or products. Workers on state farms have set a little aside for themselves here and there.

Capitalism as a recognized system of economic organization has proven remarkably useful in most societies in which it has been tried or officially permitted.

The Spiritual Message at the Heart of ‘Peanuts’

From The Literary Hub:

In the 70 years since the comic strip “Peanuts” first appeared, countless other comic strips have come and gone. All the while, seemingly seamlessly, utterly unconsciously, some of the themes and touchstones of “Peanuts” have woven their way into our vocabulary, our views and voices, our senses and sensibilities.

“Peanuts” may not have the cool factor of other things in our culture, but it has transcended the test of time; it has become an almost Talmudic totem, a talisman, one that we take with us, celebrate with, and perhaps cling to all the more tightly in times of trouble.

It plays a singular role in the popular culture, especially in the context of a society in which it seems that there is little, if anything, on which we can all remotely agree, divided as we are on politics, values, technology. That’s what makes the strip—which officially ended in 2000, when Charles M. Schulz died, but continues in syndication, plus the holiday TV specials, the books, the adaptations for screen and stage, the apps and the ads, and all of the paraphernalia—sacred and even more cherished than ever. It may be hard to imagine considering something as universally popular as “Peanuts” as under-rated, under-appreciated, for what it is. But it is, and its status deserves recognition: it is one of last great shared texts in our culture.

It’s axiomatic that we live in a highly polarized culture. To ideate about enduring cultural consensus about almost anything seems an exercise in wistful nostalgia. And yet, we would do well to imagine what such broad consensus might look like. And we might find ourselves thinking, about the most recent and arguably final example of a great American work of art loved broadly and without reservations by the masses, the elite, and everyone in the so-called middle.

. . . .

Looking back, when “Peanuts” (a title that Schulz detested) first started in 1950, Harry Truman was the president. “All About Eve” was in movie theaters, and Hemingway’s Across the River and Into the Trees was a bestseller.

Fifty years later, when Schulz died, in 2000, “Peanuts” was read in 75 countries, 2,600 papers and 21 languages. In all, well over 18,000 strips appeared over the course of almost a half-decade, making it, according to Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being.”

Along the way: “Peanuts Gallery,” a concerto, was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1997; Schulz received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture; in 1990, his work was shown at the Louvre. Just last year, Apple TV launched the Peanuts Channel, featuring “Snoopy in Space.” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” continues to be the most produced musical ever, with over 40,000 productions and counting. And as happens perennially, faithfully, over the coming weeks and months, we will come together to watch the Peanuts holiday specials: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and the under-appreciated Thanksgiving special, sandwiched in between.

What is it about the world of “Peanuts,” then, that still compels us to enter? Until “Peanuts” came along, comic strips where largely populated by grown-ups acting like children. One of the refreshing revelations, part of what has made “Peanuts” resonate so strongly, for so long and with so many, was that it’s a world of children who act, talk, think, and feel more like adults. This spiritual system peopled exclusively by children, preternaturally wise beyond their years, included among its core beliefs that: Life can be hard; perseverance is required; joy is fleeting but attainable; and imagination is essential.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Beheaded

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

IT IS OUR LAST full day in London, my daughter Melissa and me. We take an Uber to the Tower of London and book the hour-long Beefeater tour. The guide is dressed as a guardsman in a red suit, trimmed in gold, and a tall black hat. He cracks jokes on the lawn that used to be the castle’s moat — jokes about the plague and the lack of modern amenities and the beheadings. We laugh, blissfully unaware that we are less than two years away from a plague of our own. It is an unusually warm summer day in London. California weather, ironically. My daughter and I are enjoying our trip, excited to be in a different country, the day filled with possibilities. I am exhilarated.

The guide shows us the White Castle, the Crown Jewels, the battle turrets. When we come upon the Tower Green Monument, my mood changes. The monument stops me cold. This is not the spot where Anne Boleyn was executed, but we are surrounded by her death. Boleyn was beheaded by sword on May 19, 1536, at the age of 35, in a spot that is visible from the monument, to the right of where we are standing. It is now a tourist-filled walkway between the White Tower and the building where the Crown Jewels are kept. Boleyn’s body lies within the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, just behind the monument and directly in front of us. Behind and to the left of us, the prison towers rise — the Beauchamp Tower, the Bloody Tower, the Bell Tower — the cramped quarters where Boleyn and so many others awaited their deaths, prayed for mercy, witnessed the executions of their friends through grated windows the size of postcards, scratched their names and their last words into the stone walls. “The bell tower showed me such sight / That in my head sticks day and night,” the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt wrote in 1536 from a prison cell overlooking the Tower Green. He was imprisoned with Boleyn and is said to have witnessed her execution. “These bloody days have broken my heart.”

I feel a kinship with Anne Boleyn, with women whose portraits will not end up in the National Portrait Gallery for their accomplishments. Women whose only accomplishment was having survived for a brief period of time in a world which did not belong to them. The monument jolts me from a sleep, reminds me that here a man ordered his wife’s head severed from her body without remorse. The crimes of which Boleyn was accused hardly matter. Her biggest crime was not holding her king’s attention.

In her book Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found, anthropologist Frances Larson writes that beheading another human being is an act requiring feelings of both distance and superiority. In the 1500s, King Henry VIII was already superior to any woman by virtue of his birth as a man. Perhaps not so different from today, I think, except the optics have changed. But he was also born a Tudor and became the king of England. In terms of privilege, entitlement, and appetite, I picture him a 16th-century Donald Trump.

At one time, Henry was so infatuated with Boleyn that he broke with the Catholic Church in order to marry her. Three years and three miscarriages later, his feelings had cooled. I imagine King Henry VIII going through the mental gymnastics necessary to distance oneself from a former lover, the rationalizations required to convince oneself the leaving is justified, the cruelty needed to cut the ties, to harden the heart, to take a new lover while the old one is still living, breathing, crying. I have done it. I have had it done to me. However he managed it, Henry distanced himself enough from a woman he once loved, the mother of one of his daughters, to have her killed. He was engaged to his new crush, Jane Seymour, the day after Boleyn’s beheading. They were married 10 days later.

King Henry VIII had between 57,000 and 72,000 people executed during his 40-year reign. The tens of thousands of people who were killed here could never have imagined what this place would become 500 years later. They could not have imagined the people like me, coming here for amusement, gawking and joking and snapping photographs.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG notes that, as many around the world, including many of the visitors to The Passive Voice, worry about sickness or death from Covid, there have definitely been more dangerous and difficult times to live during the past.

PG is presently reading an excellent biography of Peter the Great by Robert Massie.

Peter was the the 14th child of Czar Alexis by his second wife, Natalya Kirillovna Naryshkina. All the other sons, except one, died before Peter, at age ten, became the Tzar, chosen over an older half-brother, Ivan, due to Ivan’s severe physical and mental disabilities.

Immediately prior to Peter’s affirmation as Tzar, at the instigation of a competing Russian royal family, the elite Streltsy Guard fomented a huge riot in Moscow. During this turmoil, Peter witnessed the slaughter of several members of his family, including two of his uncles at the hand of the Streltsy.

Covid sounds benign by comparison.

I Wish

Well, I wish your mom was ugly

And your dad was ugly too

Then they couldn’t have a girl

To be as beautiful as you

Bob Schneider, Wish the Wind Would Blow Me

Where Is My Office?

Not necessary relevant for all authors, but certainly of interest to authors with day jobs.

From The Wall Street Journal:

For much of the past century, work has been a place where people went. For big organizations, a workplace meant “concrete, steel and glass monuments built to service commerce and Mammon; commanding the skyline of the modern cityscape and dominating the lives of the millions of people who work in them.” So observes corporate real-estate veteran Chris Kane in “Where Is My Office?” But now, he says, “the world of work is changing.” Office work especially is “no longer anchored in one place.” Indeed, he notes, work has become a thing that people do and not a place where people go.

So what is to become of those monuments to Mammon? And how about all those workers whose lives were dominated by them? Mr. Kane explores this question in his intriguing, if meandering, book on “reimagining the workplace for the 21st century.”

Much has been written on the future of work, mostly by management gurus. Mr. Kane comes at the question from a different angle, with a background in the property business—mostly, though not exclusively, in the U.K. He calls himself an “industry provocateur” who has spent his career persuading the people who finance and build offices to think about what their tenants will actually want. (Oddly enough, they don’t seem to want the “uninspiring spaces of beige, grey or off-white” that the industry delivers.) He has also helped large companies rethink their property portfolios, urging executives to see that property can be converted “from a cost centre into a value creator.” He observes that “a well-designed and well-run workplace has beneficial effects on the performance of its occupants.” They collaborate. They feel inspired. They don’t quit quite as quickly. Handled well, property can be a strategic tool.

. . . .

Mr. Kane is also keenly aware that many past attempts to rethink office life have resulted in ideas that are questionable at best: Witness seas of soul-deadening cubicles or the attempts to do away with assigned seating completely that ended up with much-hated “hot desking” policies—everyone has to fend for herself every morning to score a workable spot.

While noting that companies will want more flexible spaces to scale up and down and shorter leases, Mr. Kane wisely doesn’t endorse no-personal-space policies that seem unaware of human nature; nor does he recommend shrinking square-footage requirements to save money and then hoping for the best. He argues that smaller, fluid spaces can’t just be about cutting costs; they should be “about choice of how and where we work.”

The options include renting space in commercial co-working spaces such as WeWork and working from home—something companies were loath to allow in the past, since “many managers insist on being able to see their staff and have them physically present in the same office.” Managers fear that “no work gets done unless they can see their staff at their desks.” Mr. Kane is quick to argue against this fear, but 10 months into Covid, much of this debate seems moot.

The proportion of Americans who had ever worked from home doubled in the span of about two weeks in March 2020. There is every reason to think that, even if “normal” life returns, many companies will aim to keep at least part of their workforce away from central hubs and office towers and that many employees will refuse to endure commutes after a year or more of skipping them. To what effect? one wonders. While Mr. Kane refers to the pandemic from time to time, “Where Is My Office?” feels as if the bulk of the manuscript was written before this game-changer. He says that “the corporate sphere now needs to take a Darwinian approach—adapting and evolving in order to cope with uncertainty.” But the BBC’s new spaces were created with the idea that employees would show up at them more days than not. Now it’s unclear how many organizations really need a gleaming headquarters—no matter how well-designed the headquarters happen to be.

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

PG has seen more than a few articles discussing how former office workers should set up and outfit their home work spaces. This type of information can also be helpful for any author who writes some or all of their work at home.

A short, non-comprehensive list for PG would include the following:

  1. A comfortable chair that won’t make you ache if you sit in it for several hours a day.
  2. A good keyboard.
    1. As a sidenote, at his mother’s wise insistence, PG took a typing class in high school and became the fastest and most-accurate typist in his class (it was a very small class).
    2. PG’s typing skills were valuable for him in college since he earned money by typing papers for other students at exorbitant prices because he could start typing a 20-page term paper at midnight and get it finished in plenty of time so the procrastinating student paying him could turn it in at 8:00 AM and PG could get some sleep before his own 8:00 AM class the next day.
  3. PG typed the answers to all of his law school exams (essay questions were standard) as well as the essay portions of his bar exams. Since he could type far faster than he could write (legibly or illegibly), PG could put a lot more of the extensive information he pretended to have in his head into these exams.
  4. While PG did a lot of dictating while he had a more typical law practice than he has now, he also did some typing on documents, or parts of documents, that required particular attention and detail that was not conducive to efficient dictation.
  5. When computers first came into law offices, PG bought the first computer for himself so he could amply explore its potential uses in his practice. Typing well meant he could experiment quickly. After this learning process, PG gave his computer to his secretary and provided suggestions about how she could use it efficiently (PG always hired the smartest secretaries he could find and paid them well so they stayed with him for a long time). Of course, PG bought the latest faster and more powerful computer available for himself to replace the one that migrated to his secretary’s desk. Whenever he bought a new computer, his secretary got the one he had used before that was typically about a year old, so everybody stayed up to date.
  6. This is a very long explanation of the basis upon which PG recommends a good keyboard for anyone who spends much time typing. The difference in cost between a good keyboard and a cheap one is relatively small. PG has used ergonomic keyboards for a long time because he finds them more comfortable and faster. Currently, he uses a wireless keyboard to reduce the substantial clutter on his desk a tiny bit. If you want to do all your writing in a coffee shop, you will want to use a laptop. For PG, however, the keyboard on laptop computers (he has owned and used many) are definitely second-rate. At times (like on an airplane), using a separate keyboard is not feasible. However, it’s not difficult to slide a small cordless keyboard into a canvas briefcase, backpack, carry-on bag, etc., so typing is better when your not on a plane or in an airport.
  7. For fellow keyboard nerds, yes, PG does miss the old Northgate keyboards with their lovely key-switches, but we all have to move on from tragic losses like that.

What Writers and Editors Do

From The Paris Review:

The work of the literary editor is conducted in a kind of shadow, cast by the name of the author. A few editors have stepped out of that shadow, becoming perhaps more infamous than famous, for the labels “editor” and “famous” seem like a contradiction in terms, essentially incompatible. An example is Gordon Lish, who became known in the literary world as “Captain Fiction” and whose authors included Raymond Carver. Another is Maxwell Perkins, editor of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, whose epithet was the “Editor of Genius.” One of the most celebrated editing jobs ever done was carried out by Ezra Pound, not in any formal capacity, but as a friend, his ruthless hand paring down an early version of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” into the form in which we know it today. Gordon Lish’s editing was quite as unconstrained and uncompromising, the style we think of as Carver’s being in fact Lish’s work. Carver himself was rather ambivalent about it, though it unquestionably established his name as a writer. This became apparent when Carver’s own manuscript was published after his death, his stories there being quite differently ample and expansive, barely recognizable. There is little doubt that the editor’s Carver was better than Carver’s Carver, and how must that have made the author feel as he stood in the spotlight to receive his accolades, hailed as the great new name of American literature? The example is interesting, for the job of the editor is to exert influence, not for his own good, nor necessarily for the author’s, but for that of the book, and if we can suggest that Lish went too far, we must also ask in relation to what? After all, the book was certainly the better for it. Were the wounded feelings of its author more important? Without Lish, Carver’s books would have been poorer and he would have been a reasonably good writer rather than a brilliant one. This raises the question of what a writer is, and where the boundaries run between the author, the book, and the surrounding world.

America has a tradition of strong editors, though the issue is not specifically American. I know of Norwegian editors who to all intents and purposes move their author’s feet, so to speak, in the dance of their literary endeavors, who basically instruct them: left foot here, right foot there, left foot here, right foot there. And I know, too, of Norwegian writers at the exact opposite pole, who deliver print-ready manuscripts to their editors and would change publishers promptly at the suggestion of reworking anything.

Lish’s job on Carver is perhaps too extreme to serve as an example of the role of the editor, but what any kind of boundary breaking always does is to draw attention to the boundary itself—in this case between editor and writer, who together with the text form a kind of Bermuda Triangle within whose force field everything said and done disappears without trace. Had Lish not gone as far as he did, everything in Carver’s texts would have been attributed unequivocally to Carver, the way all novels, short stories, and poetry collections are attributed unequivocally to the writer. To understand what goes on in this shadowland, we could ask ourselves: What would the books have been like without their editors? In my own case, the answer is simple: there would have been no books. I would not have been a writer. This is not to say that my editor writes my books for me, but that his thoughts, input, and insights are imperative to their being written. These thoughts, this input, and these insights are particular to me and my writing process; when he is editing the work of other authors, what he gives them is something particular to their work. The job of editor is therefore ideally undefined and open, dependent on each individual writer’s needs, expectations, talent, and integrity, and it is first and foremost based on trust, hinging much more on personal qualities and human understanding than on formal literary competence.

I remember a time in my late twenties when I was working for a literary magazine, we had commissioned a contribution from an established poet, and I was given the job of taking care of it. I read the poem and responded with a few comments, some suggestions as to minor changes, and a tentative inquiry as to whether the poem might be developed a bit further in the same direction. The reply that came back can be summed up in a single question: “Who are you?” In fact, there may well have been an undertone in that reply warranting an even more forceful wording: “Who the hell are you?” I was vexed by this, my comments had been cautious and, as far as I could see, justified. It was how I was used to commenting on the works-in-progress of my writer friends. Surely a poet of such experience and standing could relate more professionally to their own writing?

But the reaction wasn’t about the poem. It was about a faceless editor wanting to change the poem, which I guessed was being construed as an attack. As if there was something wrong with the poem and this faceless young male academic thought he knew what was needed to fix it. Objectively, I think my comments were on the right track, but when it comes to writing there is no such thing as objective, it’s all about the person writing and the person reading. If I had met this poet a few times, if we had been able to gain an impression of each other, perhaps get an idea as to each other’s literary preferences, I think my comments might have been taken differently, perhaps even prompted changes to the work, though not necessarily in the way I had envisaged.

The situations in which creative writing takes place are often complicated, to put it mildly—anyone even slightly familiar with the writing profession, as we so grandly refer to it, knows that it is one great big entanglement of neuroses, hang-ups, blockages, frailties, idiosyncrasies, alcoholism, narcissism, depression, psychosis, hyperactivity, mania, inflated egos, low self-esteem, compulsion, obligation, impulsive ideas, clutter, and procrastination—and working with writing in that kind of context means that a concept such as quality is a poor standard indeed, at least if we think of quality as an objective norm. In literary editing, quality is a dynamic entity, more a process than a grade, and one that will vary according to the individual writer and editor.

That the books that come out of this are treated in almost exactly the opposite way in literary criticism, which is very much about weights and measures and comparisons to other books, can often throw an author into shock and is something one never quite gets used to. It feels almost as if there are different books, one belonging to the editor, another to the critic, and for the author this can be difficult; should he or she listen to his or her editor, who will invariably say that critics don’t know what they’re talking about, that they are insensitive and stupid, driven by their own agendas, and so on, or to the judgement of the critics?

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG could (as usual) be wrong, but he suggests that not all (perhaps not even a majority) of authors are rife with “neuroses, hang-ups, blockages, frailties, idiosyncrasies, alcoholism, narcissism, depression, psychosis, hyperactivity, mania, inflated egos, low self-esteem, compulsion, obligation, impulsive ideas, clutter, and procrastination.”

Based solely on his personal experiences, PG would guess that there are a higher percentage of attorneys that manifest some, many or all of such problems/issues/behaviors than there are authors that do the same. Certainly, due to the pressures of their work (or whatever), a higher percentage of attorneys have problems with alcoholism and drug abuse that is typical of the general population at large.

A great many bar associations sponsor seminars and other educational programs for their members that deal with addiction, drug abuse, mental illnesses, etc. Some even require participation in such programs for a specified number of hours every couple of years.

The 2021 Regifting Guide for Writers

From Writer Unboxed:

Happy 2021! Now that the longest year in history is over, it’s a good time for reflection and taking stock of things. And by “things” I mean those Christmas and/or Hanukkah gifts you got. If you’re a writer, you probably got a lot of writing-centric gifts. I’m going to say it so you don’t have to: some writer gifts are better than others. (I know, you don’t want to seem ungrateful, but another coffee mug? Really?!)

If Santa decided to go off-list for you, take heart that even the worst Christmas gift for you may be a reasonably serviceable birthday gift for someone else. That’s right, we’re talking about the greatest of holiday taboos: regifting. Some may frown on it, but a properly executed regifting prevents waste and saves you a trip to the store, which is more important than ever during a pandemic, so really you’re doing everybody a favor. The 2021 Regifting Guide for Writers will help you decide what to keep, what to give away, and how to do it without looking like a jerk.

Let the foisting begin!

  • Motivational posters: The implicit premise behind many writing-themed gifts is that writers are in an unceasing funk in which they have no ideas or inspiration. This is accurate, of course, but it’s kinda mean to broadcast it to everybody, right? Few gifts signal writers’ daily desperation as loudly as the motivational poster. Designed to fill writers with creative inspiration, writing-inspiration posters more often remind writers of all the writing they’re not getting done. Verdict: Regift it.
  • Notebooks: Cracking open a brand-new notebook fills writers with inspiration, and can be a fun way to kickstart a new writing project. Verdict: Keep it.
  • Pens: The most ubiquitous tool of any author, pens are portable, useful, and make a statement about your commitment to your craft (or that you snagged a promotional pen when you dropped off your suit at the dry cleaner). Writers get a lot of pens as gifts, some of which are impractical, fussy, or require a very spillable inkwell. However, there are few things more frustrating for a writer than not having a pen when you need one. Verdict: If it’s a fancy pen, keep it. If it’s a box of cheap, ordinary rollerball pens that will actually fit in your pocket, keep it and write a very nice thank-you card.
  • Writerly coffee mugs: If there’s one thing people know about writers, is that they’re always drinking coffee, unless they’re drinking alcohol. Coffee mugs emblazoned with statements like, “BE NICE TO ME OR I’LL PUT YOU IN MY NOVEL” and “I AM SILENTLY CORRECTING YOUR GRAMMAR” are popular gifts from folks whose friendship is good enough that they know you’re a writer, but not so close that they will read your work. While each author mug has a different catchy slogan, they all contain the same subtext: “I AM NOT PUBLISHED.” Verdict: Regift it to an unpublished friend.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Old Novels as Therapy

From Publishers Weekly:

I am a published novelist and a rabid reader, but I’ve been stalled in both those areas. Between the cultural tumult and my almost-15-year-old dog’s terminal kidney disease, I’ve become a worried political activist and an exhausted canine hospice caregiver.

. . . .

Between my dog’s IV drips and endless treks up and down my four flights of stairs to walk her, I found I cannot concentrate on reading new novels, let alone meeting new characters and remembering who everybody is. So suddenly my reading habit—a great source of joy—stalled.

In these incredibly dark days, I’ve found solace talking to people I’ve known since childhood. And, likewise, I realized I need books with a personal foundation already in place: books that I already know are outstanding, that I know will transport me—books that I trust because of my long history with them. I have such books already on my shelves, but I also bought a couple more.

I’d read a library copy of Percival Everett’s God’s Country in the past, and I bought a new one from Bookshop—assuring him a royalty, a local indie bookstore a sale, and me the leisure to take my time and mark it up for my second reading. I bought a used edition of And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier, translated by Rhonda Mullins, from Better World Books, whose profits support literacy programs, and I read it twice within two months, taking as long as I wanted to savor the delectable prose.

. . . .

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read my paperback and my parents’ 1951 hardcover of The Catcher in the Rye, and it is beckoning again. In these rough times, there might be something sweet about hanging out with Holden Caulfield.

Likewise, I’ve lost count of my readings of A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole’s brilliant and hilarious novel whose rejections may have contributed to his suicide. How could publishers have ignored this book? How could a writer do something this original and alive and not meet the sort of welcome that would include the Pulitzer Prize he posthumously received?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Light Blogging Today

Today is New Years Day in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere (although PG may be a little fuzzy about the effects of the International Date Line and whether it may 2020, 2021, 2022 or still 1960 in Australia or not).

The traditional book biz was trying to sell books as Christmas presents, but after that, it really went dark.

PG doesn’t know whether regaining his sanity after this strange year is a hopeless endeavor or not, but a day off can’t hurt that process (or make it worse).

PG wishes one and all a good/better/best 2021 and he will be back tomorrow providing that he has not devolved into a pool of primeval slime before then, in which case, he may need to spend another day evolving back to the point of at least limited coherence.

When my first novel was published

PG read an item which turned out to be not quite what he expected, hence, its lack of appearance on the august pages of TPV.

That said, the article began with the phrase, “When my first novel was published.”

Astute visitors to TPV will immediately recognize the passive voice in that phrase (no blog-title irony intended).

What struck PG about the phrase was how much different it seemed than something an indie author would say. Something like, “When I published my first novel.”

Perhaps PG is truly in the advanced stages of Covid-craziness, but the whole sense of the author being in control of both the creative and publishing parts of her career feels so much better to him.

“I just published my fifth book in three years,” or “I decided to write and publish a book about a woman who killed and ate a shark,” seems like something that an assertive individual, an individual in control of their own destiny, an individual who runs the show instead of watching the show would say.

“When my first novel was published,” is something Lydia Bennet would say. Elizabeth would say, “When I published my first novel.”

“Pride and Prejudice” analogies will be something that will interest PG’s psychiatrist if Covid doesn’t end soon.

(No, PG doesn’t need a psychiatrist, but yes, PG is definitely Covid-crazy.)

The Great Writer Who Never Wrote

From The Paris Review:

By the time of its reclusive occupant’s death in 1987, the faux-Elizabethan country manor Wilsford, in Wiltshire near Stonehenge, overflowed with a dusty mishmash of valuable antiques, ephemeral gewgaws, and exotic objets d’art. Outside, ivy shrouded the gables and moss thickened on the roof tiles. In the overgrown gardens stood a myriad of neglected statuary, marble urns, stone columns, and rococo fountains. To disperse it all, Sotheby’s hosted hundreds of potential bidders, over four days, at what they described as an “English eccentric’s dream house.” Said eccentric was Stephen Tennant, who was born at Wilsford in 1906 and died there, aged eighty-one. According to his devoted housekeeper and nurse, Sylvia Blandford, he’d have turned in his grave at the spectacle of his possessions being pawed over and auctioned off piece by piece. But he had left no will. Death was not, perhaps, a notion permitted within Tennant’s elaborate fantasy world, into which he had retreated ever deeper as the decades passed.

Like a fairy-tale character magically granted every conceivable blessing, only to discover those blessings carry a curse, the Honorary Stephen James Napier Tennant began life arrayed with sublime advantage. His father, Sir Edward Tennant, came from a family who owed their vast wealth to a Scottish ancestor’s invention and patenting of bleach powder in 1799. Edward’s blue-blooded wife, Pamela Wyndham, was a socialite who courted the leading artists and writers of the day. Pamela doted on Stephen, her youngest child of five, and encouraged him in his creative pursuits. As he was turning fifteen, she even arranged for his first art exhibition, at a respected London gallery. All the biggest national newspapers covered the event, offering fawning praise of the artist and his work. It must have been intoxicating indeed. And yet, as any former child star will attest, nothing warps one’s sense of self like youthful celebrity.

. . . .

It was in the late twenties, when Tennant was around twenty-one, that his life peaked. Among the so-called Bright Young People, whose decadence and penchant for fancy dress kept gossip columnists in brisk trade, he shone the brightest. “His appearance alone,” the Daily Express rhapsodized, “is enough to make you catch your breath.” He inspired Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh characters, was sculpted by Jacob Epstein, wrote style columns, and stole the show in the group photographs that helped launch Cecil Beaton’s century-defining career.

Soon after Beaton was introduced to Tennant in late 1926, he accepted an invitation to Tennant’s home, Wilsford, for the weekend. “My whole visit from beginning to end,” the twenty-three-year-old Beaton recorded in his diary, “was like being at the most perfect play. Here Stephen was saying glorious things the entire time—funny, trite, vital, importantly exact things.” Tennant’s influence was formative, believes Beaton’s biographer, Hugo Vickers. “While Stephen was far from short of ideas, he lacked the stamina to carry them out himself. Thus he was often the inspiration of an idea and Cecil its executor.”

. . . .

The same phobia of being seen thwarted Tennant’s literary ambitions. As a young man, he wrote at least one novel, which he chose not to publish. And he spent many decades on his projected magnum opus, a Marseilles-inspired novel to be titled “Lascar,” conceived in 1938 and never to be completed. He revised, rewrote, and reconfigured the story of, in his words, “crude desires, lusts, fidelities, and treacheries.” He began other novels, and engaged in such procrastinatory activities as illustrations and designing covers, only to return to it. In 1941 Cyril Connolly’s magazine, Horizon, published a “Lascar” cover featuring one of Tennant’s own paintings. In Connolly’s opinion, he was “an interesting and pathetic phenomenon, a great writer who can’t write.” E. M. Forster, meanwhile, read sections and urged Tennant to stick with it. Various other author friends offered kind words and advice, including Elizabeth Bowen, Rosamond Lehmann, and Willa Cather, whose work he idolized. (He wasn’t very interested in male writers.) The American novelist, an unlikely but close friend, said she had high hopes for “Lascar.” In the eighth decade of Tennant’s life, and of the century, by which point he rarely ventured beyond the perimeter of Wilsford, he was still, supposedly, working on it.

. . . .

Callers were received as Tennant reclined on his unmade bed. He only got up in June, he’d explain, to see the roses. In truth, he sometimes went shopping: a lifelong occupation was buying furniture and curios for the house and gardens; the more recherché, the better. A 1966 letter from his brother Christopher, who looked after his finances, suggested mildly: “I think the first thing to find out about the seal pool is how much it would cost to maintain and look after the seals.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

The OP was written in connection with the Covid-restrained opening of an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery about photographer Cecil Beaton, who was a close friend of Tennant and principal recorder of Tennant’s life and release of an associated book, titled Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things. Following are a couple of photos from the book and a short video from the National Portrait Gallery:

‘Kiss Myself Goodbye’ Review: One Step Ahead of the Truth

From The Wall Street Journal:

Haven’t we all wished for an aunt like Ferdinand Mount’s Aunt Betty? A stylish, darting little woman nicknamed Munca, she loved having her nephew spend childhood summers at her Sussex house (complete with chauffeur, nanny, cook, maid) and, in later years, ferried him up to London in her Rolls-Royce to meet theater friends at the Café de Paris. One memorable encounter in 1957, for example, was with the aging trouper Sophie Tucker. “This is my nephew,” Aunt Betty proudly declared of the mortified teenager. “He’s going to be a writer.” To which Tucker responded, “That’s swell . . . I’ve always had a lot of time for the guy with the pencil.”

A family photograph from the previous year says it all: Betty; her husband, Greig; their daughter, Georgie; and Ferdinand’s sister, Francie, smiling—and the young writer standing just apart unmistakably “glum and ungrateful.” For Betty was, in many ways, just too much. Whether plumping up the cushions in her chic drawing room, deadheading her rosebushes or igniting a drinks party, she seemed always to attack and overwhelm.

Just how much more there was to this armor-clad butterfly is revealed—incrementally and irresistibly—in “Kiss Myself Goodbye: The Many Lives of Aunt Munca,” a family history so deftly excavated and winningly conjured that it restores our faith in a literary species too often given to flabbiness and self-absorption. “It is a personal memoir that turned into a quest while I wasn’t looking,” Mr. Mount explains of his decade-long exhumation of a past riddled with as many deceptions and double-crosses as any espionage novel. “In this book, nobody’s recollections are reliable,” he cautions. And isn’t that putting it mildly.

All begins, as it must, with a birth. “Betty just went off to Cornwall and came back with a baby,” Ferdinand’s mother announces of her sister-in-law. Arriving in 1941, Georgie was Betty and Grieg’s golden girl and their only child until, sometime in 1950, “an adopted baby sister suddenly arrives, out of the blue, like a food parcel during the war.” Georgie and her Mount cousins adore chubby little Celeste. Then one day, she’s gone. “We just borrowed her to help her parents out,” Betty explains, and that’s that.

The mystery of the borrowed baby nags at Mr. Mount, as do other, seemingly related conundrums of Betty’s life: her ruthless sabotaging of Georgie’s marriage plans, the serial romances of her past, her hazy connection to her jaunty brother Buster, her real age—her real name(s), for heaven’s sake. “I had tugged the thread,” he writes of his growing curiosity, “and I could not resist following it to the end.”

Immersing himself in birth and marriage archives along with newspaper reports of divorce and bigamy cases, among other tidbits, Mr. Mount uncovers a camouflaged trail that begins in the industrial north of England, about as far from the Café de Paris as you can get. “She was the daughter of John William Macduff of Sheffield, a scrap metal merchant,” Mr. Mount learns of Betty’s sister, Doris, who “told the truth when she filled in a form.” Betty, on the other hand, always pretended that Doris was an unrelated “honorary aunt,” even though the two women lived near each other in opulent Berkshire where Betty “in her Rolls might bump into Doris in her Bentley any day of the week.” For both sisters had married well, if a little too often in Betty’s case.

Her marital record, however, was surpassed by Buster’s, whose “blitzkrieg approach to wooing” resulted in seven marriages, six divorces and numerous dalliances. The busy fellow also acquired three birth certificates, whereas Betty appeared to have none. When Mr. Mount finds that document he realizes that his aunt had reinvented herself as tirelessly and thoroughly as any secret agent. Which she was, in a way, being a scandal-shadowed child of poverty who had to cover her tracks and lie consistently in order to infiltrate the alien territory of the British upper class. In one of Betty’s maneuvers, for example, a real husband is “erased and replaced by the shadowy and dead Mr. Baring”—the name Baring, of British banking fame, having the required cachet.

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

Betty reminded PG of one of his clients in the quite distant past, a woman who had her own unique style of divorcing (“dumping” might be a better term) a series of husbands.

PG didn’t mind that this client neglected to pay a legal bill on occasion because she provided him with so many great stories for use during gatherings with his brothers and sisters in the legal profession during conferences sponsored by various bar associations.

For those who had the good sense not to attend law school, the best parts of meeting together with fellow attorneys under the pretext of continuing legal education is swapping client stories (which do not involve any identifying details, just character types that real attorneys encounter during their practice lives) during lunches and dinners associated with those educational affairs.

Publishers Association welcomes post-Brexit trade agreement

From The Bookseller:

The announcement today (24th December) that a deal for post-Brexit trade has finally been struck between the UK and the European Union, just days before the Brexit transition period comes to an end, has been welcomed by the Publishers Association.

. . . .

PA chief executive Stephen Lotinga . . . said: “Publishers have been clear all along that a deal with the EU is our preferred option. We will of course need to see the detail, but we have always felt it was the best way to try to preserve the levels of access we previously enjoyed. Europe is one of UK publishing’s most important markets, accounting for a third of our book exports, so maintaining seamless trade is of the utmost importance to the industry, especially as the UK and the world looks to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The UK is the world’s largest exporter of books and we hope this deal should help ro ensure that we continue to be so.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Christmas Music

PG is pleased to hear that so many TPV visitors enjoyed the Christmas music he posted over the past couple of days. He hopes one and all enjoyed a nice break from their usual activities, regardless of their personal religious/spiritual choices.

PG will now expend his best efforts to find a tidbit or two concerning the book business although, as he mentioned earlier, traditional publishing tends to drop into consistent stupor during this time of year and he sees no evidence that Covid is likely to change that habit.

As always, PG appreciates tips for posts that make their way to him from the Contact link toward the top of the page.

A Different Christmas Posting Regime

Since the publishing business typically slows way, way down over the Christmas and calendar-related holidays, PG has posted excerpts from various works of literature in the past to provide proof-of-life for TPV for those who visit during this period of time.

This year, PG is going to change things up a bit by posting some holiday-related videos (all G-Rated, none created by PG or anyone related to him) that visitors to TPV may enjoy.

Feel free to give PG like/dislike feedback as you feel appropriate. There will be another holiday season next year and PG is not locked into any particular format for future posts during such times.

PG wishes one and all a joyous and peaceful Christmas/Holiday season.

5.7 Million US Employees in ‘Core’ Copyright Industries

From Publishing Perspectives:

Created in 1984, the International Intellectual Property Alliance is a private-sector coalition of five trade associations representing companies in the United States that produce copyright-protected content including computer software, films, television programs, music, books, and journals.

. . . .

[The Alliance’s latest annual report] goes over statistics that are helpful at year’s end for getting a fix on the economic magnitude behind copyright, so important to the viability of a healthy publishing industry. This is the 18th such report the alliance has issued since 1990.

Of particular interest to our international audience may be a couple of points brought forward in the material on American ‘exports in the copyrighted material sector, although publishing and books are not directly addressed here. Sales of select US copyright products in overseas markets amounted to $218.76 billion in 2019, a significant increase over previous years.

. . . .

. . . .

“Despite the robust achievements of the copyright industries during the period covered in this report (and in the prior reports), significant challenges remain.

“The copyright industries derive a growing percentage of their revenue from the digital marketplace.

“Problems such as outdated copyright and related enforcement laws; inadequate or ineffective enforcement (especially against online piracy); unlicensed uses of copyright materials; and market access challenges inhibit the growth of these markets in the United States and abroad.

“Economic reports such as this one underscore what is at stake. They provide a compelling argument for more effective laws, improved enforcement, and market access regimes that will promote and foster the growth of the copyright industries throughout the world for the benefit of consumers, as well as the creators, producers, and distributors of copyrighted materials.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Comments

From various responses from visitors to TPV, it appears that the comments are now working again.

PG has a few working hypotheses for what caused the comments crash, but hasn’t come to a definite conclusion yet.

PG uses a well-regarded security plugin called Wordfence to keep bad actors away from TPV and help keep the site running properly. (PG has no idea why TPV would be on anyone’s list of sites to hack because it’s not an ecommerce site, but bots will be bots.)

TPV runs on WordPress, a commonly-used open-source blog software program. A couple of days ago, WordPress had an update which PG promptly installed as usual.

The people who know more about these things than PG does advise installing WordPress updates promptly after they’re released to take advantage of the latest fixes for the program, which often include improvements in security. WordPress provides access to beta versions of new releases to allow people who have more time and knowledge about WordPress than PG does to discover any kinks, problems, etc., prior to the general release of the updated program.

Apparently, the latest Wordpress release and Wordfence initially had relationship issues that resulted in problems for would-be commenters on TPV.

It appears that, with the help of suggestions from several regular visitors to TPV, that the problem is now resolved.

One of the emails PG received after announcing that commenting was back indicated that the commenter had been unable to access the comments function on TPV for some time.

Hearing that sort of thing bothers PG because, as he has said multiple times in the past, he regards the comments as the best part of TPV.

Wherefore,

If anyone has problems making comments in the future, please let PG know via the Contact link at the top of the blog. Usually, it’s a problem he can fix easily and he’s happy to do so.

Sonnet II: Time Does Not Bring Relief

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Time does not bring relief: you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide!
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go, – so with his memory they brim!
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him!

Per The New Yorker magazine, Thomas Hardy once said that America had two great attractions: the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

The Second Mrs. de Winter

From The Paris Review:

“The sexiness of [Rebecca] is maybe the most unsettling part, since it centers on the narrator’s being simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by the memory and the mystery of her new husband’s dead wife.” —Emily Alford, Jezebel

NB: This essay contains all of the spoilers for Rebecca.

Rebecca had good taste—or maybe she just had the same taste as me, and that’s why I thought it was good. She loved a particular shade of vintage minty turquoise. The kitchen cabinets were all this color. As were the plates inside. The cups and bowls were white with dainty black dots on them. Not polka dots—a smaller, more charming print.

I loved them. I might have picked them out myself. It made me feel sick that I loved them.

I imagined Rebecca had picked out these cups and plates when she moved into this house, but the cupboards I was investigating, and the very lovely dishes inside them, now belonged to her ex-husband, my boyfriend. Rebecca lived fifteen minutes away.

Of course, her name wasn’t really Rebecca. But grant me a theme. We’ll call him Maxim.

. . . .

Every once in a while, a book will pass through my writers’ group, all of us swept up in reading the same novel. In the early days of my dating Maxim, that book was Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. My friend Emily was rereading it to write an essay for Jezebel called “The Nihilistic Horniness of a Good Gothic Read: Ranking the Genre’s Sexiest and Scariest Secrets.” Rebecca ranks number one. Emily’s love for the novel was so persuasive the rest of us soon joined in.

The basic premise of Rebecca is that our narrator, a naive young woman, marries an older, brooding widower and goes to live in his strange and beautiful house, where it rapidly becomes clear that the legacy of his dead wife, the titular Rebecca, is … potent. The narrator constantly worries over whether she can run the house as well as Rebecca did.

At one point, Emily was in the bathtub with a scotch and the novel and somehow still had enough hands to text us:  THIS WOMAN’S ONLY PROBLEM IS THAT THE SERVANTS ARE MEAN TO HER AND I WANT THAT LIFE.

The servants do not like the narrator for the very good reason that she is not Rebecca. Beyond the servants, of course, the narrator is also concerned that she’ll never live up to Rebecca in Maxim’s heart, that in the wake of his great and tragic love, she stands no chance.

Again, from Emily’s bath: EVEN THE DOGS DON’T LIKE HER.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Any Improvement for Comments?

PG has tweaked some settings and put some of his security pitbulls on a chain (temporarily).

When he signs in with a non-administrator ID/PW, and via a different browser, TPV seems to be working the way it should.

Feel free to comment concerning your experiences now. If you can’t comment, you can contact PG directly via the Contact link at the top of the blog.

An Upgrade to a TPV Plugin May Have Broken Comments

PG installed a standard update to his security plugin for TPV and it appears that the update may have trashed the TPV commenting function.

He’s investigating the problem to see if it’s affected other sites or if its a TPV-only problem, perhaps a conflict with another plugin, or if it’s affecting others using the same security plugin PG uses.

PG apologizes to those who would like to share comments, but have been unable to do so.

She Will Soar: Why Women Write about Escape and Freedom

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

I have always believed in books and poetry as magic carpets that can take you anywhere, to places past, present and future, and realms both possible and impossible. Looking at the history of women’s writing, I felt women had particular cause to long to be lifted from their restrictive or humdrum lives by the power of literature.

Women faced certain bars to writing and publishing throughout history, and women who were not white, middle or upper class, heterosexual or helpfully connected had even more stacked against them. Leisure, learning and liberty are key ingredients for any artist, and all have been in shorter supply for women than men throughout history.

Even aristocratic women were usually afforded a rudimentary education compared to their brothers, and none at all in the highfalutin subjects considered ‘proper’ literary subjects: the Classics, theology or blood-drenched battle histories. More recently, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Sharon Olds was rejected from an American literary magazine for writing about her children: “If you wish to write about this sort of subject, may we suggest the Ladies’ Home Journal”, they acidly suggested.

The role of women was to play muse, not poet. Any who dared pick up a pen themselves faced ridicule, and eighteenth century mothers fretted that their bookish daughters would repel suitors. Women faced condemnation because, in straying into the male arena of literature, it was assumed that they were neglecting their key duties as housewives and mothers.

Anne Bradstreet, the ‘first poet’ of America, had to pretend that her naughty brother-in-law published her work without her knowledge, and he was at pains to include a preface insisting that Anne went without sleep to write rather than slacking in her domestic duties. I found a lot of beautiful nocturnal poems written by women from times past – and couldn’t help but wonder whether this was the only sliver of time they had to themselves, when their large families were finally asleep. It was even more shocking for women to promote their own work… so thrusting! So unseemly!

The job description of the wild and free artist popularised by the Romantics, tramping off to rugged and solitary places, was inaccessible to their female contemporaries. It was difficult to pursue such a path when your corsets conspired against you, you needed a chaperone to cross the road, and nobody had yet invented hiking boots. In the Victorian era, many women, particularly of the middle and upper classes, were almost cloistered in the home. I feel this constraint shows in the melancholy and often morbid notes of much women’s poetry from the period.

Women did write, and women did publish. Through the centuries they resorted to all sorts of strategems, and took advantage where they found it.

Hannah More, born in 1745, funded her literary career with an annual pension from the man who jilted her after a long engagement. Her independence – and freedom from continuous years of childbearing and rearing – enabled her to become a noted philanthropist and lady of letters.

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

A few blog problems

PG is having a few problems with The Passive Voice today, so posts will be lighter than normal.

He’s also informed that there may be problems with the ability for visitors to comment on posts.

Anyone who experiences any performance problems is invited to share them via the Contact page.

PG also notes that the publishing world in general has become increasingly sluggish, somnolent, snoozy and soporific during the past few days. Perhaps it’s catching.

Bowser, the Over-Achieving Security App

PG apologizes to any who have had any problems logging into TPV in the past couple of days.

For some reason (or perhaps for no reason), TPV has been subject to regular and substantial attempts to break into its inner sanctum over the past 3-5 years.

When these attacks first began, PG installed a pit bull security app that has done a superb job of protecting TPV and keeping it perking along in its usual jaunty fashion.

Lately, due to reasons PG has not yet been able to ascertain, Bowser the pit bull, has taken to gnawing on the ankles of a few perfectly respectable visitors to TPV, on occasion locking them out from signing in for a period of time.

PG is investigating Bowser’s problem to see if he can fix his overly-aggressive behavior or if it will be necessary to acquire a new pit bull puppy and put Bowser down.

In the meantime, if you are not a member of some Dark Cabal bent on destroying TPV and find that Bowser has treated you badly, please let PG know via the Contact button toward the top of the blog and he will help you return back to your proper place among the commenting elite.

Someone I loved

Someone I once loved gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.

Mary Oliver

Taming the Jabberwock: A Plain Redraft of Lewis Carroll’s 1883 Publishing Contract

From SSRN:

Abstract

With the kind permission of the estate of Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll), this article reproduces Dodgson’s 1883 publishing contract for his “Alice in Wonderland” books and offers a plain-language redraft. The author found the original 1883 contract in an archive of Dodgson’s personal papers in County Surrey, England, during an academic visitorship. Besides providing the original contract and a full redraft, the article offers a step-by-step analysis of selected provisions, exploring the thinking and technique behind user-centered documents. Featured drafting techniques include improving navigability with informative headings and subheadings; eliminating legalese; using vertical lists to break up dense text; and more. The discussion and methods reflect principles found in leading texts by Kenneth Adams, Bryan Garner, Joseph Kimble, and Tina Stark. The article would be a suitable supplement to those and other texts.

. . . .

Suggested Citation: Cooney, Mark, Taming the Jabberwock: A Plain Redraft of Lewis Carroll’s 1883 Publishing Contract (October 11, 2020). Taming the Jabberwock: A Plain Redraft of Lewis Carroll’s 1883 Publishing Contract, 19 Scribes J. Legal Writing 55 (2020), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3709451

Link to the rest at SSRN and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG notes that the complete paper is only 25 pages, substantially shorter than a great many things he sees at SSRN.

For those who are not familiar with SSRN (Social Science Research Network), here are the opening paragraphs of SSRN’s About SSRN page:

SSRN is an open-access online preprint community providing valuable services to leading academic schools and government institutions. Specializing primarily in social sciences, including economics, law, corporate governance, and humanities, SSRN is branching out in to other science disciplines providing opportunities for scholars to post their early research, collaborate on theories and discoveries, and get credit for their ideas before peer reviewed publication.

SSRN is instrumental as a starting point for PhD students, professors, and institutional faculty to post early-stage research, prior to publication in academic journals.

SSRN provides the online database of early scholarly research – a permanent and searchable online library – always available, worldwide. We make it simple for authors to post their working papers and abstracts. Academics and researchers can browse the SSRN data library and upload their own papers free of charge. Majority of papers can be downloaded from SSRN free of charge. Metrics on author rankings at a glance.

https://www.elsevier.com/solutions/ssrn

For those who note that Elsevier is not known for its open-access attitude towards scientific and related research documents, PG’s understanding is that, before agreeing to host SSRN on a permanent basis, Elsevier agreed to keep the organization operating on an open-access basis, continuing to accept and publish new working papers, on a continuing basis.

Although PG formerly worked as an executive for another major subsidiary of RELX, FKA Reed Elsevier, he has no inside access to the organization which allow him any inside insights into the agreement.